The 3 biggest martech challenges and how to overcome them

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Snapshot : The number of marketing technology (martech) suppliers has grown rapidly in the last 10 years. While this hasn’t changed marketing’s focus on customers and brands, it has changed the context of how marketers do marketing. While some marketers love the change, many don’t. This week we cover common martech challenges that businesses face, and share ways to get past those challenges. 

If you go back ten years (think Arab Spring, Christchurch Earthquake and the marriage of Kate and Wills if you need a 2011 reminder), marketing technology (martech) was relatively low on the radar for most marketers. 

Ask 2011 marketers about their relationship with technology, and your answer would likely be :-

  • I need a new laptop or mobile phone.
  • I’ve forgotten my password and need to reset it.
  • The damn printer’s not working again, call the helpdesk. Again.  

Scott Brinker’s Martech Index

In 2011 Martech influencer Scott Brinker started posting an annual index of martech suppliers in the Martech landscape. That first index had 150 suppliers. Each year since has seen the numbers grow rapidly. The last survey listed over 7,000 suppliers.

As per our guide to marketing technology, these 7,000+ companies cover 39 different technologies. That’s a lot of different services for marketers to understand. To put it in context, that’s about the same number of apps most people have on their phone

But how many apps do you actually use regularly? There’s probably some on there you never use, and can’t even remember why you used them. Martech can be like that too. 

One of the challenges in martech is the range of choice. We don’t know any businesses who use all 39 technologies. Very few marketers could probably explain them all. 

They are much easier to understand if you group them together based on what they do. That cutw your list of 39 marketing technologies down to four main martech functions :-

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

In the face of all this choice and opportunity, some marketers may feel like they’re Tom Cruise in Minority Report. Easily flicking between different screens as their grasp of data and tech helps them move effortlessly through the modern world. 

But most marketers, probably feel a bit more like Tom Cruise in Top Gun. Full of bluster and bravado, but actually relatively inexperienced and still learning. Like Tom in the movie, they are winging it a lot of the time.

But rather than it being the young hotshot who’s out of their depth, it’s the old dogs of marketing who are facing the most martech challenges. 

Martech Challenge 1 - When people don’t want to learn more

Normally when you start a sentence with “we’re not x-ist, but …”, that’s usually a sign that you are absolutely x-ist. Racist. Sexist. Homophobic. 

It’s a favourite of some of Australia’s favourite loonier politicians – Barnaby Joyce, Pauline Hanson et al, and the wider fringes of the internet and social media. 

So, forgive us. 

We’re not ageist, but your age does often present a martech challenge.

Older man sitting by a window using a macbook

It’s not a universal rule. But too many times, we’ve seen younger marketers finding martech easy, and older marketers struggling. 

To be fair, it’s not so much an age thing, as what happens to many people’s openness to learn new things as they get older. 

We spend the first 15 to 25 years of our life learning. Nursery. Primary school. Secondary school. Colleges, universities and new jobs. 

For some people, including marketers, that’s enough. They think they’ve learned enough, and become close-minded to new learning. They rely on traditional ways of thinking and working. 

But not everyone is like this. Some people, including some marketers never stop learning. They seize every opportunity to learn new things. They stay open-minded about new learning opportunities.  

You can probably guess which type thrives with martech, and which doesn’t. The close-minded approach of some marketers is one of the big martech challenges that holds back many businesses. 

Older managers who’re so invested in how they’ve always done things, that they dismiss new opportunities. We’ve seen it happen a lot. When you reach a certain level of seniority, you’re very conscious of your profile. You don’t want to get caught out not knowing something. 

But you can’t know everything about martech. Because no-one does. So, it takes a strong manager to hold up their hand and say they need to learn more about martech. 

If you want to address this martech challenge, it’s important to coax these old marketing dogs into learning new martech tricks. 

Digital natives and digital immigrants

This openness to digital and martech is not just a marketing thing, it applies to all users of new technology. In an article in 2001, Marc Prensky coined the terms ““digital natives” and “digital immigrants”.

