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PHOTO: Danil Aksenov

I don’t know about you, but I’m a little freaked out we are coming to the end of another decade. And though it seems to have passed in a blur, there have been tremendous changes in the function and role of marketing and its enabling technology. Scott Brinker launched his now infamous marketing technology landscape in 2011 with 150 products. Back then we were all marveling at the number. The 2019 version of the landscape showcased 7,000 products — a clear indication of the evolution of not only martech but how marketing does its job. Marketing is no longer just a profession, it's an industry.     

There’s no need to revisit all the changes the last decade has brought to marketing, but let's take stock of where we are as 2019 comes to a close, as a means to inform how we move forward. We leave this decade with a strong foundation for the future.

It’s All About the Customer Journey

The customer journey has evolved from a concept to the foundation of all marketing programs. Technology has given us many ways to segment our prospects and understand their behavior. We now have the set of tools we need to create rational, multi-touch marketing campaigns that are aligned with each step in the customer journey, delivering a better experience for customers and better results for businesses.

Me Me Me Me Me Me 

Consumers are exhausted by anything delivered as a “blast” — they are drowning in emails, ads and social outreach, and are fed up with cold sales calls. To get their attention requires a personalized approach. 

In this past decade we’ve moved from Dear [Name] to delivering content and messaging more closely tied to an individual’s profile. We are still in the early days of personalization. The next decade is going to bring dramatic innovation.

Related Article: Dear [NAME]: We're All About Personalization

Aligning Values

This last decade saw the rise of cause marketing, a natural follow-on to the early days of corporate social responsibility. More and more I’m having conversations with people about how their brand decisions are impacted by how aligned a brand is with their values. The “buy one — give one” model is well defined (Bombas, Tom’s Shoes) as is the “% of sales donation” model. 

These are great programs, but consumers want more. They need to believe that the companies they support with their wallets, treat their employees, contracts and the climate in a way that aligns with their values. Our current political environment has intensified these desires, and brands are rethinking how they communicate and demonstrate what they believe in and care about to their customers. 

A Holistic View of the Marketing Technology Stack

Marketing technology stacks more closely resemble jigsaw puzzles than a set of discrete building blocks. How products and the overall stack perform is very much related to how products are integrated across the stack and how data flows from one product to the next.

Marketing operations teams are focused on making sure that data moving through the stack is clean, complete and not duplicated.

Related Article: What Should Your Digital Experience Stack Look Like? It Depends

A Focus on Privacy and Security

This decade has seen the introduction of new data privacy laws and companies struggling with data breaches. Every day brings news of cyber issues. Marketing teams are incorporating comprehensive security reviews of new products that they are considering for purchase.

Privacy regulations are still in their infancy, companies are working to comply with GDPR and other emerging regulations, but it's still not clear how this will all play out and whether there will be a common set of standards across the US or wide ranges of disparate regulations.

Discipline Around Purchasing and Oversight of Marketing Technology

The days of swiping of credit cards are over. Companies are busy rationalizing marketing technology stacks to eliminate non-performing, unused, and redundant products, functions and contracts. According to Gartner, technology spend is now at 29% of the marketing budget. At this percentage, technology has a significant impact on customer acquisition costs so new purchases must be considered carefully. One of the things I’ve been most surprised about is how many companies, big and small, have not until recently had a formal purchasing process for marketing technology.

Related Article: Confessions of a MarTech Tool Underachiever

Artificial Intelligence (AI) Has Crossed the Chasm in Marketing

We’ve lived through three years of AI hype with AI being touted as the latest necessary ingredient in every product — the anti-oxidant of martech so to speak, whether it made sense or not. Everyone has now come to their senses, vendors recognize that no marketer is going to write an RFP for “AI,” and marketers are less concerned about whether a product leverages AI and are back to focusing on what a product can deliver. 

In this newly enlightened world we are now actually starting to see substantive applications of AI technology in analyzing huge data sets of information (e.g. media analysis), supporting first-line customer service inquiries, and in developing micro-market segments. It’s going to be exciting to see how AI changes marketing over the next decade.

What’s Old Is New Again

In 2009, a notable then-startup marketing automation vendor gave a presentation that essentially made the case that old marketing channels (PR, direct mail, tradeshows, conferences, etc.) were dead. I never fully subscribed to that position, but I did believe that for a time they were less effective.  

Today, as online channels become saturated, marketers are turning back to more traditional channels to enhance their online efforts. These channels have evolved over the last decade. Public relations is an extension of content marketing and more work is spent generating and placing content than “making a pitch.” In addition, public relations has expanded beyond traditional media outlets to include a focus on blogs, video-channels and podcasts.

