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The Making of a Marketing Technologist

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Around 15 years ago, digital marketing technology (martech) was in its infancy. Marketers were searching for ways to sell to individuals rather than to mass markets. They were trying to create the marketing approach outlined in the 1996 book from
Don Peppers and Martha Rogers, “The One to One Future.”

That quest for one-to-one marketing led to a group of new tools. “Contact managers” and “sales force automation” software from companies like Brock Control Systems became best sellers. It was those early efforts that birthed the customer relationship management (CRM) industry, finally promising the holy grail that might deliver on the promises of one-to-one marketing. 

Now, digital marketers have CRMs, digital asset management (DAM) software, product information management (PIM) solutions, customer data platforms (CDPs), and predictive analytics. Consumers have TVs, smartphones, smart watches, social media, Internet of Things (IoT), and virtual reality (VR) at their fingertips. Between all of those, there are thousands of tools, technologies, and apps to tie the customer experience together.

That kind of complexity requires a whole new species of marketer: the marketing technologist. These individuals know the technology and have the organizational skills to make the one-to-one customer experience possible. If you’re one of these rare creatures, you could even aim your career at the role of Marketing Technology Officer or Chief Marketing Technologist. To get started, you need to develop a certain kind of mindset.

Start with an entrepreneurial mindset

Good entrepreneurs and marketing technologists have a lot in common. That’s why we made “entrepreneurial” the “E” in the M.A.R.T.E.C.H competency framework. This doesn’t mean working crazy hours for no pay. It means owning every project you touch like it’s your business. It means knowing that what you do makes a difference in someone’s life and caring about that.

Here are some entrepreneurial traits that are crucial for you to develop in a marketing technologist role:

    • Desire to make a difference: Digital marketing technologists build the customer experience and make a difference in people’s lives every day. If you’re in leadership, make sure you continuously reflect this back to your team. If you’re building the technology stack, remember that this user interface (UI) change you’re making means something to a person at the other end. For example, imagine the perfect gift delivered on time for a loved one’s birthday.

    • Work the ladder: Like an entrepreneur, you have to be able to step from the boardroom to the daily scrum and communicate well. Anyone in marketing technology (martech) needs to speak the language of the executive, marketing, technology, and customer disciplines.

    • Get the money: You need to be able to make a case to secure the money for your project. That means making a pitch and refining it over and over until you get what you need. Need a new CRM? Use the Salesforce 14-day free trial and build a case to show the value it can deliver.

    • Take the risk: You’re never going to have all the data you need to make a decision. You can assemble solid use cases, gather tons of internal user feedback, and still never be sure how things will play out. If you’re acting in the best interest of the customer experience and have enough data to show a good result is possible, take the risk.

    • Show the return: When people invest they want to see progress. Send a report directly to the personal stakeholders in your new application purchase. Gather snippets of impact, customer feedback, and any direct results. Then you can create a solid story you can share with your whole company and the martech community. Who knows, maybe it’ll lead to your first keynote presentation!

    • Create jobs: If you’re a martech leader, create jobs and teams that enhance the customer experience. For example, the Senior Director of Enterprise Marketing at Aetna, Rangeet Joseph Kurian, created three martech teams: Wearables & Health, Innovation, and Platforms. That’s a great structure for the business and it creates opportunities for others to grow. 

If doing these things means working extra hours, go for it. But, don’t pride yourself on burnout and working without results. The entrepreneurial mindset is about owning your part in the process and following through. With this mindset as a foundation, you can build your technical skills and chart your course to the Marketing Technology Officer (MTO) role.

Develop your technical skills

Where to start? It’s overwhelming when there are so many marketing technologies to learn. You can’t know them all, so make learning a habit and build it into your culture. Make the time to develop some of the technical skills below and you’ll be able to tackle specific technologies with more confidence.

    • Know your APIs: APIs make the customer experience go round. They send order confirmation emails, help people share on social media, buy tickets for events, enable two-factor authorization, deliver SMS notifications, and take payments. You name it, APIs probably do it. If you want to start learning now, this HubSpot article explains what they are, how they work, and why they’re disrupting the digital economy.

    • Learn some code: Marketing technologists need to have a basic understanding of software programming. You don’t need to code your product yourself, but you need to be able to talk with software developers about what’s under the hood. Knowing basic coding can help when you’re troubleshooting a problem and make you more effective in a crunch.

