Skip to content

The 3 biggest martech challenges and how to overcome them

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

Share This Post

Why Read This? : We explore how the growth in marketing technology has impacted marketing. Learn about the 3 biggest martech challenges you’ll face and how to overcome them. Read this to become more of a martech master and less of a martech martyr.

Ten years is a long time in marketing.

Ten years ago, marketers were only starting to explore the opportunities created by “new” technology companies like Amazon, Google and Facebook. Despite their rapid growth, 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 these marketers, technology meant forgotten passwords and printer 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 wings. marketing 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 index groups these suppliers into 39 different technologies, each with the potential 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’re not tech-savvy.

The good news is you don’t have to know them all. It’s unlikely you’ll ever use all of them, anyway. But you should explore the marketing opportunities these 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.

Smart 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 you close-minded. You stick to what you know, and don’t adapt to changes in the environment. And martech undoubtedly changes the marketing environment. 

So you risk not meeting customers’ online needs. Not being where they are or giving them what they want. 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 the benefits. How it helps connect with customers. Brings new insights. Increases the impact of advertising. And makes marketing processes more efficient. Ask them to open their minds to what’s possible. 

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 as 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 forces digital immigrants to throw away old learning and open up to new ways of working. That’s difficult, but not impossible.

A harder challenge is 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 is 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-focused 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

Take 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 marketers write off it as too detailed. Too granular. They talk about being “big picture” strategists.

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

The media schedule - an example

However, there’s so much choice for customers, that “big” doesn’t cut it. Media is fragmented. Customers expect more personalised experiences. “Dear customer” isn’t 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 is 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.

For example, you want customers to order food from your restaurant on a Friday night.

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

These interactions are 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. For example, coaching and training can 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 speeds 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 among 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. Many start-ups trying to carve out a specific niche.

The 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 cost 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 and run high-quality events) because the prices they charge companies to use their technology are usually huge. We’re talking six and seven-figure investment levels on an annual basis. 

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

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

Ok, everyone needs to earn a living. We get that. But when it comes to commercial return on investment, some of the quotes we’ve seen for martech systems have been crazy.

This means that in small and / or traditional businesses, the business case for martech is hard. It’s not always easy to show the benefits 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 site functionality at a low cost or even free. All without going through agencies or using developers. And all are used 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 businesses new to martech.

Getting past the martech challenge of the dominant major players means clearly defining your martech needs and researching who’s best able to meet them. The big players 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. Each has its own language, a confusing mix of jargon and technical terms that takes time to learn. This makes communicating harder. 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. It’s about finding a way to get them to speak the same language.

User stories

User stories are like the Esperanto of marketing and IT teams. They take concepts and terms from both sides and express them in simple terms anyone can 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 capture 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. 

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

Use martech to sell to customers

Of course, you can also use martech to sell to customers. There are lots of exciting opportunities as you build your e-Commerce plan.

Going into new channels like marketplaces and Print on Demand. Selling via new online retailers. And of course, all the opportunities if you go Direct-to-Consumer (D2C) and set up your own online store.

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. (See our article on how not everyone’s a fan of e-Commerce). As we set up the pilot, we got lots of pushback and pressure not to do it. Lots of close-minded people and negative comments :- 

  • Why would anyone want to shop this way?
  • Shouldn’t we leave that to the retailers?
  • You’re crazy, this will never work! 

Three years later, the store had done over $45m 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 a great comment in Clayton Christensen’s The Innovators Dilemma about how hard it is to be an innovator. 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 of the cost of using the 3 dominant martech suppliers.

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

Some common themes run through 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 is for. It’s still for customers. But it gives you more opportunities to meet customer needs. Use martech to build better customer insights, customer experiences and more efficient ways of working. 

Check out our marketing technology guide for more on this. Or email us if you’ve got martech challenges you need help with.

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

Share this content

3 thoughts on “The 3 biggest martech challenges and how to overcome them”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Latest blog posts

Subscribe to get Three-Brains updates