What anchors your technology mall?
Perhaps a traditional shopping mall provides a better model for marketing technology than a "stack."
By now the concept of martech “stacks” has become commonplace to describe the ever-expanding set of tools involved in enterprise marketing and customer engagement. But is stack always the right motif?
Stack diagrams are useful for visualizing key concepts, like systems hierarchy, task or data flows, and potentially even customer digital journeys. Consider, for example, Real Story Group’s Omnichannel Reference Model, below.
However, traditional stack diagrams are not always great at indicating the relative importance or centrality of the different toolsets. For example, how would you answer this question: In terms of your martech services, what’s truly core? …as opposed to what’s supporting, experimental, or a niche capability?
In discussions with enterprise stack decision-makers at RSG’s MarTech Stack Council meetings, I’ve found that most enterprises do indeed deploy a limited set of highly critical MarTech platforms. These usually consist of three to five key systems — surrounded by a variety of smaller and usually less mission-critical services. But crucially, those three or four key platform categories will vary from firm to firm.
Your martech mall
This got me thinking that another useful metaphor for visualizing MarTech stacks was the prototypical North American shopping mall. But in lieu of shoppers, it’s content, data, events, and enterprise marketers coursing through your MarTech mall.
Arising in the 1950s, shopping malls have varied in shape and size, but they almost always have a particular configuration: anchor tenants connected by boutique or niche stores.
Similarly, in your MarTech stacks, you have “anchor” platforms surrounded by a growing array of smaller players. To be sure, your anchors might prove to be different types of platforms than you see in this diagram. For a retailer, perhaps ecommerce takes the place of WCM. For a media company, perhaps social media monitoring and engagement replaces CRM.
Indeed, consider a potential B2C-oriented mall above, and contrast with a more B2B-focused version below. Just remember: these are reference models and your mall map will inevitably differ. If you’d like an editable PPT version to create your own enterprise martech mall, register and download here.
Anchors vs. boutiques
Shopping malls succeeded in part because of this combination and variety. Anchor stores attracted people who then often lingered, browsed, socialized, and then dined in the food court. Smaller tenants offered intriguing choices, even if they were higher risk for closure. The boutiques made the overall ecosystem more interesting and useful — and for its time, quite adaptive.
You need both anchors and boutiques in your MarTech portfolio as well.
But first, you need to get the anchor players right. At Real Story Group we sometimes see enterprises struggling with core outbound messaging or customer data management services, with the negative effects reverberating across their MarTech landscape. For your anchor platforms, you want to build internal capacity, attend customer councils, and where necessary consider single-tenant architectures for maximum extensibility.
For boutique products, in contrast, you want emphasize more out-of-the-box, highly usable, point solutions, almost always available via multi-tenant delivery. You typically don’t want to bet your stack — nor your career — on the success of a single vendor here, and be ready to swap one out (or let it go) when necessary.
Limits to the metaphor
Malls became popular because shoppers could park conveniently and traverse them easily. Alas the data moving across our martech systems does not flow so readily. It’s like that beautifal open mall atrium actually contains doors, dividers, locks, and other obstructions. In an ideal martech mall, your marketers, data, and content would easily flow among systems. Few of us can claim that now.
Traditional North American shopping malls are experiencing a long-term decline, largely because of the demise of many anchor tenants, often mid-sized department stores getting disrupted by the likes of Walmart and Amazon. This has accelerated during the pandemic.
So perhaps it’s time to revisit your own martech mall map, particularly if some of your anchor tenants have fallen into long-term decline. At RSG we find some of the most prominent anchor platforms (e.g., Salesforce CRM) carry the most technical debt as well. Just recognize that the martech landscape continues to evolve rapidly. If anything your martech mall is likely to get bigger before it gets fundamentally disrupted.
Note that large martech vendors like Adobe, Oracle, Salesforce, and (to a lesser extent) Microsoft will argue you that you can enjoy all these diverse services under one or more of their own “superstores.” In general, you want to push back, since this heft and lack of focus can elevate your costs, heighten your risk of lock-in, and reduce your agility. Those vendors provide some powerful (if aging) anchor platforms, but the private malls they peddle are disjointed and incomplete.
What you should do
The mall metaphor remains a useful supplement to traditional layer-cake diagrams by turning stacks on their side and prioritizing your levels of investment. To be sure, you still do want to chart the hierarchy of technologies stretching from your internal networks up and out to the customer.
But you should also identify anchor platforms and ensure that you’re performing well in those areas — giving you the freedom to experiment on all the intriguing sets of boutique services that could differentiate your customer engagement going forward.
Real Story on MarTech is presented through a partnership between MarTech and Real Story Group, a vendor-agnostic research and advisory organization that helps organizations make purchasing decisions on marketing technology applications and digital workplace tools.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily MarTech. Staff authors are listed here.