Direct mail now has its own category of technology and is a perfect channel for highly personalized communications. The days of high volume, low-cost blasts are pretty much gone. Technology now allows marketers to send personalized direct mail, on demand, in units of one or more, right from the desktop. It’s never been easier to design, print and ship direct mail.

Historically, tradeshows generated the highest cost per lead of any marketing program and there was speculation they would die out in the digital age. Instead, we’ve seen the emergence of virtual tradeshows and conferences as part of the digital mix and a renewed interest in traditional tradeshows and conferences as business professionals seek to engage in person with peers and take time out of day-to-day business activities to learn something new.  New technology is emerging to help conference organizers, exhibitors and attendees optimize their event experiences. 

One note about tradeshows — because marketers can’t help themselves and need new jargon in their lives, events are now being commonly referred to as person-to-person marketing (you can’t make this stuff up!).

Related Article: Does Your Conference Booth Work for You?

Is it A) Consolidation, B) Expansion, C) Investment, D) No-Investment or E) All of the Above?

From an industry perspective: When it comes to marketing technology as we move into 2020, the answer is: all of the above. As we approach the end of 2019, we’re seeing an uptick in acquisition activity — larger marketing platforms acquiring smaller companies. I think we’ll see acquisition activity continue as we move into the decade, particularly from within large platform ecosystems.

At the same time, the pace of innovation isn't slowing. New technology and marketing strategies continue to emerge and this is unlikely to abate as we look to increase our sophistication and scale around personalization. I’m continually amazed at the new products I see. Last week for instance, I gave a presentation alongside Jehan Hamedi, founder of Adhark. Adhark uses AI to provide marketing teams with definitive recommendations on the right graphics to use in ecommerce and marketing environments. The right graphic can dramatically impact conversion rates. Adhark eliminates personal opinion from graphic selection and much of the A/B testing process. 

It’s no surprise the venture community has slowed down its investments in martech. First VC set its sights on AdTech. When it perceived that as a saturated industry, it moved on to martech. Today, if you are pitching to a VC, you definitely do not want to describe yourself as a martech vendor. The industry’s landscape diagram has reinforced venture beliefs that this is an over-invested segment. On the surface you may think, no venture money, no innovation — but there’s reason for hope. The term martech in the context of traditional top of the funnel marketing may make it challenging to raise capital, but when you think about it in the context of the entire customer lifecycle and redefine it as the technology used to create the customer experience — to acquire, engage and retain customers — then it looks more like critical business software and not just something that marketing uses to create awareness. Investment will happen, it may just be under a different banner than “martech.”

If you ask the question from an enterprise perspective the answer is still: all of the above. Companies today are working to reduce the number of products in their stack. Most technology stacks are currently larger than they need to be due to redundant products and functionality. Rationalizing stacks to eliminate redundancies, ensuring that products are performing and that the data and stack architecture is aligned with business objectives has been a recurring theme in 2019. If you haven’t been through the exercise, now’s the time to get it done.

Once the basic stack has been rationalized it opens the door for strategic expansion to add new capabilities and take advantage of new opportunities (e.g. direct mail technology). I expect the total number of martech products in use will stay within the 100 to 200 range, but that some products will absorb others and deliver greater functionality, some will naturally phase out, and new products will be introduced as we continue the cycle of innovation. We’ll see cycles of investment and non-investment that align with each company’s strategic planning process.

A Workforce With New and Growing Skills

Every job in marketing requires some technical knowledge today. Career growth for many is tied to the acquisition of new technology skills. Fortunately, it has never been easier to acquire new skills: vendors offer certification programs, conferences provide workshops, and there is a proliferation of online resources. Boredom is not going to be an issue for marketers in the coming decade.

Related Article: The Marketing Technologist: A Superhero and Agent of Change

The Digital Age of Marketing Enters Young Adulthood

We can map the first two decades of this century to the maturity of the digital age of marketing. The first decade was its childhood, marked by the maturation of web technology, the wide-scale deployment of digital advertising, and the rise of social media. The second decade, the teenage years, has delivered new channels, new technology, a test and try mentality, and the ability to integrate marketing channels, and technologies to drive more revenue and lifetime value.  

As we move into young adulthood, AI will deliver new capabilities we haven’t begun to conceive and may radically transform marketing once again.

There’s never been a better time to be in marketing — every day brings something new and we seem to be in a continual state of innovation. I hope that never stops.