It’s becoming all the more evident that the pace of change in technology and marketing is accelerating at an incredible rate. The integration of technology with marketing and strategy will be a key issue in 2015. Technology has forayed into areas that were typically the domain of IT and marketing departments. Digital marketing used to be complex. Now, with the help of technology, it’s becoming much more manageable.
- How important is technology for marketing and strategy?
Should you adopt technology before you formulate your strategy, or should strategy precede technology
- How can you change your business to accommodate technology and keep pace with its rapid advances?
These are kind of questions you should be asking yourself if you are looking into using technology to improve your digital marketing efforts. I’ll try to answer these questions and clear some of the fog that shrouds the subject of technology in digital marketing.
Key Issues and Observations
Before we can think about the solution, we must define the problem. Here are a few observations that I have, after working with many clients:
- Technology is advancing so fast that it’s often difficult for marketers to keep pace with it. I went through my bookmarks earlier this week and within my “Marketing Tools” I have 50 tools bookmarked. Incredibly, 15 of these no longer existed or had evolved into something quite different.
- Business owners and manager are grappling with the question of whether or not to invest in technology, and which particular tool or piece of software to opt for.
- Some marketers are not fully utilising the technology that they already have access to.
- Organisations lack the capability and/or budget to evaluate different digital marketing tools and purchase the right one.
- There is a greater degree of collaboration required between marketing and IT departments.
Most marketers think technology is a way to increase efficiency, but few of them seem to realize that technology is as much about efficiency as it is about customer experience, and equally, expansion.
- Marketers are making their lack of technical knowledge an excuse for not understanding and using technology.
Because of these problems, marketing technology remains vastly under-utilised by most businesses.
What Technology Can Do for Marketing
Technology is not the antidote for all your marketing problems. It doesn’t free you of the responsibility of creating brilliant content or drawing an elaborate target market profile. However, there are various areas of marketing that technology tries to help with but for the sake of time, I’ll stick to two areas: efficiency and experience.
Increasing Efficiency: Digital technology doesn’t only boost the efficiency of your existing processes, but also enables you to create new, more efficient processes. For instance, tools such as Oktopost or Login Radius make it easy to manage multiple social media platforms and accounts from a single dashboard. The process of social media marketing becomes more efficient if you are using this type of software. Full Contact, another piece of great technology, allows you to find out the social media profiles of your email contacts. It thus creates a new process that enhances the effectiveness of your email marketing and lead nurturing processes.
Improving Experience: Technology improves customer experience by making your messaging more interesting, media-rich and engaging. For instance, a designing tool such as Adobe Photoshop can help you create better visual content. Internet and mobile apps, virtual event and webinar software (my favourite being Google Hangouts), interactive ads and pop-ups, gamification tools, and other such technologies are more about enhancing customer experience. Even something as simple as keeping customers informed throughout a purchase can be easily sorted using technology (GetResponse.com have a fantastic autoresponder well worth trying).
Marketers should keep both efficiency and experience in mind while using marketing technology. Efficiency should certainly be a goal, but the greater opportunity lies in using software to create targeted and behaviour-driven lead capturing and nurturing processes that could not have been conceived without technology. Think relationships.
Technology and Strategy
Integration with strategy is one of the biggest dilemmas that technology presents. Managers are expected to formulate digital marketing strategies that leverage the available technology. Two approaches can be adopted.
- Define your strategy, and then look for the technologies that help improve efficiency and customer experience.
- Get hold of a digital marketing technology stack, and then make your strategy based on what you can achieve with your toolbox.
As you may see, both these approaches are fallacious. Option 1 imposes serious limitations on the goals and processes that you define, because unless you understand technology, you’ll not know what kinds of strategies are possible. Option 2 presumes that a particular set of tools can prove to be the panacea for your marketing strategy, but that’s rarely the case. Technology is evolving very fast, and there’s no one-size-fits-all digital marketing technology package that exists.
The right approach to strategy formulation is to maintain a circular relationship between strategy and technology. You define your strategy based on the technology that you are currently using or know about. Your strategies then tell you what new tools and software you require. And, the new technology that you adopt allows you to further refine your strategy. It’s a relationship in which both technology and strategy reinforce each other, forming a cycle of continuous improvement. However it does need a starting point.
Types of Marketing Technology
Digital marketing technology has quickly evolved into a maze of tools and software that can be confusing just to look at, let alone use. Take a look at the following marketing technology landscape, as depicted by SmartInsights.
As you can see, selecting and evaluating technology is a formidable task. It can be made simpler if you know the areas of your marketing where technology can be deployed. There are at least 10 types of digital marketing technology that a business should use in order to ensure its survival in 2015 and beyond.
- CRM: Using customer relationship management (CRM) software is a must for any growth-oriented business. CRM software can help you nurture your relationships with your customers, improve communications, and make it easier for your sales team to track prospects and close sales. There are several CRM suites available, such as Salesforce, NetSuite, and OnContact, which are regarded as some of the best CRM products of 2014.
- Marketing Automation: Good marketing automation tools can give you the capability to do things like manage your blog and social media, create landing pages and lead capture forms, track keywords and leads, benchmark your marketing against your competitors, manage email campaigns, and measure the performance of your digital marketing. Take a look at Infusionsoft, Hubspot and Vocus for some nice tools.
