The dynamics of trust and mistrust will drive MarTech to the present and will continue to shape its future in specific ways. Michael Shattuck, Manager, Widen Consulting, shares his insights.
It’s hard to spot meaningful advancements in marketing technology because every new product is billed as “groundbreaking” or “revolutionary.” However, if you talk to martech practitioners – which I’m fortunate to do daily at Widen Consulting – some patterns emerge.
To explore those patterns thoughtfully, let’s take some counsel from Michael Dell, CEO and Chairman of Dell Technologies. In a recap of his recent commencement speech at the University of Texas-Austin, Dell writes: “Technology itself is neutral. It’s neither good nor bad. It learns from us. So the behaviors we expect from ourselves and those around us as we leverage technology will ultimately be reflected back at us.”
Also Read: Has Your Martech Stack Become “Usefuless”?
In other words, innovation doesn’t have an agenda of its own. Rather, innovation unveils our priorities, values, and beliefs. And what marketing technology now reveals is unresolved tension between wanting systems to integrate, work together, and share data – and not trusting any of those systems, their integrations, or their data.
That tension isn’t unique to martech. Broadly, people expect automation, AI, IoT, and quantum computing to take care of more and more for us – to even anticipate our needs and make our toughest decisions. But the more technology promises to solve, the less inclined we are to trust it. If we don’t exercise our will (or our belief in it), do we still live up to our spiritual and philosophical conceptions of what it means to be human? It’s not merely productivity or value that’s at stake – it’s our species’ identity as a being with choice.
This dynamic of trust and mistrust drove martech to the present and will continue to shape its future in specific ways:
1. Marketing and IT, the failing marriage
For at least five years, marketers have been trying to adopt technology without involving the official IT department, which many marketers assume would slow the process by putting new systems through a gauntlet of security and compliance checks.
Once martech software became cloud-based, stopping this so-called “shadow” or “rogue” IT became nearly impossible. IT experts effectively began to say, just give ‘em what they want so we can at least have some control over security. Not all IT departments were willing to do that, so marketers got even sneakier about how they brought unvetted systems into their departments. Now, CMOs are outspending CIOs on technology and allocating more of their budgets to technology than people.
2. Oops…how do we make the systems talk?
Did rogue IT cause all the mayhem IT warned of? I don’t know, but what I can say for sure is that dozens of marketing departments implemented martech systems without integrating them into a stack – because without IT, they couldn’t.
The result was a bunch of piecemeal systems that couldn’t share content or data. Efficiency slowed because users had to re-upload and download content on multiple systems that weren’t configured to share anything.
Worse, the lack of integration introduced mistrust. All these so-called data-driven cultures began to operate on false or misleading data. At one apparel brand I’m familiar with, 40 percent of the product images taken were incorrect due to late changes that went uncommunicated, and their product information system (PIM), which populates e-commerce sites, was loaded with incorrect data.
Unexpectedly, marketing’s rogue IT problems came to affect security of truth and accuracy. If anyone can add or subtract from a system, and each system has a different set of data, what’s true or false, and how do you know?
3. Enter the integrators
Sure enough, vendors recognized the need for systems that could be central sources of truth. Digital asset management (DAM) vendors, like Widen for example, noticed that new clients had tens of thousands of assets that were mislabeled, impossible to find, and siloed in shared folder systems or individual PCs. It was a mess, but a fixable one.
With the rise of digital and social marketing, data further down the content lifecycle became suspect. Great, we got 200 retweets and 400 likes – what does that mean for our business? Similar questions arose in B2B marketing for email clicks and opens, webinar participation, and lead conversions. A race for “perfect attribution” began, but to get solid data – let alone distinguish correlation from causation – was near impossible because of the lack of interconnected data.
Marketing departments wanted to solve this problem without IT, which wasn’t inclined to be helpful since marketing had broken their rules and created systemic security risks. Instead, we saw the rise of APIs, integration ecosystems like Salesforce’s, and the middleware providers like Azuqua, Workato, Zapier, and SnapLogic. Martech vendors began to promote integrations and speak in the language of stacks.
4. The inevitable disillusionment
Marketing’s spending spree has achieved unimpressive returns, despite the industry’s move to integrations, middleware, and stacks. Most vendors sold a “solution,” not strategies and methodologies, which are what martech systems actually provide. Each system is a different way of doing work and thus requires planning, training, and practice. So, even as the integrations and trust issues were being addressed, users stopped believing in the systems themselves – because they weren’t making marketers more productive or effective.
Thus, the driving force for marketing technology is now this: platforms didn’t solve the problems they were purported to solve. The next time we dare invest in a system, we want the results, and we want to know how vendors will deliver them.
The advancement of trust
Consider how martech’s trust gap evolved. First, it was about not trusting IT to implement systems, which were needed immediately. Second, it was about not trusting the content and data in these systems, which was likely to be false because of unintegrated, rogue deployments. Third, vendors and middleware providers fixed the integration problems, but they were too late. By then, the platforms had underdelivered. At present, there is a lack of trust in the vendors themselves and martech systems in general.
Recall Michael Dell’s words: “…the behaviors we expect from ourselves and those around us as we leverage technology will ultimately be reflected back at us.” Vendors, in my experience, expected marketers to use their platforms as vendors intended. Vendors assumed that this would happen naturally, and it didn’t. None of these systems were as “intuitive” or “user-friendly” as claimed.
However, most vendors were afraid to impose their perspective on clients. If you bought a Porsche intending to push it around the block rather than drive it, the car salesman would sell you the vehicle anyway. The same is true of many vendors – if you want their system, they don’t feel responsible for how you use or misuse it.
The biggest incoming advancements in martech, then, will not be technological. They’ll be human. They’ll be about change management, strategy, implementation, organizational psychology, and “transformation” (a loaded but important word).
At this point, calling a martech system a solution is like calling a pinecone timber. The advancement of martech will not come from more AI or automation, but from nurturing seeds that were planted long ago and never allowed to mature.
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