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The 3 biggest martech challenges and how to overcome them

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Why Read This? : We look at how marketing technology has grown in the last 10 years. Learn how martech creates new opportunities for marketing, but also presents many challenges. Read this to learn about the 3 biggest martech challenges and how to overcome them.

Ten years is a long time in marketing.

Ten years ago, marketers were still getting to grips with the opportunities offered by “new” technology companies like Amazon, Google and Facebook. These tech companies were growing rapidly, but many marketers still saw them as a niche way to connect with customers. Technology wasn’t for marketing. Technology was what the IT geeks down in the basement did. 

For 2011 marketers, technology meant forgotten passwords and printer connection problems. At best, they might be getting excited about the soon-to-launch iPhone 4S, with its 4.5 inch screen and some weird new feature called Siri. 

The Martech Index - 7,000+ suppliers

But lurking in the fringes of the marketing world, technology was starting to make its presence felt.

In 2011 Martech influencer Scott Brinker started posting an annual index of martech suppliers. That first index had 150 suppliers. Ten years later, it now has over 7,000 suppliers.

The latest index groups these suppliers into 39 different technology groups. That’s 39 potential ways to boost your marketing with technology. 

And here’s where the martech challenges start. Because, how do you know which of the 39 technologies you need? Particularly if you think technology is still just passwords and printers. 

The good news is you don’t need to know them all. It’s unlikely you’ll ever use of all them, anyway. But you do need to understand the marketing opportunities those technologies create. 

Our marketing technology guide consolidated those 39 technologies into 4 main opportunity areas :-

  • One to one interactions with the customer.
  • Analytics – data and insight about the customer.
  • Advertising and media.
  • Enabling and optimising systems – technology which makes it easier to do marketing.

Using terms marketers already know helps break the perception technology is only for the IT team. It’s not. Technology is for everyone. Including marketing. 

The most successful marketers get this. They look for opportunities in technology, by staying open-minded. It’s the close-minded marketers though, who create the first of our martech challenges. 

Martech challenges #1 - Close-minded marketers

Often it’s the most experienced marketers who find it the hardest to get on with martech.

Don’t get us wrong. Experience is a good thing. But it can make some marketers close-minded. They stick to what they know, and don’t adapt to changes in the environment. And martech definitely changes the marketing environment. 

That runs the risk of not understanding what customers need online. Not being where they are or giving them what they expect. And missing out on all those online sales dollars. 

Older man sitting by a window using a macbook

It’s not about throwing out classic marketing thinking. It is about applying that thinking in the way the world is now. About being open-minded about what’s possible. 

Close-minded marketers want to live in the past. They get their secretaries to screen their emails. Rarely go on social media. And they’ve never downloaded an app, streamed a movie, or played a video game. 

You need to coax these old marketing dogs into learning new martech tricks. Show them how it helps connect with customers. How it brings new insights. How it increases the impact of advertising and how they can use it to make marketing processes more efficient. Ask them to be more open-minded. 

Digital natives and digital immigrants

This open-mindedness goes beyond marketing and martech. It applies to all new technology users. 

A 2001 article by Mark Prensky coined the terms “digital natives” and “digital immigrants”.

He wrote that younger people who grew up with new technology (digital natives born in 1980 or after) find it easy to work with. It comes naturally because they’ve never known life without it.

Young woman on train station platform looking at her mobile phone

Digital immigrants on the other hand (born before 1980) remember life before all the new technology. A world of analogue phones, pagers and faxes. New technology means digital immigrants have to throw away old learning and open up to new ways of working. That can be difficult, but not impossible.

A harder challenge are the digital phobics, the ones who outright reject technology. For them, you have to go right to the heart of the issue. You remind them marketing is still about people. Martech doesn’t change what marketing’s for. It changes the world in which marketing works. 

Technology changes, people don’t

To help these close-minded marketers see martech as an opportunity, show them how marketing still has the same jobs to do. It’s still about winning customers, building brands and growing sales. It’s still a people focussed skill. That hasn’t changed.

But to paraphrase Deb Schulz, people don’t change, but technology does. And technology changes the context for marketing.

Martech changes the context

Martech changes the context of how you interact with customers and build brands. In your PEST analysis in your marketing plan, martech impacts all 4 of the political, economic, social and technological sectors. (e.g. data privacy and usage (political), growth in e-Commerce sales (economic) and social media (social) as well as the obvious technology impact). 

In the past, traditional media companies controlled how you connected with customers. They were the middlemen you used (via media agencies) to advertise on TV, on the radio and in the press.

But now, new media companies like Twitter and Facebook help you connect directly with customers. No middlemen. All with automated marketing technology.

You may still use media agencies for this. But they’re not as necessary as they were. Especially for smaller businesses. Technology means you can now do your own media buying. Less need for awkward meetings with media suppliers.

Of course, you need digital marketing skills to take this control over martech. But open-minded marketers see these as martech opportunities, not martech challenges. 

Martech opportunities

Look at digital media, for example. There’s usually lots of detail in these plans. 