- SMM Software: If you don’t need a comprehensive marketing automation package that comes with a built-in social media marketing feature, you can use one of the several free and paid tools to manage, measure and coordinate campaigns across a variety of social platforms. HootSuite, Oktopost, Buffer App and Sprout are some of the best social media marketing tools available, although there are hundreds other tools out there. Some of these technologies also help you build interactive ads and apps that deliver a rich and engaging social user experience.
- Email Marketing: Your email marketing software makes it simple to design and dispatch aesthetically formatted emails and newsletters to your extensive mailing lists, but can also deliver elaborate analytics, including information about the ever growing mobile and tablet market. You can easily find out exactly how many people are opening your emails and clicking on the links that you included. ConstantContact, Benchmark Email and GetResponse are some of the top-ranked technologies for email management.
- Webinars and Conferencing: If you have your customers spread across the country or even across the world and your business model includes face-to-face interaction with them, you could use video conferencing software. Join.me, Webex and GoToMeeting are popular technologies in this category but also look at Skype and Google Hangouts for mainstream solutions.
- Design: Stunning, attractive design is the soul of your digital marketing, and, in my opinion, there’s no better software for it than Adobe Creative Suite. You can subscribe to the Adobe Creative Cloud to access the latest versions of Photoshop, Illustrator, Indesign, Acrobat, and a plethora of other design apps. You can access these cloud-based apps from your office, home or anywhere else…even from your mobile. There are plenty of other options, though. I wrote a blog post recently on creating great visual content.
- Analytics: Google Analytics is the best and cheapest (free!) method of keeping tabs on your digital marketing performance. Just add the script to your website and you can delve into a data-rich environment, to emerge with important insights about the strengths and weaknesses of your online marketing.
- Project Management: In an emerging global workplace, your digital marketing team doesn’t necessarily need to be working from the office…or even in your city or country. There are numerous cloud based technologies available, which help you stay organized and collaborate with your team members as well as clients on a project-to-project basis. Basecamp, Trello, and Smart Sheet are some of the best tools available for project management.
- Content Management: Having fresh, unique and optimised content is the foundations to better search engine rankings. A content management system (CMS) makes it easy for your whole team to publish and update content. WordPress CMS continues to dominate content marketing with its intuitive interface and variety of plugins and templates.
- Collaboration: Tools like Skype and Google+ Hangouts allow you to collaborate with team members in geographically dispersed locations. Using Hangouts, up to 10 people can participate in an online meeting via video chat. Google Drive is an excellent way to collaborate on documents.
How to Manage Technology
Many marketers fail to harness the full power of the technology that is already available to them. For example, a good proportion don’t know how to leverage Google Analytics for augmenting their online marketing performance. The gap between the marketers’ knowledge and technology is quite natural, though, as the explosion of technology has created a new dimension of marketing. However, marketers must learn and get better at using technology, as opposed to shying away and shirking responsibility.
Technology has melted the boundaries between IT and Marketing departments. Many businesses are puzzled by the question of whether their digital marketing activities should be run by the CMO or the CIO. In principle, the CMO (or similar) should have a leading role in marketing technology management. The reason is that marketing is increasingly about the digital customer experience that you design and deliver using different software, and the CMO is the right person to envisage and design the customer experience. But, with that said, there’s a need to integrate technology with other business functions, for which IT department must be involved. Marketing should spell out the requirements and carry out the financial governance of technology, whereas IT should deal with security, regulation, continuity, and integration with the business’s IT systems. However, this somewhat simplistic solution presents an important paradox.
Steve Jobs said, “People don’t know what they want until you show it to them”. In a typical setup, marketing knows little about technology, and IT knows little about marketing. How can marketers tell what they want, when they know nothing about technology? How can IT suggest a technology, when it knows nothing about marketing? As Henry Ford said, “if I had asked people what they want, they would have said, faster horses”. When marketing asks IT for a faster horse, IT delivers a faster horse. Both of them haven’t seen the automobile, so they don’t know it exists!
This paradox is solved by creating a new strategic role within the organisation, the role of a Chief Digital Officer, Head of Digital or CDO. It is predicted that 25% of organizations will have a CDO by 2015. Chief Digital Officers operate in the overlap between IT and marketing. CDO is in charge of the eCommerce or online portion of the business. They are responsible for customer experience, revenue generation, and digital business strategy. CDO is the next generation IT hero who really understands digital as a way to bring innovation to the organisation.
It’s a powerful role. As new technologies are becoming available at a dizzying pace, CDOs in many companies report directly to CEOs and act as change agents. Other businesses confine the role of CDO to marketing by placing them under the CMO.
Marketing is transforming into something none of us have seen before. The technology big-bang is changing the organisational structures, and it appears that the role of CDO is going to become permanent and ubiquitous across business organizations. This role is going to make IT departments less important, if not completely useless. Unlike the stereotype CIOs who are just concerned with managing and implementing technology, CDOs implement technology driven innovation.
Technology is outpacing marketers’ understanding. Management teams are grappling with how to handle technological change. Conventional marketing and IT structure roles are becoming obsolete, as are conventional marketing practices. Every business has a pressing need to harness technology. Every business will need to change the way it thinks about marketing if it wants continued success.