How to Keep Your Head Above the Waves of Marketing Data & Technology

About six months ago my wife, eighteen-month-old daughter, and I packed up a fifteen-foot U-Haul truck with all our belongings and set out on a move to south Florida. We were on the run from the endless doldrums of winter in the Northeast. In visualizing our new life, I often imagined my morning workout including an idyllic hour paddling out into the Atlantic and catching waves on a sleek new surfboard. While this exact workout regimen never completely materialized, I did finally pick up a second-hand, dinged up, bright yellow surfboard. The sales person assured me it was geared more toward "fun" than "gnarly shredding." This seemed reasonable to me, considering I'd only surfed a handful of times more than a decade ago.

When I finally took my new board out for the first time, the day ended up looking more like fruitless floundering and exhaustion than what you may think of as surfing. As it turns out, surfing is indeed a good workout, but it's not the actual standing on the board and riding waves part that's strenuous. It's everything else: paddling against the chop, "duck-diving" under the breakers to avoid being swept back into shore, and the constant battle to keep your head above the water to maintain an idea of what's coming next. If you want to catch a wave, it is imperative to know exactly where you are so you can get to where you need to be and surf. 

It recently struck me that the ability to keep my head above the waves is a skill and practice not just necessary in surfing. It’s also pertinent in managing an organization's marketing technology. Without a marketing technology strategy and the ability to rise above the chaos, leveraging your organization's data and technology may very well look like me on my first day back on a surfboard – fruitlessly flailing and floundering in a wild ocean of data and tech rather than harnessing their powers and enjoying the ride. 

Data Strategy

A marketing technology strategy must focus on data. Data is the water to marketing's ocean, and without it, campaigns and marketing initiatives are guesses and shots in the dark at best, wasteful and ineffective at worst. So, it makes sense that a marketing technology strategy must not just consider data, but work to make sense of it.

Some data-related questions this strategy should be able to answer:

  • Where is your CRM data?
  • Where is your email data?
  • What about your web analytics data?
  • How about your digital media - display, search, social? How can you access this data? How regularly is it updated?
  • How clean and usable is your data? Which sources can be linked together?
  • Which ones cannot?

A clear picture of your organization's marketing data is invaluable, as it empowers the stakeholders who capture and use it to leverage all its facets as efficiently and effectively as possible. On the flip side, it also enables these stakeholders to clearly see where their data may have gaps and then empowers them to develop a plan around closing those gaps.

Architecture & Integration

A marketing technology strategy must also focus on your marketing technology stack's architecture and integration. If we maintain our analogy with data as the water to marketing's ocean, then the marketing technology stack is everything else: the swells, currents, winds, tides, ocean floor topographies, and anything else that effects the ocean’s waves. As in surfing, the importance of recognizing the pertinence of these components and understanding how they interface and interact with one another cannot be overstated. Therefore, the strategy must look across platforms – from traditional martech and adtech, and even data stores and analytics platforms.

To truly understand and harness your organization's marketing technology, your strategy cannot be relegated to channel- or platform-specific silos. The marketing technology strategy must examine how each of your technologies interacts with the others. Some questions to ask and answer may be the following:

  • How does data get from your CMS to your CRM database?
  • How is your web analytic platform capturing data from external digital channels?
  • How is your marketing automation tool triggered by interactions on your website?
  • How about the call center?
  • What channels does your decision engine integrate with and what are the barriers to integrating it with others?
  • Which reports are automated and which are still manual? What is preventing automation? 

Developing clarity around your organization’s marketing technology architecture and integration points will provide immediate value to stakeholders across the board. By highlighting all available capabilities and illuminating opportunities for improvement and further integration, your organization will have a clear picture of their current strengths and weaknesses, enabling the development of a plan to build on existing capabilities and implement new ones where necessary.

Next Steps 

If you feel like you're constantly battling the relentless surf of marketing data and technology, barely keeping your head above water, it may be time to take a step back and develop a proper marketing technology strategy.

After my first day of surfing, I realized something: had I spent an extra five minutes on shore working to observe and read the ocean waves, I could have waited for a break between them and timed my paddling so that I didn't have to work so vigorously just to get past the breakers. Setting aside the time and resources to develop your marketing technology strategy will have the same effect, enabling your organization to have a clear picture and take full advantage of your marketing data and technology with substantially less effort – and exceedingly more success.

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