Open-minded marketers recognise this detail gives you lots of flexibility and control in how, where and when customers will see your media. 

But close-minded marketer write off it as too detailed. Too granular. They talk about being a “big picture” strategists.

But to be honest, most “big” opportunities are an accumulation of many “small” opportunities anyway.

The media schedule - an example

Because there’s so much choice for customers, “big” is becoming less relevant. Media is fragmented. Customers expect more personalised experiences. “Dear customer” is no longer good enough. Customers expect you to know who they are. That’s why so many martech suppliers focus on ways to improve the customer experience.  

It’s all about the context

The range of choices in martech challenges the view that marketing is black and white. Big isn’t always best. Martech creates shades of grey in customer connections. Small details in the customer experience make a big difference. (see our digital marketing generation gap article, for example) 

Context matters. What’s your goal with the customer? What’s the best way to achieve it?

If you need to drive nationwide brand awareness, then yes, TV is still a great option.

But remember, many people watch shows on catch-up. They skip the ads. Hard to get awareness if your advertising’s on fast-forward. 

Many people also watch shows on streaming services like Netflix, which carry no advertising.

Hard to get awareness with customers watching a channel with no advertising. 

Mobile phone on a table wth Netflix logo showing

But let’s say your marketing challenge is to drive trial.

You want customers to order food from your restaurant on a Friday night, for example.

You can trigger that need with carefully placed and timed adverts on social media and search. 

These types of small, specific customer experience moments are only possible because of what martech now offers. 

Food delivery cyclist on busy nighttime street

It’s these types of direct customer interactions where martech challenges become martech opportunities. 

This level of precision targeting down to individual customer experiences scares close-minded marketers, particularly the digital phobics. Technology gets down into the detail sometimes, and that’s a challenge martech has to help close-minded marketers overcome. 

Open-minded martech thinking

So, what’s the solution to this martech challenge? Well, time will help. Older digital phobic marketers retire eventually. Digital natives will be the norm in marketing.

But there are quicker options. Coaching and training can obviously help with open-minded thinking and digital marketing skills.

There are martech training courses like those from Circus Street, General Assembly and Google. All great places to learn. 

Martech often also uses new ways of working like agile methodology. 

This is a great approach that was originally an IT skill. But it can work in many other areas, including marketing.

It solves many traditional project management problems with a new focus on smaller, more empowered teams. 

(Check out our marketing innovation guide to see how agile helps launch new products faster). 

Use agile as a way to get close-minded marketers engaged with martech. Explain that it speed up processes and decision-making. It gets you to faster solutions. All marketers want that.

Woman in exercise gear sitting cross legged on a yoga mat and twisting to one side

Martech challenges #2 - Dominant major players

The next martech challenge doesn’t come from marketing, but from the martech industry itself. There’s a big divide in martech suppliers. They’re usually either very big or very small. 

The most well-known big martech suppliers are Adobe, Salesforce and Sitecore. They offer a wide range of services to the world’s biggest martech customers. 

Among the 6,997 smaller players, you’ll find many small specialist players. There’s many start-ups trying to carve out a specific niche.

Trouble is, if they’re successful and win that niche, they become acquisition targets for the big suppliers. Check out Magento, Datorama and Marketofor example. All were successful niche players, but are now owned by one of the big 3. 

We’ve worked with all 3 of the big martech suppliers. They do what they do very well. You can learn a lot from them. They hire excellent digital and marketing technology experts who are reliable and easy to work with. They also put on great events, with excellent guest speakers.

Sounds too good to be true, right?

Martech services from the Big 3 costs a fortune

There’s a price to pay for all these services. And it’s a big price. 

They can afford to do all these things (hire good people, run high quality events) because the prices they charge companies to use their technology are usually huge. We’re talking six and seven figures investment levels on an annual basis. 

That’s a lot of money for what’s basically software in many cases. 

Ok, everyone’s needs to earn a living. We get that. 

Person holding 6 hundred dollar bills in front of them which have been set alight

But when it comes to commercial return on investment, some of the quotes we’ve seen for martech systems have been crazy.

This means, in small and / or traditional businesses, the business case for martech is hard. It’s not always easy to show the benefit until you’ve started to use the technology. And you can’t use the technology without stumping up the cash. 

This budget catch-22 is a real martech challenge. But thankfully, there are ways to work around it.

Have a plan B

Remember those other 6,997 martech suppliers who are not the big 3? They’re all hungry for your business too. That makes martech a very competitive market, which you can use to your advantage.

You can do lots of martech activity without ever going near the Big 3. At much cheaper levels and, in some cases, even for free.

Easy to make a business case on something that’s cheap or free, right? 

For example, this website is built on WordPress.

You get access to their plug-in service where you can add extra functionality to your site at a low cost or even free. All without going through agencies or using developers. And all use to make a better experience for your customers.

(For a behind the scenes view of WordPress, check out The Year Without Pants by Scott Berkun. Great book about a fascinating company with a great culture and set of values).

