For those of us in marketing, it's clear that nowadays, using different kinds of marketing technology is the name of the game. For us who have been around for some time, the growth of marketing technology companies (today known as MarTech) comes as no surprise.
The growth of MarTech
Today, the Danish Ad-Tech platform Adform has more than eight times the number of employees it had five years ago - more than 800 people in 18 countries. Elsewhere, Adobe Systems has been making significant investments in its marketing cloud infrastructure during the last 10 years. The result? In 2015 they generated approximately 1.36 billion USD from its services.
Last year, Salesforce, a global leader in customer relationship management, announced a global strategic partnership with Google. With Google's Analytics 360 and G suite, Salesforce aimed to seamlessly connect sales, marketing and advertising data across their platforms. The results of this partnership are yet to be measured, but all these examples confirm that the marketing technology industry is only going upwards.
While it's encouraging that marketing technology companies are evolving, the question is: what does this progression mean to the end users of these technologies, i.e. agencies and marketers? Have they benefited as was expected?
Marketing and Technology: a short history
Let's take a look back in history for a moment. Until around 10 years ago, marketing technology predominantly consisted of advertising management systems, such as Adform and Doubleclick, as well as website analytics tools such as Google Analytics or Webtrends. Shortly after this came different online advertising systems, namely Google Adwords and Facebook. This was followed by display-advertising purchase systems, the so-called Demand Side Platforms. These different data sources provided a variety of "insights" in terms of the effectiveness of marketing as a whole, and in specific channels.
Although all these data sources provided those in marketing with innovative new tools to discover and capture new audiences, their effectiveness was eventually questioned by some, particularly in the field of media and digital agencies. Those concentrating on website analytics claimed that data collected within advertising management systems gave an overly positive view of advertising-influenced sales. Those concentrating on advertising, alongside their respective management systems were of the opinion that analytics gave a much too pessimistic view of advertising-influenced sales. Similar questions were also made around tactical advertising - such as Google AdWords advertising and brand advertising.
Ignorance is bliss
What did all this mean to a marketer? Arguably, the measurement of marketing effectiveness became even more confusing than it had been before the development of these technologies. A marketer faced with all the available data was left between a rock and a hard place when trying to choose between "different truths," and the choice was made more difficult when opposing arguments were constantly made.
Today, we are still, to some extent, in the same situation. Indeed, sometimes ignorance would be bliss. Nevertheless, reality requires us to face the facts. It is now a well-known turn of phrase that data has replaced oil as the world's most important resource. But just like oil, data still needs to be refined. And it best be refined professionally.
Light at the end of the funnel :)
During the last couple of years, industry schools of thought have begun to gradually soften their views. Technology and data have become easier to use through improved and wider interpretations of both their capabilities. Agencies have begun to understand that data is not black or white, but rather many shades of grey that change the truth at hand, depending on the viewpoint.
The industry has begun to wonder why marketing effectiveness looks different, depending on the where the data is collected from. Agencies and specialists have started to understand how different types of data affect different outcomes and are able to use this in helping their customers in a better way. The fact is that understanding these different indicators can define success in future marketing and business.
The need for an aligned ecosystem
We now live in an age where we know how to define the data we want to collect through different marketing technologies. We know what understanding we want this data to reinforce, and what actions we should take based on this understanding. The thing we're still not quite sure about however, is how all this should be implemented.
New marketing technologies continue to pop up at a pace that makes it impossible for any one person to master them all. The big players - Google and Adobe - have seized this opportunity by developing the so-called Walled Gardens. In short, these companies have started creating marketing technology ecosystems where all their technologies integrate smoothly together, but technologies from other vendors don't. On one hand, this locks clients into only being able to use one supplier's technology. On the other, it guarantees a smooth data collection, ensures understandable insights and provides tools that support data-driven marketing activations, based on those understandable insights.
Aside from the Walled Gardens, the end user, i.e. the agency or the marketer, also have the option of choosing independent technologies to build a functional ecosystem. With this option, it's possible to integrate with other independent tech vendors to build a marketing ecosystem. The difference with this path, compared to the Walled Gardens scenario is that you're not forced to use all technologies from one tech vendor, but there'll be more challenges and work to do to achieve successful data collection, to gain understandable insights and create data-driven marketing activities from those insights.
A betrayed promise, or a wealth of untapped business opportunities?
We've come on leaps and bounds in the progression of marketing technology in the past 10 years. Its development has been so fierce that many companies have either grown exponentially or been sold to larger tech vendors. Nonetheless, the expectations placed on these technologies in many ways has not fully materialised, and one could argue that the expected promises that technology would simplify have not been kept.
Personally, I believe that MarTech is a natural evolution of the industry. There is still a lot of untapped potential. We've finally entered an age in our marketing technology evolution where we're beginning to make the most out of the technologies and data available to us. The key to success is your ability to build your marketing technology ecosystem in a way that best serves your business needs and enables growth. Whether you wish to use the Walled Gardens approach or use open technologies, the one thing that seems to unite all of us professionals in the field is that the future of marketing and service design is most certainly data-driven and automated.
Jukka Sundquist is the Managing Director of Nordic Morning, Finland.