The Challenge Of Searching For (& Marketing) Marketing Technology
Did the marketing technology landscape break Google? Columnist Scott Brinker explores this important question for the industry's development.
I used to consider myself a pretty good Googler. No, I never worked at Google — I mean that I was good at using Google to find things. Popular myth would suggest that anyone can be a good Googler — just type your query into the search box and hit enter. How hard can that be?
But those of you who do a lot of work with search know what I mean. There’s an art to coaxing the answers you’re looking for out of all the world’s information. Searching is easy. Finding, however, can be hard.
While working on the most recent marketing technology landscape, I realized just how hard finding can be. So much so, that it not only made me doubt my Googling skills, it also made me question the utility of Google for discovery and evaluation in large, fast-moving markets such as marketing technology.
If it’s not just me (and I don’t think is), then what does that mean for marketers who are looking for marketing technology vendors, and for marketing technology companies who want to be found?
Landscape Research, Step 1: Categories
For context, let me start by describing the process I used to create my marketing technology landscape graphic.
I’ve been producing them on roughly a yearly basis. Throughout the year, I pay attention to category labels. What are the terms that I hear marketers use again and again — in social media, blog posts, conference presentations, and casual conversation — to describe the types of products that they’re buying (or selling)?
Sorting through those candidate categories is actually a hard problem unto itself. There are competing labels for the same thing (e.g., “marketing automation” and “lead management”). The same labels are used for very different things (e.g., the menagerie of software under “content marketing”). And many innovative products cross category boundaries (e.g., take a look at DemandBase and try to assign a single, common label that relates the company to alternatives).
Such boundary-crossing products are often great for the solutions they provide to marketers, but they’re challenging for marketing technology taxonomists.
So through the highly unscientific process of making a series of personal judgment calls, I winnow down a set of categories and labels for the graphic. (If you want to read more about the complexities of this categorization process, I wrote quite a bit about it in my post announcing this year’s marketing technology landscape.)
Landscape Research, Step 2: Companies
Then, about a month or so in advance of releasing a new graphic, armed with the categories I’ve decided to chase, I set out to find the companies offering products in each of them.
Here’s where I try to put myself in the shoes of a marketer who wants to discover and evaluate possible vendors in a particular category. So let’s say I’m looking for tools to help with social media marketing. How do I find them?
In previous years, my quest for vendors followed this heuristic for each category:
- Do a Google search for the category label and look at the first several pages of organic search results and the sponsored links that advertiser had bid for.
- Do Google searches for related terms or aliases to that label that I either already knew of or could deduce from the content appearing in previous search results. So “social media marketing” would lead me to search for things like social media software, social media monitoring, social media listening, social media management, etc. I would iterate on this step until I stopped finding new vendors.
- Do Google searches for competitors to the most popular vendors I’d found. So for Radian6 (now a part of the Salesforce Marketing Cloud), a popular social media marketing software tool, I’d search for “Radian6 competitors.”
- I’d go to the websites for major analysts, such as Forrester and Gartner, and search to see if they had any vendor comparison reports on any of the categories. If they did, since I didn’t want to buy one myself (sorry!), I would search for those reports on Google — and 95% of the time, I’d find the top-rated vendor was offering the report for free (well, in exchange for my contact information). Most of the time, I’d already found all the vendors in the report through my earlier Google searches, but sometimes I would find new ones. If the analyst used different labels for the category, I’d repeat step #1 accordingly.
- I’d search for conferences associated with the category label — e.g., Content Marketing World for content marketing — and see which companies were speaking, sponsoring, or exhibiting there.
The result of that process would be a pretty good set of companies. With some editing and validation, that would be the marketing technology landscape.
The problem, however, is that it was woefully incomplete.
Where Do All These Vendors Comes From?
No matter how thoroughly I thought I had iterated over the above algorithm for finding companies, I kept missing a bunch. Lots of them. And not just tiny companies that had sprung up the night before. Sure, there were some of those. But in many cases, the companies I missed had millions of dollars in revenue, many brand-name customers, and years of operating history.
How could that be? It turns out that Google can only take you so far.
One of the reasons that the 2015 edition of my landscape has nearly twice as many companies as 2014 is because this time I added several important new sources of data:
- Business software review sites — most notably, G2 Crowd and TrustRadius — which had recently achieved critical mass around marketing technology products.
- Start-ups getting funding in this space through VB Profiles, CrunchBase, and Angel.co.
- Analysts who specialize in mapping out certain categories within the landscape — not just limited to the “top 10” firms — such as David Raab for marketing automation and customer data platforms and Rebecca Lieb for content marketing software.
- The independent software vendor (ISV) communities surrounding marketing technology platforms such as Marketo’s LaunchPoint, Oracle’s Cloud Marketplace, and Salesforce’s HubExchange, and well as some of the emerging cloud integration providers such as Segment and Kevy.
- Marketing technology companies who proactively reached out to me to tell me about their products.
These sources were actually much more helpful for identifying richer clusters of marketing technology companies than just doing keyword searches on Google. True, I would then use Google to further verify companies once I had identified them. But for discovery, Google was no longer my go-to tool.
What Are The Implications Of This?
If you’re a new marketing technology company, you have to face two likely truths. First, it’s very hard to rank for the well-known terms on Google. Second, it’s hard to get the major analyst firms to recognize you — especially if you’re pushing to create a new category of marketing technology — until you’ve already achieved significant momentum. This is a chicken-and-egg dilemma.
To grow, you’ll need to consider other ways to build momentum:
- Traditional customer development — get out of the building and meet with prospective customers through good, old-fashioned networking (augmented with LinkedIn). The right industry conferences can also be a fertile ground for growing your network one prospect at a time. For enterprise-oriented software, the economics of this can actually scale; but even for SMB and mid-size products, this is a good place to start.
- For purely self-service marketing software, using growth hacking techniques to optimize the organic spread of your service through your early customers.
- Develop a customer advocacy program early to make sure that your customers — especially your first few customers — are reviewing your software on services such as G2 Crowd and TrustRadius.
- While social media marketing arguably has as much (if not more) noise than search marketing, a highly focused influencer marketing program — for example, take a look at what services such as Little Bird can do to help you reach the right influencers in very specific niches.
- Contribute articles — genuinely educational articles, not promotional fluff — to existing blogs, such as Marketing Land, to help spread your ideas and get feedback. It’s not so much about helping your search marketing strategy, but more modestly, it’s a good way to win over individual sets of readers, one article at a time.
These are just a few ideas to get started. What are your suggestions?