3 ways to make martech simple again

Is it a bridge too far to find a way to a simpler, more useful martech stack and ease the misery of (mar)tech debt?

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Many discussions lately have been about how complex the martech stack has become. In my last article, I referenced a recent survey saying more than 60% of B2B marketers described their martech stack as too complex, with one in five saying it’s “more complex than a black hole.”

Martech is simply a tool

Part of the argument is that the martech stack does not adequately serve the marketing organization or the business due to its complexity. I support that view because I’ve seen repeated proof of its truth in the wild. 

But we must remember that these complex martech stacks didn’t get that way unaided. A Pew Research Center report, which focused on digital innovation aimed at enhancing democracy, made an excellent point:

“Many of these experts pointed out that technology is neither inherently helpful nor harmful. It is simply a tool. They said the real effects of technology depend upon how it is wielded.”

The same goes for marketing technology. Its effectiveness is highly dependent upon how it is selected, implemented and used.

And for those who say the success of martech within an organization depends on some subjective measure of digital maturity, martech maturity, customer experience maturity or any other type of maturity for that matter, I beg to differ. 

The maturity model trap

Maturity models have been around for many years. For example, the Capability Maturity Model, developed in the late 1980s, was used by the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) to evaluate its vendors’ ability to deliver on software development projects effectively.

More recently, martech vendors (and consulting firms) have embraced and invented various self-serving maturity models to help them sell more software and services. Search “digital maturity” (with or without quotes) and you’ll see what I mean. 

It might go something like this:

“If you’re not engaging your customers with the right experiences — personalized experiences — at the right place and at the right time, your organization’s low level of digital maturity could prevent your company from thriving or, worse, surviving [commence hand wringing]. Our digital maturity assessment will tell you…”

The question to be asked by leaders of those supposedly immature organizations whose level of [fill in the blank] maturity is defined as lacking should be, “As compared to what?” 

Your business and approach are an innovation. Yes, there are standard KPIs we can measure, but comparing the “maturity” of your business or marketing organization to another, even if they’re similar in size and offerings, leaves too much room for subjective opinions. 

A website with 100 visitors a month driven to conversion by the brand’s messaging and offering is more valuable than 100,000 visitors to a competitor’s site offering the same products and services who could care less. How can we compare them as if they were the same?

“A maturity model, by itself, does not ensure organizational improvement. It is a measuring stick, an indicator of progress. A maturity model can help to identify weaknesses, but not fix them.”

Project Management Institute

Making martech simple again

Let’s all agree that there’s more to building a useful martech stack than taking some hokey maturity assessment, whipping out a credit card, cobbling together some SaaS-based point solutions and hoping for some magic. 

Let’s also agree that we don’t need an overpriced, overhyped and over-complicated collection of disjointed marketing technology tools to deliver value to our customers and businesses and go toe to toe with our competitors.

OK, now that we’ve settled that, let’s talk about three ways to make martech simple again.

1. It’s the hole, not the drill

I have a longtime CMO buddy who regularly shares stories of disappointment regarding his adventures in martech. He’s constantly adding new point solutions to his martech stack and is stunned when they don’t deliver the results he expects.

I’ve shared insights with him from noted Harvard Business School marketing professor Theodore Levitt who proposed that customers want to hire a product to do a job. Thus, knowing what job the customer’s trying to get helps you create a more relevant product or solution. “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole!” said Levitt.

It is rare that if you understood the customer, you would also understand the job, according to an HBS Working Knowledge article. The authors assert that this focus on the customer causes marketers to target phantom needs. I asked my buddy to consider this as the reason for his consistent disappointment with his martech stack.

Having dealt with many martech vendors as a customer and partner and worked as a seller for martech vendors directly, I can honestly say I didn’t spend much time trying to understand the why, size or depth of the hole; it was about the features of the drill.

And in many cases, when the vendor does understand the job, the product isn’t quite right to get the job done. The problem is that the customer doesn’t find out until after they’ve signed on the line that is dotted, like my CMO friend.  

