As Integrate CMO, Scott Vaughan, pointed out this week in a timely AdExchanger article:
There is a growing effort to merge anonymous third-party data (e.g. cookies) with identified/known customer data (e.g. email, job title) to engage audiences with customized, relevant messaging, and attribute sales performance to specific marketing experiences. To do this, CMOs are investing heavily both in their marketing tech stack and the ad tech solutions that fill the gaps and expand capabilities.
He goes on to exhort CMOs to create a marketing technology blueprint in order to:
Make smarter decisions both for new and incremental investments by painting a clearer picture of which marketing and ad technologies have already been adopted, the ways they connect (or don’t) with each other, and how they connect customers/prospects to your internal resources and processes.
In my role at Integrate, I work with customers every day to align their processes and technologies, identify bottlenecks in data flow and resource efficiency, and develop strategies to improve overall marketing performance. Creating a marketing tech blueprint is the most crucial step in my efforts. Until marketers visualize the interactions between their processes and systems, they’re usually completely unaware of the deficiencies or opportunities that exists.
Discovery is the first step. I start by asking standard questions that become more customized based on the answers. In my experience, most CMOs, marketing execs and marketing ops team members often must do their own internal research to identify answers to some questions; so this list should come in useful for this phase of blueprint development:
- What are all the technologies used by marketing?
- How do they align, connect, and overlap?
- Is the flow of data automated or manual (for example, do you have to upload data or is it submitted via APIs)?
- Which are the mission-critical pieces of software (that is, what technologies couldn’t you do business without)?
- Which technologies are complementary to mission-critical technologies?
- Which tech components are you willing to replace? (Answers to this question usually change substantially after the blueprint is created)
- Which technologies are legacy (internal) systems and which are vendor sourced?
Step 2: Connecting marketing processes and technology
Answers to the above questions provide the technology components that will comprise a large portion of the blueprint. However, without a good understanding of the processes these technologies are meant to facilitate and/or enhance, the blueprint will deliver little value. So before illustrating the blueprint, I always create a list of each marketing process—as chronologically as possible (this isn’t always straightforward since some processes, such as analysis and optimization, can occur at numerous points along a marketing program).
Start by asking: What steps are taken to initiate a marketing campaign/program? The answer may be customer analysis, RFP distribution to media partners, content curation/management, etc.? Then just keep going. Jot down each step taken in the program development and execution process along with the every technology used to assist in each task.
In a fully developed blueprint, the process should include everything from campaign planning to customer data accumulation to marketing automation to CRM/sales efforts and then eventually round back to campaign planning for a closed-loop marketing process. Of course, this is never a perfect circle—and it shouldn’t be. Data should be kicked back to various systems at several points for analysis and optimization.
Once you have a list of tasks and associated technologies, you can begin illustrating the relationships. I use PPT simply because it’s easy to create flowcharts and share.
NOTE: It’s tempting at this point to say: “I have the list—this is good enough.” Believe me, it’s not. The visual representation will enable you to identify gaps, inefficiencies, redundancies and waste in ways a list just can’t.
Step 3: Identifying the bottlenecks and opportunities
Now the magic. The blueprint means absolutely nothing unless you use it to discover areas of improvement. Three questions should be asked:
- What’s missing?
- What’s not working as it should?
- What could be performing better?
If you’re asking your colleagues (or yourself) these questions, the best approach is to listen to their needs and frustrations rather than directly asking questions about the technology itself. Answers are unlikely to come in the form of “I wish my media management system did this…” but rather “I wish we had insight to…” or “I wish there was a better way to achieve…” Interpreting such needs and frustrations as limitations is essential to developing a useful tech blueprint.
What’s missing? While I occasionally come across customers who’ve yet to adopt a much-needed marketing automation platform or lead-validation software, it’s usually less about what’s missing and more about what’s manual; I’m often amazed by how seldom marketers are aware of tech solutions that automate RFP and IO creation, budget/allocation adjustments, asset delivery, and other seemingly small, yet manual tasks that quickly eat up time and resources. By far the biggest concern that I’m always sure to address is the integration of existing systems. If you must manually upload and transmit data between each technology leveraged, you’re essentially getting only half the value from your investment.
What’s not working as it should? This question almost always puts me in a precarious position with my customers, because in my experience the answer is usually a legacy system. In these cases, customers believe they have everything they need or the current system is good enough. The reality, however, is that the conversation wouldn’t be happening if that were the case. They’re often awaiting their own IT/development team to build some sort of magical link between the existing legacy system and a few external technologies, and are convinced that once completed, they’ll have everything they need. The reality is much different—most legacy systems were never designed to be part of a cohesive tech suite, and even if integrated, they’ll never perform satisfactorily.
What could be performing better? With the blueprint in front of them, many marketers quickly notice that they have advantageous technology at their disposal, but they’re only reaping partial benefits due to a lack of connectivity. For example, insights from the CRM aren’t being used to allocate media investment to the right partners or creative assets. Or even worse, customer/prospect data isn’t directly transmitted to marketing automation systems, but rather uploaded in batch files, slowing lead velocity. Sometimes analytics software is only located high in the funnel—too high to provide actionable customer insights.
Myriad problems may exist, but most can be fixed. And the steps outlined above have proven to be my go-to method for providing marketers the insights needed to advance their marketing efforts to the next level. I invite you to invest the effort into working through this process. If in your experience, you discover any improvements to this model, I’d love to hear about them. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.