His basic hypothesis was that younger people who grew up with new technology (digital natives born in 1980 or after) find it relatively easy to use. They’ve never known life without it.

They approach technology with a learning clean slate, and take to it naturally. 

Young woman on train station platform looking at her mobile phone

Digital immigrants on the other hand (born before 1980) did have pre-existing learning when it comes to how the world works. They grew up in a world of face-to-face conversations, analogue phones and if they were lucky maybe pagers and faxes. New technology clearly blows all that old technology away, but digital immigrants have time invested in those old ways of working. 

If they’re open to learn, all good, but if not, then it’s more of a challenge. 

Not in Prensky’s original article, but since then the concept of digital phobics has also been added to the mix. These are people who don’t just find new technology difficult, they outright reject it. 

Whether they are digital immigrants or phobics, the reality is martech is here to stay, and either they adapt their old learning to suit, or they suddenly find themselves looking very outdated. 

Technology changes, people don’t

But just before we commit a Logan’s Run on the marketing world, remember, we said we weren’t ageist. Because actually, there’s a different way for experienced marketers to think about martech that gets them over some of their martech challenges. 

Because here’s the thing. 

Marketing still exists for the same reasons it has always done. It still has the same jobs to do. Win customers, build brands and grow sales. 

All martech does is howwhich you do those things.

There’s a great quote from Deb Schulz that technology changes, people don’t.” 

Marketing’s still about customers and brands. It’s still about people.

Core marketing principles like customer focus and strong brands are as true today as they’ve ever been. 

Martech hasn’t changed those. It’s just given marketers more opportunities to do them better. 

Martech changes the context

Martech changes the context of how you interact with customers and build brands. If you’ve ever done a PEST analysis for your marketing plan, martech has an impact on all four of the political, economic, social and technological sectors. It’s a huge macro trend.

(Think about the laws on data privacy and usage (political), the growth in e-Commerce channels (economic) and social media (social) if you think it’s just a technology impact). 

In the past, traditional media companies controlled what customers experienced. They were the middlemen you went through (via marketing agencies) to get advertising on TV, on the radio and in the press.

But now, new media companies like Twitter and Facebook create opportunities to connect directly with customers on their platforms. No middlemen to deal with. All done with automated technology. 

Some marketers still use marketing agencies for this. But, they’re not as necessary as they were in the past, especially for smaller businesses. There’s now much more in terms of media you can do on your own.  

Of course, to do this, you need to learn new digital marketing skills. And as we said, some people are more open to new learning than others. These more open types don’t see martech challenges, they see martech opportunities. 

Martech opportunities

Let’s look at a digital media plan as an example. These plans usually contain high amounts of detail. They have lots of flexibility in how, where and when customers will see your media online. 

Some people see that detail and flexibility as an opportunity to be much more granular and specific. But some, particularly traditional marketers see it as too much of a challenge. 

There’s a lot of specific detailed information there. All those different media formats and placements. Someone somewhere has to go through the detail of that and validate it.  

The media schedule - an example

This level of detail goes against a traditional marketing / leadership principle. For many years, the mantra in marketing was fewer, bigger, better. Ignore the small things. Focus on the big things that make a difference. 

Great in the days before martech was around. But much more challenging now. 

Because there’s so much choice for customers, “big things” are harder to find. Media is much more fragmented than it’s ever been. 

Customers expect more personalised experiences. 

“Dear customer” is no longer good enough. Customers expect you to know who they are. 

That’s why one to one interactions with the customer is one of the big groupings of martech suppliers. 

It’s all about the context

The fewer, bigger, better advocates saw the world in black and white. But martech challenges that view. Martech creates more shades of grey when it comes to connecting with customers. Actually, smaller, more detailed things can and do make a difference. (check out our digital marketing generation gap article for example) 

Context matters. 

What is it you’re trying to do? What’s the best way to do it? 

