The great Martech swindle?



A recent AFR article headlined with the attention grabbing: ‘The $100bn martech sector is under fire from struggling marketers’. This might make you think the Martech wheels are coming off.

The article was interesting on a number of fronts but largely missed looking at the underlying reasons for the growing mess in the first place.

Yes, in our experience marketing teams are struggling with technology and there is a good reason: Technology is often complex and difficult. Technology does not come naturally and is for many a new thing to grapple with.

Once you move out of the realm of browsing web pages and tapping around nicely designed mobile phones things start to get more difficult rapidly.

So what is actually happening and why? Is it all just vendor snake oil, smoke and mirrors?

No, there is some of that, however I would argue this is no different to any other industry.  

Will new and simplier tools like Emarsys help? To a point. New tools are only better in the fact that they are a new generation of what has often come before them.

Not to say Emarsys isn’t good, its just the underlying reasons for the issues are complex and will not necessarily be solved by better software or platforms. 

And will Andy Lark save everyone? Only now that he has created a consultancy firm to point the finger at other consultancy firms is that likely. 

Who is to blame? The Marketers or the technology companies? Or Both!

You, my dear reader, are almost certain to have had a hand in the situation and thus are partially to blame too*

What has gone wrong with Martech?

Firstly, how and why are we/I qualified to talk on the matter? 

Well, we are one of those pesky independent marketing technology consulting firms that have hands on experience with a lot of this technology, helping clients minimise the things that can go wrong and maximising how they can be beneficial. At scale. For big Australian brands. 

I will cover the following major issues observed and what can be done about them:

  • Marketing is being used against you

  • You should be sound at the art of Marketing before throwing complex tools into the mix

  • Be clear about what you are trying to achieve or what probem(s) you are solving

  • Marketers: appreciate your technology team, Technology team: appreciate your marketers

  • Most of the cost is not the tech its the people and the other stuff

  • Keep it simple


APN Outdoor. Yes! Salesforce advertising enterprise CRM on a bus.

#1 Marketing is being used against you

One comment in the article that rang true was that Marketers are apparently drinking the ‘Kool Aid’ of Martech companies (or themselves depending on how you read it). 

This is probably true. 

The very tools and techniques marketers use to sell you stuff, are being used against them by the technology companies. Sneaky eh.

People need to wisen up to this.

One of the primary roles of marketing is to identify a need and then sell a product to fulfil that need.

Fifteen years ago it was CRM or CMS, ten years ago it was Cloud or UX, five it was Automation or Digital Transformation and now it is all Machine Learning and AI. 

How many of you have your CRM platform sorted or have a single view of customer? Are you using "cloud" technology sensibly to help improve your performance? Do you have a perfect eCommerce purchase process and, finally, are you running high degrees of automation across your organisation?

I would be surprised if you confidently said yes to many of those questions.

You know that annoying friend you have, the one who spends a year deeply researching the finest technical details before he commits to buying that $1000 digital camera? Be like him or her. 

Ignore all sales, hype and marketing. Be fully informed on the specifics of whatever tool or platform can do. This takes a lot of time, effort and independent thinking - but pays off in the long run. 

Not sure what or who to believe? Ask or hire some expertise in and get good advice in the matter... Find people who have actually been on the tools and have directly implemented the technology.

#2 Are you fundamentally sound in your own marketing practices?

Do you have good Marketing processes? 

Have you implemented methodologies to track the performance of your campaigns? 

Do you write clear concise briefs? Can you demonstrate the return and performance of each of your channels? Are you using data and insights to drive your decisioning making? Is this data in good shape and easily accessible or locked up in some 50 year old CRM system hidden in a cupboard?

If you aren’t saying yes to most of these, any tool or technology is going to be severely restricted in its ability to prove worth and return. 

Why? Not because the tool is wrong but because everything around the tool is not at the same maturity and possibly chaotic. Martech tools are often dependent on a whole raft of external dependencies to run effectively.

I like it to the newspaper article I read almost annually about an apprentice mechanic that writes off a Ferrari at work. This is generally because this apprentice mechanic did not understand and/or respect the fundamentals of driving.

It is okay to recognise you’re a learner driver and operate accordingly. 

Don't buy the Ferrari yet.

Want to be really good at marketing automation? Push MailChimp to its limits then look for something better. You’ll learn all the fundamental things that need to be in place to ensure successful marketing automation.

Now you might say "Dana you are wrong, I need X and Y tool to solve these very problems you speak of!". This might be true but consider your overall organisational maturity to get the best out of Martech tools before you commit to them. 

#3 Do you know what problem you are solving and/or what you are trying to achieve?

Software and platforms are just tools. Tools are designed to solve problems or help you achieve a specific task. 

The issue with a lot of Martech is that there can be significant overlap in capabilities or what the technology can do; or sounds like it can do. This makes things confusing if you take a high level view of capabilities to try and work out what you need.

