I was having a coffee recently with a long-term friend and colleague. Like me, he’s very “experienced” (i.e. he’s been around business awhile). We come from different disciplines (me from MarComm and he from Tech), but have both met in the middle as business has migrated increasingly towards “MarTech”.
This acknowledgement of the growing importance of the “MarTech Stack”, and its role in identifying, acquiring, growing and retaining customers soon turned our discussion to past “silver bullets”. We had both seen lots in our separate disciplines over the years. I had been marketing long enough to have seen the evolution from what we now call “traditional” marketing (TV, radio, print, outdoor, etc.), to what became ‘digital’ (web, database marketing, CRM, SEO/SEM, PPC, e-mail, marketing automation (e-mail on ‘roids’), retargeting, and of course social media).
With the availability of each new tool and channel, marketers a little, and senior management a lot, fairly salivated at the possibilities for delivering new customers and sales dollars, ideally really quickly. When budget and then executional spend are committed to something new, there is always the expectation that ROI will quickly follow. The business cases supporting the new initiatives are frequently based on these often optimistic projections.
For clarity, I’m not saying that marketing technology won’t deliver results, or is ‘necessarily’ being portrayed as the latest marketing silver bullet, but some of the “symptoms” are certainly there:
- It is everywhere in newsletter coverage,
- There is an explosion of providers,
- Conferences abound,
- It’s a frequent topic of articles and blogs in places just like this,
- C-level executives, particularly those responsible for revenue generation, see elements of MarTech as “quick and sure” routes to increased market-share and revenue.
And, perhaps MarTech will be, but then again, it may not be either. Like past “next big things”, there won’t be magical results absent a number of other things being in place, and done well. Let’s look at some of those things by the classic for ‘4-P’s.
- First and foremost is the Product. New channels via which to message customers are not ‘brand’. It doesn’t matter how well advertised, through whichever traditional or digital channel, if you have a lousy product or poor customer service, it’s not going to sell very well, for very long.Even if it is pretty good but it is a ‘Me Too’ amongst a sea of lookalikes, you’ll struggle to succeed. If you can’t see or describe a discernible point of difference between your products, and those of competitors, and define a clear customer-value that flows from those differences, you will likely end up being forced to sell on price.
- Place, (or perhaps these days, the lack of even needing ‘a Place’) is perhaps as critical as at any time in history. Just ask Toy ‘R Us and Sears! It is no secret that purchasing habits are changing. This process has been underway for years but is now hitting an inflection point. Recent reports showed that Amazon is now bigger than most Bricks & Mortar retailers combined! This may be partly generational as Millennials and younger cohorts, raised in the wired world, see online purchase of products as ‘The Way’, not the ‘new way’. Industries from retail to media scramble to get (or be) better online to stay relevant. Brands such as Amazon, Apple, Alibaba, eBay and others are showing year-over-year growth old school retail companies can only dream of by leveraging combinations of breadth-of-offering, efficient customer access, convenient ordering and delivery, and more recently, brand credibility. They have moved from “upstarts”, mocked by old-line retail, to become giant-killers that are bringing the likes of Sears and Macy’s to heel, and striking fear into even the likes of Walmart.
- Price has always been tricky. As mentioned earlier, if you don’t have any significant points of differentiation from key competitors, you will end up selling on price. In my experience, this typically leads to a death spiral of ever diminishing prices as there is always a competitor willing to sell for even less in a race to the bottom. What you learn the hard way is that the very target market you end up appealing to ― the ‘price’ shopper ― is never happy. They will sell their own mother for a nickel. While no consumer wants to spend more than necessary for the product they choose, what they really want is Value; the correct balance between price and quality. Look at Apple products and ask yourself; are there cheaper substitutes? Do their customers routinely, knowingly pay more for their products? Do they willingly pay more because the products are better quality and meet their needs? Do they believe that the value proposition for the more expensive Apple product (what I pay, for what I get) is completely in balance? The answer is ‘Yes’ to all of these. They beat ‘price’ by selling on high-quality and well-differentiated products, at a ‘fair’ price as opposed to a ‘cheap’ one.
- Last, but certainly not least, is Promotion. Its here that most of the focus seems to end up in the ‘silver bullet’ world. As noted earlier, there have been lots of new approaches over the years; Direct Mail, database marketing, CRM, Web-based marketing, E-mail, Digital Marketing, Marketing Automation, Social Media, Account-based marketing, People-based marketing etc. etc. As consumer markets, and the media channels to get to them have continued to fracture, it’s become more and more difficult to speak to consumers consistently, and importantly, keep track of what they say back.
A recent article updated the 2017 MarTech provider universe to number 5,381 solutions (from 4,891 unique companies). It was just 150 in 2011! It’s a staggeringly complex space for marketers to manage. No wonder the average tenure for a CMO now is just 42 months.
Marketers, and their businesses, routinely feel that they are falling behind and need to get on board the ‘next big thing’. There is nothing wrong (and lots right) with staying current and making sure you are able to deploy customer messaging via the latest channels. However, you need to make sure that those channels and tools are actually helping you speak to the correct audience, in a relevant way, and in a timely manner. And, circling back to where I started, it’s absolutely critical that before you use any channel for messaging, that you have your house in order as far as your product’s overall value proposition. You still have to have a great brand, based on great products and service, and pricing in balance with the overall value.
Without the fundamentals in place, it doesn’t matter how revolutionary the new medium or approach is, you’re not going to see the hoped for sales results, instant or otherwise. Make sure the fundamentals are in place however, and the benefits and promise of MarTech could well flow to your business!