When martech isn’t martech

Here’s a question I’ve been asking people for the last few days: “Where do you draw the line with martech?” It might seem a pointless question: after all, it’s facile to define martech as technology which helps marketers do marketing. But is that really true?

My question was prompted in part by a new StackInsights report from CabinetM, the martech management platform which subscribers can use to audit, track, manage and develop their martech stacks. For the first time, CabinetM has aggregated the data contributed by those users (anonymously, of course), and published findings which reflect the composition of hundreds of real-life, functioning martech stacks. The report, “Marketing Technology Adoption Data” can be accessed here.

Browsing through the lists of most popular tools in B2B and B2C stacks, one thing immediately stood out. CabinetM’s users had listed tools which didn’t seem to be martech tools at all: YouTube, Sharepoint, JIRA Software, GoToWebinar, Zapier, Zoom. Sure, marketers might use any of these tools, but they weren’t developed for marketers, and any of them might be used by almost any team in the organization. JIRA, for example, was built for developers.

Supporting the customer journey and experience

I asked CabinetM founder and CEO Anita Brearton about what, from her point of view, turned out to be only an apparent anomaly. “It’s been interesting to see what our users define as martech,” she agreed. “We’ve settled on this definition: Any technology used to create or support the development of experiences and journeys that drive customer acquisition, engagement, and retention. This ends up including adtech, salestech, web optimization, collaboration tools and much more. The industry likes to have clean demarcation lines between categories but the reality is that marketing teams don’t care about that. What they care about is constructing the best stack of tools to achieve their business and marketing objectives.”

That makes sense of course, but isn’t it still fair to say that some of the tools in a marketing stack, helpful though they may be, are not actually martech tools.

The free-for-all approach

Brearton’s definition seeks, at least, to pick out a relationship between the tools and outcomes which are clearly marketing related. But some responses I’ve seen to my question are much more laissez-faire. For example, martech is any technology a marketer uses.

Even with the sober qualification “for work purposes,” that seems to me to be implausible. Is Google Calendar martech? How about Evernote (note-taking) or Calendly (appointment scheduling) or Citrix Workspace (virtual workspace), or Microsoft Bing? It’s easy to think of solutions marketers use to help them get through the working day, which you would never expect to see on a martech landscape.

Of course there are more difficult cases. Prezi offers virtual presentation software: something, again, which almost any team might use. But having met their CEO at Dreamforce, there’s no question in my mind that marketing teams are an important market for Prezi. Perhaps the same is true of Slack and Workfront. All of which might point to the conclusion: it’s martech if the vendor is selling to marketers.

I needed to get some other perspectives.

The need to draw a line

Frans Riemersma is the founder of Martech Tribe and the moving force behind the European martech supergraphic, a diagrammatic representation of almost 2,500 solutions. “There’s an event in London every year,” he said, “called Technology for Marketing, and I think that’s a better wording than martech. Martech, strictly taken, means marketing technology that only marketers use.”

Using the free-for-all definition — any technology marketers use — opens the flood gates. “That’s when you see everything surfacing, like Trello, Slack, and what have you.” The question, said Riemersma is not just where we draw the line: “What if we don’t draw a line, will that confuse people?” Take, for example, the productivity app Shleep (help with sleeping habits). “Is that martech? I don’t think so,” said Riemersma, “but it’s a corporate app, not personal. That’s a very extreme example of, it could be martech because it helps your productivity.”

Riemersma also points out that non-marketing tools can be adapted for marketing purposes. “Campaign management is basically very similar to project management,” he said, “so why not use a Trello or an Asana? They’re not marketing tools, but they’re very helpful.”

The effect of remote working

Personally, I think one reason that communication and collaboration tools are front-of-mind for marketers is the remote working environment which has afflicted so many of us for almost a year now. Of course video conferencing and solutions like Microsoft Teams were in use before the pandemic — and they may well have been critical tools for dispersed teams. But for teams working together in shared physical office space, their days didn’t revolve around Zoom and Slack.

Now that these kinds of tools actually make working as a marketing team possible, it’s easy to view them as part of the martech stack. I think that’s misleading, because they’re equally part of the sales stack, the customer success stack, and so on.

I put these reflections to Scott Brinker, VP Platform Ecosystem at HubSpot and editor of the Chief Martec blog. He added an example: “Training, whether it’s internal training or learning management systems for educating customers is part of marketing. HubSpot Academy lives in the marketing organization. Learning management systems technology obviously wasn’t designed purely as martech, but it’s an essential part of the martech stack.”

Recently, Brinker has been researching the use of no-code tools within marketing organizations. “It’s the same thing,” he said. “These tools weren’t built specifically for marketers, but they are game-changing in the way they’re allowing marketers to do a whole bunch of things on their own that previously they couldn’t get done — or they had to pick a ticket and wait for the IT department to get to them.”

Porous boundaries

Isn’t there a risk of inflation, though? Don’t we start to make the martech landscape more extensive than it actually is, if we start including all these tools alongside core marketing solutions? Industry analysts, Brinker said — the Gartners and Forresters of this world — would probably agree. “Instead of looking at thousands of things, if you’re thinking about marketing automation, you have seven choices: here they are, and here’s how they stack up. I think that’s totally valid, and there’s definitely value to that.”

On the other hand, in actual practice, it doesn’t matter what labels you put on tools: “These are the tools that marketers are actually using to get their job done. As an actual marketing operations leader, what are the pieces I need working and working together? It’s a very porous boundary.”

In the background, as Brinker correctly observes, there are trends to more closely integrate sales, marketing and service or success teams, perhaps under a revenue operations umbrella, which will make the technology boundaries even more porous.

Even so, I think it’s possible — for the most part — to distinguish between, say, sales enablement tools or helpdesk software, and the calendars or video conferencing solutions the sales and service teams happen to use.

It’s significant, I think, that marketing landscape supergraphics, so far at least, haven’t embraced the enormous numbers of tools which fall under the simple heading “used at work by marketers.” Similarly, I don’t see MarTech Today covering scheduling or note-taking apps. But the debate will continue.

My take? People have argued for centuries over what is and is not a work of art. One line of thought says that if it can be shown in an art gallery, then it’s a work of art. I think that’s reasonable; but I think it’s overreach to suggest that the overhead lighting in the gallery counts as art because it’s needed in order that the art works be seen.

I’d like to know what readers think: kdavis@thirddoormedia.com.

This story first appeared on MarTech Today.

About The Author

Kim Davis is the Editorial Director of MarTech Today. Born in London, but a New Yorker for over two decades, Kim started covering enterprise software ten years ago. His experience encompasses SaaS for the enterprise, digital- ad data-driven urban planning, and applications of SaaS, digital technology, and data in the marketing space. He first wrote about marketing technology as editor of Haymarket’s The Hub, a dedicated marketing tech website, which subsequently became a channel on the established direct marketing brand DMN. Kim joined DMN proper in 2016, as a senior editor, becoming Executive Editor, then Editor-in-Chief a position he held until January 2020. Prior to working in tech journalism, Kim was Associate Editor at a New York Times hyper-local news site, The Local: East Village, and has previously worked as an editor of an academic publication, and as a music journalist. He has written hundreds of New York restaurant reviews for a personal blog, and has been an occasional guest contributor to Eater.

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