One of the superpowers marketing professionals are expected to have is staying on top of the evolving marketing technology landscape. You know, that landscape with more than 8,000 products.
Have you ever been in a meeting and had someone turn to you and say, “What do you think about Product X?” which turns out to be some obscure solution they’ve tripped over or read about? I know I have. Those questions often come from someone wanting to appear informed or to grandstand, but they always make me feel like I’m not on top of things when I haven’t heard of the product.
It’s impossible to be a walking, talking expert about every technology — or even technology category — in the marketing landscape. For that to be possible, you would have to have been born on the planet Krypton, which no longer exists. Nonetheless, staying abreast of shifts and technology changes in the industry is part of the marketing and marketing operations function, and there are several significant challenges in doing that:
The martech industry is continually evolving
Emergent channels, as well as changes and fragmentation in customer behavior, serve as catalysts for new product categories and products. In the last ten years, we’ve seen the introduction of CDPs, podcasting platforms and virtual event tools, for example. At CabinetM, we do our best to keep track of new product announcements and consistently see 200+ new product announcements a year. In 2021, more than $35B in funding went to marketing technology companies.
Marketing and, by default, martech is additive
As new channels and marketing practices are introduced, they rarely replace something already in place. More often, they become another layer in the marketing program. Email didn’t replace direct mail. Social media didn’t replace email, and digital advertising hasn’t replaced print advertising, etc. Budget priorities may shift, but the program layers generally don’t. We take approximately the same number of products out of our database each year that we add due to companies retiring products or closing down.
Today, we have over 15,000 products in our martech database. Are we at stasis? Not yet. There are still tools to be uncovered. We receive on average 20-30 requests to add tools to our database a month. Ex-U.S. companies are not fully represented in our database or anyone else’s. It will take time to cover the world. The definition of martech keeps expanding. For example, most marketing departments consider workflow management tools part of their technology portfolio, though some argue that workflow management isn’t a martech category. My best estimate is that we’ll ultimately reach stasis at over 20,000 products.
Keeping up with the acquisitions
Martech is a very acquisitive industry. In 2021 we saw 196 acquisitions worth $101 billion. If you have been keeping up with acquisitions in the past year and a half, this little quiz will be a breeze. Who acquired these companies in the past 18 months?**
Slack was acquired by ______Segment was acquired by ______Workfront was acquired by ______Mailchimp was acquired by ______Momentive was acquired by ______
Post-acquisition brings changes in product functionality, usually starting with integration capabilities. Salesforce’s acquisition of Slack allows the company to scale up a powerful collaboration tool with existing integration tools, workflow automation, and collaboration to improve productivity among internal teams and better communication between vendors and customers.
Acquiring companies generally rebrand the products they acquire and often adopt a phased approach to rebranding. Phase I, the existing brand remains in place under the umbrella of the new parent, Phase II, the new parent’s name merges with the existing brand (e.g., Twilio Segment), and then finally, Phase III is a complete name change. I’m a fan of the phased approach though I have to admit I often get lost at Phase III and struggle to remember new names.
General shifts and changes in product portfolios
Rebranding is not limited to acquisition environments. Companies rebrand and reposition products all the time due to changes in focus, sales approach, product functionality, and in the case of the large platform providers, the need to clearly represent the volume and relationship of the products in their portfolio.
Many companies have moved away from a singular list of products to categorizing products by function. SaaS companies often catalog market tools by industry – healthcare, finance, hospitality, etc. and are now increasingly also cataloging tools based on customer departments or needs – like marketing, sales, commerce and customer service. Salesforce, Adobe and Twilio are just three of the many companies that have changed their approach to presenting products.
I was surprised to see HubSpot change its position from marketing automation to CRM, but they’ve done a beautiful job of conveying how their CRM capability serves as the glue for the rest of offerings, which makes sense from a marketing position but also from the perspective of how their product offerings are used. I asked Ellie Flanagan from HubSpot what drove the positioning change, and she said, “Many people think of HubSpot purely as a marketing automation provider, so we needed to refresh our positioning to reflect the full breadth of the platform today. A CRM platform promises a single source of truth that empowers front office teams to deepen their relationships with customers and provide a best-in-class experience. Our new positioning enables us to better highlight the aspects of our platform and approach that set us apart from the competition.”
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Given all these challenges, how do you unleash your superpowers to stay on top of the shifts and changes in the martech industry?
Your worth is not in knowing a list of 15,000+ tools; it’s in knowing the products and categories that could be game-changers in your environment. Pick the critical categories for your use case, carve out time to keep on top of those, or share the load with your teammates and meet for a monthly communal debrief.
In line with point 1, you should have a clear view and framework for where you are headed over the next one to two years. Let that guide you to new categories to watch. Make sure that you are saving market reports and product information related to categories and products of interest. Having a long-term view will have the added benefit of ensuring that you look at the big picture when making near-term product decisions.
In the same way that you are continually looking at the performance and implementation of the products in your stack, you should make sure you are following the news from the vendors in your stack to ensure that you keep abreast of a) name changes that may cause confusion later; b) sales and support changes in the event of acquisition; and c) new functionality that may be of value in your environment. If an acquisition brings a better integration between two products in your stack, it could significantly improve performance. If resources are stretched thin, then focus on those mission-critical platforms in your stack.
Some marketing operations leaders carve out a “Vendor Day” once a month or quarter to listen to new vendor pitches. This is a good way to learn about new products, and you can use these sessions to question vendors about broader market trends.
Finally, some advice for you if you have to deal with the annoying know-it-all in the meeting who tries to put you on the spot about some new or obscure technology. Throw back your cape, put your hands on your hips and assert your martech dominance by saying, “No, I’m not aware of Product X, we’re currently focused on the following areas [insert areas here], and are looking at [insert new categories] for the future. Do you think we should be looking at Product X, and what benefits do you think it will bring to our marketing plan?”
Most of the time, they’ll back off, but sometimes they may have something valuable to contribute, in which case you should recruit them to be your trusty sidekick!
** Quiz Answers:
Salesforce acquired Slack
Twilio acquired Segment
Adobe acquired Workfront
Intuit acquired Mailchimp
Zendesk acquired Momentive