Being SMART with your martech: Balancing product inputs and performance outputs
Don't just focus on the technologies you use in your stack. Contributor Andy Betts explains why you need to carefully consider marketing performance and make martech decisions that prioritize ROI.
Most chief marketing officers will agree that building a marketing technology stack is a key priority when setting out to develop strategies that will drive measurable success and a demonstrable return on investment.
While that may be the case — and while it’s true that a technology stack is a critical part of any marketing operation — a martech stack in and of itself is no guarantee of success. To think otherwise is to commit a major error in understanding the role of inputs (namely, the technologies you use in your stack) in relation to outputs (also known as marketing performance).
In today’s highly fragmented, overcrowded marketplace, success can’t be assumed based on inputs. Rather, success must be evaluated on the basis of marketing performance — which can be set up for accurate measurement by establishing SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely) content marketing initiatives.
In this article, I will share insights about how content marketing technologies can be used to drive overall marketing and advertising technology performance — and guide marketers away from possible pitfalls.
The shift in martech from inputs to outputs
Since the earliest days of cloud computing, software category leaders such as Salesforce, as well as CMOs and marketing leaders, have looked to build their own internal ecosystems — technology stacks — to deliver customer value. Over time, this interest in developing internal marketing ecosystems has come to be understood as the standard and, consequently, marketing technology spend is up.
That’s great, to a point.
But while there are certainly advantages to increased investment in marketing technology, CMOs would be wise to recall that with this greater spend comes a profound performance imperative. The dollars being spent on advertising and marketing technology are expected to yield results — not just in the form of insights about customers or new touch points, but also in the form of a demonstrable contribution to an organization’s bottom line.
With this in mind, it’s important that CMOs refrain from too much focus on inputs, and recall that outputs, namely customer value and revenue, are the ultimate indication of the ROI your marketing program is bringing an organization.
Gone are the days of simply buying advertising and campaign optimization; and gone are the days of buying a way to our perceived customers in the educated-but-blind hope that a message would land somewhere along a customer’s linear journey.
Now, we know more than ever about customer intent, and we understand that due to no shortage of digital disruptions (including mobile, proximity search and voice search), customer journeys are more fragmented than ever. It’s important that we recognize this context as we make decisions about which technology we’ll use to get in touch with our audiences.
Today’s inputs can help us leverage our knowledge about intent, about the ever-fragmented and evolving customer journey. But in doing so, we must never forget that these technologies should be guided principally by the things we need to be seeing from our outputs.
That means carefully thinking about customer insights, understanding how customers signal their intent when searching across different platforms (mobile, voice search, desktop), building organic leads that align with customer search habits, and then using paid ad and marketing options to augment what we’re achieving organically through a performance-driven approach.
Without this organic, holistic understanding of marketing, we may very well find ourselves spending money to no discernibly positive effect.
Workflow, productivity and performance
As mentioned earlier, increased investment in marketing and advertising technology has contributed to an explosive growth in the martech ecosystem. With this growth has come a significant amount of opportunity — in many ways for the better, but not all.
While these new technologies have given marketers new insights into customer behaviors and data points that can help us make better decisions, the truth is that having so many different tools at our disposal can present challenges and unnecessary complexity. With such a plethora of choices, the commoditization of marketing technology workflow systems, and an inefficient ad tech buying system, marketers can find their judgment clouded and make poor decisions.
These decisions can, for example, take the form of investing in too many technologies and buying solutions based on productivity sets (inputs) rather than performance (outputs).
Before making technology buying decisions — or implementing new technologies into a stack — marketers would do well to remember that performance is the top priority. From that point, marketers should set out to fulfill exact needs, sidestepping bloat and paring their processes down to the desirable meat of demonstrable customer acquisition.
As a marketer, you should always be asking yourself the following questions:
- Is this martech adding value, or is it simply adding an input to an already complex process?
- If this martech is adding value, how can I quantify and demonstrate that to the rest of my organization? How is it proving itself?
- Is the value I’m deriving from my stack currently significant enough to continue this path, or are there areas where I must re-evaluate?
Keeping these considerations in mind will help you choose martech that works and is worth keeping around — and will keep you from making poorly informed decisions when something new but not particularly valuable emerges.
Content marketing: Central stack
The ideal marketing technology stack understands the many different points of the customer journey and deploys technology to meet customers where they are spending the most time.
Typically, this means implementing technology that allows marketing content to reach platforms, including:
- social and standard content management systems;
- advertising and promotion solutions;
- project management software;
- tools that allow marketers to track engagement and visualize pathways from attraction to sales;
- search engine optimization,
- search engine marketing technology and more.
As content has taken on more “lives” in the era of voice search, and as search has been impacted by the ubiquity of mobile devices, global positioning satellites and more, successful marketers are now considering how they can implement the realities of these developments into their stack. That can mean simply creating content that aligns with our assumptions about search intent — or using technology to tap into data and give customers what they need or want before they think of it themselves. More on that in a moment.
Artificial intelligence acceleration
Given the growing prominence of voice search and other media being powered by artificial intelligence, it’s quickly becoming more important for content to adapt to a world where AI is a ubiquitous partner in the average consumer’s everyday life.
While, for a moment, it seemed that consumer technology was outpacing martech in terms of AI partnerships, machine learning has opened up new possibilities in the martech space, giving marketers the opportunity to make more informed decisions without crowding their processes with technical bloat.
Ideally, today’s marketers should consider using content workflow and project management with content performance systems that are natively boosted by AI — ensuring they get the most “bang” for their content marketing and martech buck every time.
SMART content: Connecting the dots in martech
SMART content can offer marketers of all descriptions a significant boost in their performance — artificially intelligent content that is self-aware and self-adjusting. Smart content is not a technology; it’s more of a byproduct of content marketing technologies focused on the discovery, optimization and performance of content.
Smart content is built on an awareness of customer intent signals and responsive to audience interactions; it continually changes itself to enhance content discovery and engagement and move the needle on performance.
The inclusion of “central stack” technologies that produce smart content can help savvy marketers reduce the time they spend rehashing, restructuring or redistributing content. The artificial intelligence on which smart content is built works to align itself with an evolving understanding of customer intent; it constantly updates itself, and it’s primed to support audience conversion by offering activation possibilities responsively across the full spectrum of devices upon which a consumer might access marketing content.
Smart content represents the perfect convergence of martech and good decision making. It also gives ad-tech providers the intelligence and insights to serve content ad formats that are primed for conversion. Marketers can continually learn about their customers, respond to their demands and organically increase search results or engagement results before they pursue ad spend or paid search strategies.
While marketers should be cautious about focusing too heavily on inputs and should prioritize outputs, that shouldn’t scare them away from adopting new technologies. Rather, the savvy marketer will stand back and consider the performance imperative their key priority, and then make marketing technology decisions based on that.
In 2017 and going forward, martech decisions should prioritize return on investment and bring about maximum value with minimum bloat — and with only as much complexity as needed to guide customers successfully through fragmented journeys.
Technology solutions paired with carefully considered content marketing strategies can help marketers achieve this — and by taking advantage of consumer insights that AI can quickly assemble and respond to, marketers can develop content ecosystems that work in performance practice, rather merely than in theory.