In their latest research, Forrester Consulting and Qubit tackle an important issue deserving of more attention: the successful implementation of digital marketing technology across departments.
Many companies invest heavily in these tools, but then do not spend enough time training and on-boarding into company workflows to make the investments worthwhile. So the technology languishes, underused and wasted, without fulfilling the promise of the initial upfront investment.
The study used an online survey of 185 retail, wholesale trade, utilities, travel, and media organizations both in the US and the UK, with the expressed aim to "evaluate how digital markets decision-makers use marketing technology."
Despite the general difficulty firms have in effectively integrated digital marketing technologies, or "MarkTech," the focus remains pure: a solid half of surveyed companies identified optimizing the digital customer experience as one of the most important strategies of the year.
So with many companies focused on enhancing the customer experience, what are some of the things holding them back from achieving their primary marketing goals?
The report identifies four key insights into the state of digital marketing technology.
Marketing technology is well supported
The surveyed firms are not at all reluctant to invest in digital marketing, and in fact they are thriving when it comes to the willingness to try out new solutions. A vast majority have integrated marketing solutions, and they have varying degrees of integration with specific marketing objectives.
It's telling that nearly every single firm among the 16% that do not have a marketing technology strategy are aware that this lapse is going to negatively impact their business.
Fragmentation of technology - simply having too many choices to achieve similar goals in an ever increasing competitive marketplace - is one potential reason for this situation.
Qubit CEO Graham Cooke, who commissioned the study, sees this fragmentation in technology as alarming for firms seeking effective digital marketing tools:
"The tug-o-war over marketing budgets dates back to the dawn of time—or close to it. However, marketers clearly have a problem on their hands when investments in digital technologies meant foster agility and opportunity to personalize customer’s online experience, are admittedly falling short.
"Yes, they may be driving adequate sales but are they truly receiving what they paid for? When you are working with disparate solutions, creating a Frankenstein’s monster of a digital marketing suite, you lose the ability to focus on what’s going to improve the site experience and inspire sales."
"The fact that 60% of the respondents noted that they are working in this fragmented hodgepodge, declaring that there are gaps that are preventing them from delivering a unified customer experience, is distressing. However, it becomes alarming when compared against the global spend ad spend of $505bn as reported by Zenith. With 14.43%% of Marketing budgets spent on MarkTech and 8.5% of this spend is effectively redundant, we have to ask, what’s the true cost of conversion?"
Organizational structure impacts digital marketing technology effectiveness
Surveyed organizations have specifically built their organizations around their marketing, especially as the marketing departments are the one's responsible for purchasing and implementing marketing technologies. However, due to some internal structures, the marketing departments' ownership of the technology means that they are not as effective as they could be.
Consider the following diagram, which outlines the many areas that marketing technology touches.
The organizational sophistication determines where the digital marketing technology lives, and if the organization is unable to live at the appropriate capability tiers for the identified end goal (collaboration, lead generation, optimization, etc), there is a serious lapse in effectiveness of the deployed technology.
Graham Cooke emphasizes that marketing must take responsibility for their own MarkTech and not rely on IT to deliver the goods:
"Marketers need to abandon the idea that they must rely on IT to deliver the goods. They should be able to harness responsive design, personalization, and customize the experience with the ability to tweak the features that suits their specific needs. There should be a split between IT and Marketing activities, whether it's changes to the front end or changes to the core of the systems in the back end."
Ineffective technology strategies have a negative impact on business
Losing money is an obvious result of misappropriating technology due to ineffective or non-existent technology strategies. If an investment is made, and the investment does not provide a return, this will directly impact the bottom line and put stress on other areas of the business.
If marketing - a department directly tied to increasing overall organizational revenues - cannot deliver on its promise, then there is a very real impact on the growth trajectory of the business. And thus much more pressure on the very same budget that marketers pull from for MarkTech investments.
And, as many of those surveyed corroborated, unsuccessful MarkTech implementation can also lead to other severe revenue problems, such as an increased cost of customer acquisition.
Firms want to solve problems but are impeded by organizational slowness
The ultimate lesson here for marketing professionals either attempting to garner more budget to fund their own MarkTech initiatives, or marketers looking to re-balance the way that marketing technology is deployed in their organizations, is to first analyze the organization. By not assuming that the problem lies with the technology, or specific people, considering just how the technology co-exists in the scope of one's one specific organization is an essential clue to deconstructing roadblocks to thriving digital marketing technologies.
As Cooke again highlights, this autonomy is the ultimate end goal of this organizational analysis:
"The autonomy that comes with a fully integrated, united platform means marketers can take control back, release the internal constraints, and focus on engaging their customers. Having the freedom to deploy a strategy, make a real-time push, create a customized campaign, all without having to tap your development team is invaluable, for resources, time, and obviously the bottom line. Marketers should be able to live in the moment, not hurry up and wait."
Looking forward at concrete takeaways for digital marketers, Cooke proffered the following wisdom:
"Customers and consumer behaviors are really driving the change, and more and more it’s coming down to the second, we call this real-time retailing. Mobile and tablets are obviously rising as the frequented channel for customer to interact for social, browsing and obviously shopping. It’s no longer about how we view the customer; it’s about how we understand them. Travel in particular. Serving the right content to users at the right point in their journey can have a significant impact on conversions."
Cooke also gently reminds those marketers behind direct retailing efforts - such as OTAs and other online sales channels for travel products - to understand optimization, and how it directly affects the customer experience.
"It wasn’t surprising that the study revealed that eCommerce and marketers own multichannel investments. The reality behind optimization is that it will continue to fall short unless the people behind the curtain are both imaginative and in control. While we are clearly in the midst of a reality check, it is encouraging that marketers and digital leaders alike are seeking to break the barriers that exist between them and their next move."
The full report is available for download here.
NB: The strategy wall image is courtesy Shutterstock.