Marketing technology has exploded in the past three years. According to Chief Marketing Technologist, as many as 1,876 tech companies are battling it out for your dollars in 2015, nearly doubled in number from last year. The largest single category in marketing tech is marketing automation, with no fewer than 211 solutions available today.
What does this mean to marketers? Lots of good things. First, automation means faster, more accurate marketing communications. These technologies are designed with results in mind. They include data capture, metrics, analytics and dashboards—meaning that marketers can track campaign outcomes and demonstrate the return on their investments like never before.
Second, the intense competition stimulates innovation, so clever new solutions to marketing problems emerge regularly, as do continuous improvements in design, ease of use and—one hopes—cost.
Best of all, these technologies are created for non-technical users. Often delivered via SaaS (Software as a Service) in the cloud, with intuitive interfaces, they can be acquired and installed without the involvement of an IT department. This means that marketers not only control the technology acquisition process, but they can also sidestep the lengthy—and often political—vetting process typical software purchases require.
Rebecca Lieb, industry analyst with the Altimeter Group, predicts that the CMO will soon be in charge of the biggest technology budget in the firm. “Marketing technology spend has gotten so important that companies are creating marketing tech officer roles,” she says. “Managing marketing tech is now a full-time job, perhaps not at the C-level, but certainly very senior and with huge influence.”
Technology enables marketers, increases their productivity and expands their capabilities in the firm. But with these positive developments also come challenges. Managing all this technology is not easy. Marketers are being asked to develop new skills. They may be more productive, but their jobs are in many ways more complex. And certainly the efficiency and time-saving promised by marketing automation rarely translate into shorter working hours or calmer days.
Marketing tech is so new, and advancing so rapidly, that trying to organize it into categories is an exercise in futility. But without some kind of taxonomy, we’re going to flail around forever. So let’s use some major buckets to get started.
Just keep in mind that point solutions vendors are adding more functionality to expand their value, and industry consolidation is driving more overlap. Thus, it’s more difficult than ever to put a solution in a single bucket. So this list is likely generate some controversy, and plenty of potshots. I plead guilty, in advance.
Arguably, just about anything in marketing technology can be called marketing automation. But most observers use the term to describe a fairly broad set of tools that enable the outbound and inbound marketing communications process, including:
- Campaign automation, which houses customer and prospect data and enables users to segment, select and deploy campaign messages. Vendors include Oracle Eloqua, Marketo, Yes Lifecycle Marketing, HubSpot and Act-On.
- Email list management and deployment, including Bronto, ClickMail, Delivra, iContact, Pinpointe, StrongView, StreamSend, EmailDirect, MailChimp and Lyris. Many email point solutions, among them Oracle Responsys; Silverpop, an IBM company; Neolane; and Exacttarget (now part of Salesforce Marketing Cloud) have been acquired and integrated into larger systems.
- Lead management, which handles the capture, analysis, nurture and tracking of campaign responses, is often baked into systems that focus on campaign automation, email deployment or CRM, or systems that try to do it all, like Zoho. Lead management can be found as an extension in media-specific campaign tools like AdTrakker or part of sales automation, like Velocify. But many dedicated lead-management software tools are competing for attention, among them Infusionsoft and LeadLife.
Another large bucket belongs to contact management, whichhouses customer and prospect data, and organizes the inbound and outbound contacts; whether it’s scheduling follow-up calls or making a record of customer interactions. These systems include:
- Contact management, formerly known as salesforce automation (SFA), and now generally called CRM. Vendors range from giants like Salesforce.com, Microsoft Dynamics CRM and Infor CRM, to firms serving the small and mid-market customer, like SugarCRM, Insightly and Nimble.
- Customer relationship management, originally viewed as automation to support the deepening of the existing customer relationship, has morphed beyond recognition today, as pieces of this traditional marketing function have been pulled into other systems. As a category of marketing technology, CRM tends to fall into the area of customer service and support, with leading suppliers like Aspect, Genesys and Cisco for contact center infrastructure, and KANA and Parature for customer case management. Like marketing automation, solutions have proliferated far beyond the industry’s ability to support them. And as contact center technology rapidly moves to the cloud, a shake-out is clearly on the horizon.
List and data providers are enabling their service offerings with helpful new acquisition interfaces and internal tools that help them acquire and maintain their data products more efficiently. For marketers, these technologies are often invisible, but certainly make the data easier to buy and use:
- Prospecting solutions, like Infogroup, KBM Group, Merkle, LexisNexis and ALC.
- Append and enrichment solutions like Relevate.
- Predictive modeling, like Mintigo, 6Sense, Lattice Engines and Leadspace.
The content marketing “stack” is a complex one, including:
- Curation tools like Curata, which help you identify, organize and contextualize online content.
- Website content marketing, like Ektron, for content authoring, visual page creation, mobile rendering, and responsive design. HubSpot also serves this market.
- Middleware tools that enable content management but are not technically marketing automation. Examples include CMSs (content management systems like WordPress, Joomla! and Drupal) and DAMs (digital asset management systems).
Social Media Marketing
The social media themselves, like Facebook, LinkedIn, Vine, Instagram and Twitter, offer marketers multiple ways to advertise and connect with their users. Then there are:
- Social media management systems, like Shoutlet, StrongView, Sprout and Hootsuite.
- Social media analytics and monitoring, like Viralheat, Radian6 (also now part of the Salesforce Marketing Cloud) and Brandwatch.
- PR automation tools, like Cision and Vocus, which recently merged under the Cision brand. Like anything PR today, PR automation has quickly adapted to cover social media messaging, analytics and listening.
Event Marketing and Management
Technology has revolutionized the event marketing world, both by automating many aspects of face-to-face event management, and by supplementing them with entirely online events, like webinars, online seminars and virtual conferences.
- Web-based event management, such as ON24, Adobe Connect and GoToMeeting.
- Virtual trade show services, like 6Connex and Communique Conferencing.
- Conference and trade show management, like Ungerboeck Software and RegOnline.
Most marketing automation solutions include robust analytics capabilities as a matter of course. But specialized tools are also important to consider, among them:
- Website analytics, like iPerceptions.
- Digital campaign analytics, like Tableau.
- Phone call analytics, like LogMyCalls.
Ruth Stevens is a consultant with eMarketing Strategy. She has held senior marketing positions at Time Warner, Ziff-Davis and IBM, and is the author of the books “Maximizing Lead Generation: The Complete Guide for B2B Marketers” and “Trade Show and Event Marketing,” as well as the Ruthless B-to-B Marketing blog on TargetMarketingMag.com. Reach her at email@example.com.
Ruth P. Stevens consults on customer acquisition and retention, and teaches marketing at companies and business schools around the world. She is past chair of the DMA Business-to-Business Council, and past president of the Direct Marketing Club of New York. Ruth was named one of the 100 Most Influential People in Business Marketing by Crain's BtoB magazine, and one of 20 Women to Watch by the Sales Lead Management Association. She is the author of Maximizing Lead Generation: The Complete Guide for B2B Marketers, and Trade Show and Event Marketing. Ruth serves as a director of Edmund Optics, Inc. She has held senior marketing positions at Time Warner, Ziff-Davis, and IBM and holds an MBA from Columbia University.