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

But remember, many people watch shows on catch-up and skip the ads. Hard to get awareness with them if your advertising is on fast-forward. 

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

Hard to get awareness on a channel if they don’t carry advertising at all.. 

Mobile phone on a table wth Netflix logo showing

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

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

These types of smaller, specific customer experience moments are where martech comes into its own. Because once you set it up properly, it’s easily replicated and adapted for other customers. 

It’s these types of situation where martech challenges become martech opportunities. 

This level of precision targeting down to individual customer experiences scares traditional marketers, particularly the digital phobics. 

When you are used to going “big”, going “small” feels like a challenge. Digital gets into detail and that’s one of the big martech challenges traditional marketers need to overcome. 

They just don’t like the detail, but details matter in winning customers over.   

Position martech in ways that marketers understand

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

But if you can’t wait that long, there are other options. 

Training is obviously an option. 

There are a number of martech training courses like those from Circus Street and General Assembly. Even Google provide a lot of online learning. These teach valuable new digital marketing skills.

And of course, martech brings with it new ways of working like agile methodology.

This solves many traditional project management problems with a new way to delivery work.

Agile methodology stretches beyond technology projects.

We’ve seen it used well in marketing innovation projects too.

Teaching this agile approach can often be a good way to get people used to martech, without it being a full-on martech project.

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

Marketers find it easier to understand that the agile approach helps speed up processes and decision-making. It gets you to faster solutions. 

That’s the sort of language marketers understand. 

Martech Challenge 2 – The dominance and cost of major players

It sounds like we’re heaping all the martech challenges onto the shoulders of older marketers. 

But really, they’re only part of the problem. The martech industry itself also brings its own challenges.

Martech suppliers usually fall into one of two categories. They’re either very big or very small. 

The most common big martech suppliers you’ll run into 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 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 atttractive acquisition targets. Check out Magento, Datorama and Marketo for example, who were all successful in their own right. And are now owned by one of the big 3. 

We’ve worked with all 3 martech suppliers. In general, they are impressive businesses, and you learn a lot from what they do. They hire some excellent digital and marketing technology experts who are remarkably easy to work with. They’re also good at running big events, where they have excellent guest speakers.

Martech services from the Big 3 costs a fortune

But 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 astronomical.

It’s been our experience that all 3 big martech suppliers charge an absolute fortune for their services. 

In bigger businesses, we’re talking six or seven figure deals. Even more on global contracts. That’s a lot of money for what’s basically software in most cases. 

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

Ok, everyone’s needs to earn a living.

We get that. 

But from a commercial return on investment viewpoint, some of the quotes we’ve seen on for martech systems have been crazy. This means, if you work in a traditional business, the business case for martech is hard. It’s hard to show they benefit, and martech companies often don’t get this. 

It’s a big martech challenge to get budget holders to believe that they’ll see a good enough return. 

We’ve been there. It’s not a fun position to be in. 

Have a plan B

Thankfully, you have options. 

Remember those other 6,997 martech suppliers who are not the big 3? 

That’s a very competitive market. It means you can do a lot of what you need without needing the Big 3 at all. At a fraction of the cost. And in fact, in some cases for free.

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

For example, this website is built on WordPress.

It costs us a few hundred dollars a year for the server hosting, and WordPress comes packaged in with that. But WordPress gives us access to their plug-in service where we can add extra functionality to the site at a low cost or even free. All managed without the need to go through agencies or pay expensive developer fees. And all designed to make the site better for customers.

(As an aside on WordPress, you should check out the book, The Year Without Pants by Scott Berkun. He worked at WordPress and has written up a behind the scenes account of how they work and the culture there. They’re a fascinating company. For us, their values are much more admirable than many other martech suppliers.)

As another example, our newsletter service is another cheap / free martech example. We built it via Mailchimp, and only need to pay when our sign-ups go over the 2,500 mark.  Before that, it’s 100% free.