So, focus on the job you’re trying to get done and not the shiny object features of the martech tool. You might have to shell out a couple of bucks, but one sure way to avoid disappointment (or worse yet, losing your gig) is to stand up a proof-of-concept to demonstrate the martech solution can do the job.

Taking this approach will help you save money, time and frustration, and will be a gigantic step toward reducing the complexity of your martech stack.

Dig deeper: 6 things martech vendors don’t want you to know

2. No overbuying

Buying stuff makes us feel good. It’s a dopamine thing. I’m not sure you need 22 connected devices in your house to feel good, but this is a no-judgment zone. As for martech tools, we’re all familiar with the overabundance of choices — some 10,000 martech solutions are available for your buying pleasure in 2022.

But just because you can buy doesn’t mean you should buy. Martech stack bloat is real and creates complexity and waste, which is the opposite of the simplicity you need.

Over time, with no plan or too much focus on the drill and not the hole, you can find yourself the proud owner of a bloated, expensive and complex Frankenstack that’s likely not providing the value or utilization you expected.

The solution? Buy only what you need based on regular audits of your requirements and your stack to ensure you’ve got the right tools for the jobs that need to be done with no bloat.

Dig deeper: 3 steps that will protect you from martech buyer’s remorse

3. Continuous improvement

The American Society for Quality defines continuous improvement, sometimes called continual improvement, as: 

“…the ongoing improvement of products, services or processes through incremental and breakthrough improvements. These efforts can seek “incremental” improvement over time or “breakthrough” improvement all at once.”

When selecting marketing technology solutions, many marketers believe the technology will drive breakthrough improvements in their marketing game. You’re reading this because you know better — it’s not magic; it’s martech. 

Marketing is a “test and learn” discipline. Like a good meal, it takes time to cook up marketing strategies and related activations that drive acquisition, conversions and retention (or loyalty).

Once you get there, you can’t rest easy. Your particular business, marketing and technology ecosystem is constantly changing, as are your prospects and customers.

The idea that what worked once will work again has served me well over the years, but that’s not to say I haven’t tried to improve continually. I’m running on the Gene v6.0 operating system with an upgrade to v6.5 on my product roadmap.

To embrace continuous improvement is to become a more agile marketing organization. By that, I mean instead of looking at marketing through a linear waterfall campaign lens (i.e., make the plan, work the plan), we see a series of smaller initiatives driven by an agile, continuous improvement process. 

Instead of one rigid, lengthy macro campaign, we deliver value to both the target audience and the business via smaller, incremental micro-campaigns that can be optimized repeatedly over a shorter period for maximum value. This is an excellent example of the “test and learn” concept I mentioned above.

Continuous improvement can also be applied to your martech stack. For example, consider a composable strategy (“micro martech”) instead of purchasing large, expensive all-in-one monolithic platforms (“macro martech”).

The micro approach will be a logical and functional choice as you test and learn. You’ll gain increased flexibility, scale and speed through the ability to insert or remove components to serve the marketing organization’s needs better. 

Try it, you’ll like it

By focusing on the job to be done instead of the drill, you’ll make smarter martech procurement decisions. You’ll save money by rejecting the urge to solve the marketing problem du jour by becoming a martech hyper-consumer. 

And with a focus on continuous improvement, you’ll learn how to optimize your martech stack, create a path to new opportunities, achieve outstanding productivity levels and make martech simple again.


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily MarTech. Staff authors are listed here.

About the author

Gene De Libero
Gene has been a Martech Healer for over three decades, inventing the future while helping organizations and leaders 'Ride the Crest of Change.' A serial entrepreneur since his first newspaper delivery start-up, Gene developed early innovations in social media networks, digital-out-of-home narrowcasting, and SMS mobile marketing. As the principal at Digital Mindshare LLC, a New York-based strategy and marketing technology consultancy, Gene helps clients optimize their martech investments, ensuring maximum returns and strategic alignment.

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