This can also go the other way: the technology sounds like it can do what you want but it can’t. 

You may also solve one problem and then create another.

If you are very clear (and granular) about what you are trying to achieve or what problem you are trying to solve then the decision and purchase process is much easier.

Also we often see Martech that is acquired in a piecemeal fashion. This means you can end up with Frankenstack’s of Martech. Especially when one vendor is slightly better at selling than the other vendor (see Challenge #1!).

We recommend you should have a well formed strategic plan that maps out what you are trying to achieve. That way you can understand when you need to go about solving problems or meeting a need. 

#4 Marketers are generally bad at tech and tech teams are generally bad at marketing

And both aren’t always trusting and supportive of each other. This may be a generalisation but it has been my direct experience over many years. 

These two critical functions run at different speeds with different mandates, time horizons, KPI’s and objectives. Yes, they should ladder up to an overall organisational strategy but each do this in very different ways.

Yet the very word “Marketing Technology” is an exact amalgmation of two areas of an organisational structure. 

Marketing teams often don’t understand the rigor needed (enforced) by technology teams to make decisions and/or the effort involved in implementing something properly.

Technology teams can be seen as slow, hard to decipher and overly cautious. For some this can be seen as obstructive. 

Part of the speed and caution has come from big lessons over the last 20 years on tech investment that failed to make returns, meet expectations and deliver on what they promised they would do.

Sound familiar?

Marketing (and Sales) are for the most part on the front line of delivering outcomes for an organisation that are directly tied to its short/medium term financial performance.

It requires a different speed and pace to do this. 

Marketing often operates at the creative, not logical end of the spectrum. This extends to creative problem solving. 

Marketing teams also control budgets. If you control the money you have significant influence in decision making. This means making good decisions is important. Soliciting lots of advice helps.

To achieve a good outcome Technology (Data) and Marketing need to work very closely together for best success. 

My advice to marketing teams is to upskill and develop as much understanding of technology as possible.

Technology teams should make an effort to understand what marketing teams are trying to achieve and involve marketing teams closely in the process while also providing proactive and informed advice.

It is also important to realise that Martech is a whole specific category of technology you may need to drawn on specific skills to bolster knowledge.

#5 Martech - the used supercar you need to be rich to own

One day a mate and I came to the conclusion that while you can pick up a used exotic sports car for half the cost of a new one, the actual on-going cost of owning one doesn’t reduce at the same ratio and so you need to be rich enough to afford a new one to begin with.

The on-going costs, not the purchase price that are the real killer - this holds true for a lot of Martech.

Part of the cost is the acquisition of technology but overwhelmingly the on-going support, management, people needed to leverage the technology and apply it day-in-day-out properly is the real cost.

This is heightened by challenges in skills shortages, the need to train constantly to keep up with evolving platforms, each system being slightly different and nuanced to use, overheads in support and upgrades (yes even in those "always up to date cloud platforms"), additional technology required to make the technology "work" and new emerging technology trends to content with.

And so on the list goes on adding up quickly to make an already costly capability seem astronomically expensive. 

So if it isn't a financial Martech may be very well be a time, process or emotional drain.

In technology terms you need to look at what is called the Total Cost of Ownership. Understanding the true cost of owning technology in order to really understand how it will pay back is very important. 

For marketing teams this also means extending the concept of TCO to account for skills shortages, changing market demands, change management and improvement of other systems to ensure your Martech works.

Sometimes it might be so high in the long run you will be forced to seek different, simpler and very often better alternative. 

The other thing that tends to end up happening is that many companies have very special bespoke needs that no one else has(!) Therefore they need to adapt and change products or solutions to meet their needs rather than just adapating to what the solution can do. 

This in turn means that almost immediately you constrain the ability for that product to provide you value outside the new narrow constraints you have given the tool. 

Often this leaves a costly legacy too. 

#6 Simpler is almost always better

We tend to create unnecessary complexity. This is why Marie Kondo is now famous. 

The best Martech stacks are simple, well designed, integrated, clear in their purpose and can be well worn before an organisation is compelled to find something “better”.

Using them effectively and deeply is where you get the most bang for buck.

The longer you take to ramp up and use every feature, the greater the cost to pay back your investment.

Remember while you are enjoying a license cost defused across many customers, you are also paying for the many features to keep those customers happy - whether you benefit for them or not.

And if you’re a Marketer: I can guarantee you that "artificially managed, omni-channel, fully automated, next best thing your customer didn’t even know they wanted" is a while away. 

In the mean time most of your customers are probably happy to get emails correctly addressed to them, content and messaging that is relevant and an easy time interacting with you to do what they need to do with you either online or offline.

Thank you for reading.


* If you have any role in selecting or using or building Martech, the problem my friend, is you.