The solution to the martech challenge of the dominance of the big 3 Martech players is to clearly define your martech needs. Don’t feel obliged to go with the most well-known but expensive providers. There’s plenty of choice out there, and you’ll generally find much better value among the other players. 

It’s a buyer’s market. 

Use that to your advantage. 

Martech Challenge 3 – No common language for marketing and martech

Which brings us to the final martech challenge. Which is all about communication and how marketing and martech talk to each other. Or don’t. 

We cover this in more detail in our guide to marketing technology, but we’ll give you the short version here. It’s a big martech challenge. 

Marketing comes it’s own language. Jargon, phrases and technical terms that mean little to anyone outside marketing. Quantitative research. Segmentation, targeting and positioning. Brand identity

Important marketing concepts and ideas, which no-one outside marketing really cares about. 

Then along comes martech. It’s also got its own language. It’s got it’s own set of jargon, phrases and technical terms. Digital data capture and analytics. Pixels and cookies. Servers and penetrations tests. 

Important martech concepts, which no-one outside martech really cares about. 

The challenge is how to find a common language between marketing and martech. 

User stories

For us, the best tool we’ve seen are user stories. 

A user story is a simple tool that 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 that looks like this …

As a (user/customer), I want to (need), so that I can (benefit)

Customers, needs and benefits. Three words that are very familiar to all marketers. 

By working out how to help marketing and martech talk to each other, you remove a big martech challenge. You create a big martech opportunity. 

Understanding customer needs. Creating create customer experiences that meets those needs. And turning that experience into a strong brand relationship that drives sales and profits. 

These can all be outcomes based on user stories you write, and martech solutions that you put into practice. 

Who wouldn’t want to do that? 

Marketing opportunities through martech

There’s so many opportunities to improve your marketing with martech. 

Every time customers interact with your websites or your digital media, your martech systems can give you real-time insights into what customers think about you. And what they’re doing about it. 

We’re not dissing traditional market research. It’s still very necessary. But time-wise, it looks like a laggard in comparison to digital data and analytics. 

You can be super flexible and adaptive in your media when you use martech for advertising and media. (remember, one of the big 4 groups of those 39 martech suppliers)

No need to be locked into month-long lead times for traditional media like TV and print, when you can have a new advert out via your social media channels in less than a few hours, if you need to. 

For customers, this reactiveness can makes your brand seem more engaging and “on it”. You can talk to them in a much more personal and real-time way.

And then last but not least, there’s the biggest martech opportunity of all. 


Setting up your own online store to sell direct to customers is a massively exciting opportunity. 

Yes, traditional and online retailers still have scale.

You have to play with them as part of your e-Commerce strategy and planning.

Three brains e-Commerce online purchase with credit card

But e-Commerce supported by martech gives you so many opportunities to grow your brand with customers online. Sell exclusive products. Sell additional services. Create a trusted channel straight from you to the customer. 

We remember setting up our first online store for a big FMCG business more than six 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 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? 

The pioneers are the ones with arrows in their backs

There’s great comment in Clayton Christensen’s book 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. 

No-one gets innovation right first time. That includes using martech. But 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

To see martech as an opportunity rather than a challenge, it’s important to be open to learning new ways of working. That means whatever your age, you have a mindset where you’re always learning.

Martech is full of opportunities to learn.

 Then, there’s the challenge of the dominance and cost of the big martech suppliers.

If you’ve got the budget, by all means, go with them, they’ve got some great people, and the tools are fantastic.

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

But if you prefer to keep hold of an arm and a leg, do check out what else is out there first. Companies like WordPress and Mailchimp often deliver far better value for your needs.

And lastly, it’s important to establish a common language that both marketing and martech understand. User stories for example are a great way to put the customer and their needs at the centre of what you do. 

When you put the customer at the centre of what you do, that means you user martech to build customer insights, strengthen your customer experiences and drive more sales and profits. 

Those are all great marketing outcomes that martech can support. 

Check out our article on marketing technology for more on this topic. Or contact us if we can help you overcome your own martech challenges. 

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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