As another example, we use Mailchimp to set up and run our newsletter service. It’s free up to 2,500 sign-ups, so you only need to pay when you get bigger. A great tool for business new to martech.

Getting round the martech challenge of the dominant major players means being able to clearly define your martech needs and being able to research who’s best able to meet them. The big player are great for integrated solutions, but they come at a high cost.

Often, simpler martech suppliers can do the same job and deliver better value.

Martech challenges #3 - Lack of a common language

The last of our martech challenges deals with how traditional marketing and martech communicate with each other. Both marketing and martech each have their own language. Jargon, phrases and technical terms that can confuse people who haven’t learned them.

The lack of a common language makes it difficult to bring them together. Getting marketing to understand what martech is saying and vice versa is one of the most frustrating martech challenges to overcome. 

Fortunately, it’s also one of the easier martech challenges to fix.

You just need to find a way to get them speaking the same language.

User stories

For us, user stories are like the Esperanto of marketing and IT teams. They take concepts and terms both sides understand, and express them in a simple enough way for anyone to understand.

A user story is a simple tool IT teams use to define a system requirement. It states what the user needs to do, and why they need to do it. 

It usually has a specific format  :- As a (user/customer), I want to (need), so that I can (benefit)

(Check out our marketing technology guide for more on user stories). 

Customers, needs and benefits. Three words marketers could and should recognise. Because they’re words good marketers use all the time.

Identify who the customer is. Work out their need, and why they have it, so your brand can offer the right benefit to meet that need.

Martech and marketing people can understand this simple concept and language. They can turn those from martech challenges into marketing opportunities.

Marketing opportunities through martech

Once you understand the user story, then you work on martech solutions to create marketing opportunities.

Every time customers interact with your website or digital media, your martech systems captures data and real-time insights. What customers think about you. What they’re doing about it. Nothing wrong with traditional market research. But it can’t match martech’s speed of insight generation.

You can be highly flexible in where, when and how you buy media when you use advertising and media martech. No lock-in into long lead times like with traditional media. You can easily set-up and run a new advert on your social media channels in less than a few hours. 

For customers, this makes your brand seem more current, more topical, more relevant. They can engage with your brand in a more personal and real-time way.

Use martech to sell to customers

And then of course, there’s the fact that you can also use martech to sell to them. That’s an amazing business opportunity. 

With e-Commerce, you can set up your own online store. You can be a retailer. You can still deal with traditional and online retailers as part of your e-Commerce strategy and planning. But direct-to-consumer (D2C) is the most exciting marketing opportunity of all.

Sell exclusive products. Sell additional services. Create a trusted channel straight from your brand direct to the customer. 

Three brains e-Commerce online purchase with credit card

We remember setting up our first online store for a big FMCG business 5+ years ago. (see our article on how not everyone’s a fan of e-Commerce

As we were setting up the pilot, we got a huge amount of push-back and pressure not to do it. We kept a shit list of all the close-minded people and all the negative comments we got. 

Why would anyone want to shop this way?

Shouldn’t we leave that to the retailers?

Are you crazy, this will never work? 

Three years later, the store had passed the $45m mark in sales. It’s still going today. That’s the sort of value you can find by overcoming these martech challenges. 

The pioneers are the ones with arrows in their backs

So, when it comes to martech challenges, keep an open mind. Stay positive. Remember technology changes, but people don’t.

It’s important to be an innovator. 

There’s great comment in Clayton Christensen’s The Innovators Dilemma about how hard it is to be an innovator in most businesses. It goes something like “you always recognise the pioneers in any business. They’re the ones with the arrows in their backs”. 

We know that feeling. 

Using martech to its full advantage does mean being an innovator. And as long as you focus on martech opportunities rather than martech challenges, you’re far more likely to succeed.

Conclusion - The 3 biggest martech challenges and how to overcome them

We shared 3 martech challenges in this article.

The challenge of persuading close-minded marketers to embrace the martech opportunity.

The challenge in terms of cost when working with the dominant martech suppliers.

And the lack of a common language between marketing and martech. 

There’s some common themes that run though the solutions to these martech challenges. 

overhead shot of many laptops and other pieces of technology on a table

Themes like being open-minded and open to new ways of working. Themes like being agile and flexible in how you work. And themes like seeing martech as an opportunity, not a challenge.

Martech doesn’t change what marketing’s for. It’s still for customers. But it gives you different opportunities in terms of how you best meet customer needs. User martech to build faster customer insights, better customer experiences and more efficient ways of working. 

Check out our marketing technology guide for more on this topic. Or contact us if you’ve got martech challenges we can help you fix.

Photo credits

Laptops : Photo by Marvin Meyer on Unsplash

Older man using a MacBook : Photo by Beth Macdonald on Unsplash

Food delivery cyclist : Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

Yoga : Photo by Dane Wetton on Unsplash

Money on fire : Photo by Jp Valery on Unsplash

Laptop and credit card : Photo by on Unsplash

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