The Rise of Martech and the Fall of Marketing?

The gang’s all here, I thought, lurking the corridors of MarTech Boston this week. Familiar faces, new faces, plenty of vendors. What better time to take the pulse of marketing tech and fine out what everyone’s talking about?

But my main question was: Why marketing tech exactly? If digital transformation is re-making the entire brand-customer relationship, why should marketing own the technology which is making it happen? 

Not just marketing

Scott Brinker is the face of MarTech, the conference. He’s the indefatigable moving spirit behind the independent-minded Chief Martec blog, and he recently joined Hubspot as VP of platform eco-system. As usual, I liked some of the things he had to say about the marketing tech eco-system, especially: “This is not just about marketing.”

He’s surely right. If we’re talking about a cross-organizational commitment to CX, that the logical consequence is that unified data on the customer (that single source of truth) should drive everything from ERP, product and supply chain, through marketing and advertising, to sales, service, and support. And right through the customer lifecycle too.

Brinker sketched five topics he views as currently key:

  1. Digital transformation (across the organization)
  2. Microservices and APIs (to break data out of silos)
  3. Vertical competition
  4. Digital everything (iPaaS “is exploding,” he said)
  5. Artificial Intelligence

Maybe vertical competition is the odd one out there, but certainly the other four themes should be infecting every part of the corporate body (in a good way), not just the marketing department.

I set out to explore my thesis: among marketers, of course.

The custodian of technology

Based out of Toronto, Canada, LookBookHQ is one of many marketing tech solutions which can be defined by what it’s not. It’s not a campaign execution tool; not a content platform; and not a DAM. But for brands using creative assets to execute campaigns, LookBookHQ brings AI-powered intelligence to bear on content performance. 

“What if we could get better insight into how people consume content and engage with it?” is the driving question, as expressed by Elle Woulfe, VP of marketing.

While it “takes cues” from the B2C word, Woulfe said, LookBookHQ is designed to bring content intelligence to B2B marketers, pushing them out of the rut of just getting clicks and hoping prospects won’t disengage. LookBookHQ also powers content recommendations. “If we know who you are, it’s really easy to do.” But unknown prospects can be targeted too, based on the content consumption behavior past users and how assets are shown as interrelated through tagging.

I asked Woulfe about marketing tech’s big themes. “ABM is what everybody’s talking about everywhere you go,” she said. “But that’s a tech solution to solve a problem which is mainly a process and content problem.” She does see changes in the space. “The tide is starting to turn. Marketing automation is table stakes, something [marketers] can’t do without. But it can’t do everything they need.” Marketers are forced to ask: “How can I find the few things that add incremental value?’

From Woulfe’s perspective, of course, that’s where a solution like LookBookHQ comes in, giving marketers an alternative to “flying blind” where content is concerned. 

But why, I asked, are we all so focused on marketing as the hub for digital transformation? “Who else would it be?” was Woulfe’s immediate response. “Marketing has become the custodian of technology.” The customer experience, she continued, is hardly a core competence of Sales. The truth is, marketing teams now tend to have the tech people on their staff already.

“I think marketing won’t exist”

Perhaps surprisingly, marketing automation leader Marketo will readily agree that marketing automation is not enough. Over the last year, under the direction of CEO Steve Lucas (“No longer the ‘new CEO,'” as he says), Marketo has consciously pivoted to being a marketing platform rather than a marketing (automation) hub. 

What this means in practice is that, in addition to native Marketo apps for familiar service like email, ABM, and — yes — marketing automation, the Engagement Platform supports hundreds of partner (or ISV — independent software vendor) solutions, with capabilities Marketo doesn’t natively offer. That’s Robin Ritenour’s bread and butter, as SVP for business development, partner strategy, and alliances, and she’ll readily describe Marketo’s approach as a “category buster” — neither best-of-breed solution nor all-in marketing cloud, but an agile route between the two.

That’s an easily anticipated perspective on Marketo, but what she had to say when I asked why marketing should own engagement was less predictable.

“I think marketing won’t exist. The funnel disappears. You can’t drive somebody through a [traditional] customer journey.” Someone is going to own the customer experience, she conceded. Maybe a Chief Engagement Officer. Best practices, she explained, will be forced to change in response to the multiplicity of data-points and touch-points.

Whoever is going to be steering the ship will still need to deal with AI. “AI is everywhere,” she said. “AI within the platform; AI powering the eco-system. It’s interesting to think about where we will be in two, three, or five years. How will we apply AI to use cases?”

The significance of AI only underlines the importance of data, because it’s only as good as the data. Data quality, data cleaning, and data management are all crucial. Look at the ads for data scientists on GlassDoor or Ladders, she suggested.

I asked whether there was enough data in the B2B space to support AI, outside large enterprises. Yes, came the answer: “They have the data. They haven’t surfaced it yet.” Transactional data, product data, ERP data, it’s all there. And if a B2B brand wants to expand its data set, it can start back-engineering lookalike data (from similar accounts) into its own machine learning algorithms, predicting churn and identifying cross-sell and up-sell opportunities.

Brands are at different points along the maturity curve, she admits, and refers back to something Scott Brinker had emphasized in his keynote. It’s not just about technology; it’s about people and processes too. Whether those people are in a marketing department or not.

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