    • Keep up with social media: Every good marketing technologist needs to know the ins and outs of social platforms. You should know how to incorporate DAM tools into those processes, too. Do you have the right video size and metadata for TikTok in your DAM system yet? Get on it.

    • Understand content marketing: You need to have a solid understanding of how to carry out effective content marketing. This includes knowing the intimate details of search engine optimization (SEO) and how to improve the odds that people can find your content. Videos, images, and white papers are all a little different. Make sure you know the right ways each can make your content easier to discover.

    • Build expertise in DAM+PIM: The customer experience revolves around content and product data — gigabytes and terabytes of it. You need to know your way around a DAM+PIM solution to be an effective marketing technologist. When you’re familiar with the insides of these solutions, you can create one-to-one experiences that build brand trust and customer loyalty.

    • Grasp analytics and data science: Hopefully you have a data scientist by your side to help you model and understand your customer experience. Even if you do, you’ll have to know enough to organize some data on your own. Here’s a challenge for you: make your own marketing performance dashboard.

    • Get familiar with IT operations: Ok, so this is a quasi-technical skill. Marketing technologists need to know how IT operations run so that you can translate all these technical skills into results. When you know IT, respect their workflow, and put time into filling out your requests, they’ll help you. If you try to go around their operations protocol, you’ll develop an unhealthy relationship that blocks you in the future. 

The entrepreneurial mindset and these technical skills can help you succeed in any marketing technologist role. If you’ve still got your sights set on the MTO title, you need to understand where martech belongs in your organization and how to work from there.

Where does the MTO belong?

Assigning martech to the IT department is, let's face it, a mistake. As Joseph Kurian, Head of Marketing Technology & Innovation at Aetna points out, martech people need to report to the marketing department. If assigned to IT, they're obligated to devote part of their focus on IT issues. 

Instead, as Kurian says, the MTO should play the role of “CIO to the CMO” — a hybrid person who advises the CMO on all things tech that impact marketing.

Since the MTO isn’t exactly marketing and not exactly IT, it’s important for you to establish a healthy relationship with the IT department. Make it clear you won’t be tapping on shoulders to drain their resources without a plan. Meet with their managers, show them your strategy, budget, and roadmaps for execution. Get alignment with IT and then you can really get to work. 

Once you accomplish that, a big part of your role is playing the marketing ambassador to the rest of the company. Digital marketing assets and tools are often spread throughout the organization. You have to find ways to work with merchandising, customer service, HR, software development, finance, manufacturing, and other departments. Be clear about your goals, find where they line up with theirs, take accountability for your initiatives, and you’ll find your stride as an MTO. 

What the MTO needs (more than anything)

If you’re going to help your company meet or exceed its goals, you need to own and control these four things:

  1. Strategy: This can be tricky to coordinate with IT, and it’s vital that you own and control your strategy. Otherwise, you’ll simply become a technical advisor to someone else’s projects. Own the martech strategy and make it clear you’re responsible for both success and failure.

  2. Budget: Don’t let your budget get mixed under IT or you won’t be able to own your strategy. This will take some extra work with finance and some campaigning on your part. It’s worth it. Putting budget control in the hands of another department leaves your initiatives open to cancellation and changing priorities from the outside.

  3. Execution: The implementation, rollout, and execution of a martech initiative needs to be kept under control of the MTO. That makes it easier for you to bring the initiative from concept to reality.

  4. Team building: In an ideal world, you’d get to handpick a martech team and start with everything you need. In reality, you’ll need to build and develop the right team. Here’s how you can assemble an effective marketing technology team.

People have written whole books on each of these four things. And, none of them happen overnight or in a linear fashion. The secret is to keep them in mind and work on them steadily over time. It might take a month to get your budget separated from IT. It might take a year. If you can focus on these, while you juggle all the other skills of a marketing technologist, you’ve got what it takes to wear the MTO hat.

Martech is more personal than ever

As a marketing technologist, you have the chance to make a real difference in the world. One-to-one marketing isn’t just about selling people a product, it’s about connecting humans to their needs across distances. With so many of us working, shopping, and learning remotely, we’re depending on technology to connect us more than ever. 

Your next project might make it possible for people to buy their groceries online, to see their grandparents for the first time in a year, or to buy the computer that will help them take the next step in their career. Keep that in mind when you’re learning about DAM+PIM, starting to code, or migrating to your new CRM. As you connect the dots in your technology stack to personalize the customer experience, you connect people to what’s important in their lives.



Note: This article was originally published in April 2016 and has been updated to include additional information. 

Topics: Marketing

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