Don’t Say Yes to the Tech (Until You Do This)
You’ve got a problem. The latest and greatest content technology promises to solve it. But before you dive in, take a step back. An ad-hoc approach could cause more headaches in the long run. Here’s what to do instead.
By Stefanie Curtis
You may be tempted to add or ask for a new tool whenever challenges arise that your existing systems can’t easily address. Many marketing and content teams approach marketing technology decisions with a similar ad-hoc strategy.
Unfortunately, this only adds to the complexity of your martech environments and can saddle your team with tech debt – in other words, paying for technology that doesn’t meet your needs.
Taking a one-off approach to adding tools and tech can also get in the way of marketing success. Added (and possibly unnecessary) costs reduce ROI. Steep learning curves, complex features, and integration issues slow productivity.
Even so, there are many valid reasons to consider updating, replacing, or adding to tech systems. The right technologies can help teams produce content more efficiently, target consumers more effectively, and reveal insights that lead to more personalized, relevant content experiences.
But how do you decide whether you need to add new technology and which to choose?
To answer those questions, you need a systematic review of current and planned content technology needs – and a way to evaluate tech options against those needs.
Set up a martech dream team
The first step is to establish a team to help you review what tech tools your business has in place today, whether you’re getting the most out of each one, and what other features and functionalities you feel you need immediately as well as in the near future. This will help you build a martech strategy you can implement to govern all marketing technology purchase decisions moving forward.
Who should you include on this team? It depends on who’s responsible for martech strategy in your particular organization. In many companies, the CMO leads the strategy, establishes the KPIs it’s meant to support, and selects the team to implement it.
Of course, your content team leaders should have a seat at the table, too. But strategic martech decisions need to involve more than just marketing and content team stakeholders. Including representatives from sales, customer service, IT, finance, and procurement in your process will result in a fully integrated martech strategy that works well with the systems that are in place across all your business functions.
You can also consider inviting external partners to the decision-making team if they will need access to the systems you implement. But keep the number of people on the team small to avoid decision-by-committee fatigue.
Review before you act
Once you have a team in place, you need to evaluate the benefits and challenges of investing in additional systems and tools. This process starts with an audit of your current marketing tools to make sure you’re getting the most out of the technology you’re already working with (and paying for) and to identify where gaps still exist.Smart martech evaluations start with an audit of your current marketing tools to identify which benefits you’re receiving and where capability gaps exist, says Pace Creative Group’s Stefanie Curtis via @cmicontent. Click To Tweet
For quick wins, focus on these areas:
- Build up user adoption: Find out who owns the tech you have, who’s using it, and what they’re using it for. If you find significant gaps in adoption, you may want to invest in and promote training and education before you consider adding new tools.
- Pilot unexploited capabilities: Get familiar with any newer features or capabilities offered through your existing tools. Many organizations use only one or two of the core capabilities in the tech they already own because they aren’t aware of the available product upgrades and enhancements.
- Strengthen integrations: Prioritize areas that align with business goals. For example, organizations may have workflow tools that aren’t integrated with execution tools, which results in time-consuming manual data movement and copying-and-pasting maneuvers.
- Harmonize processes: Review what’s currently working and not working for your organization. Explore interim solutions that can serve as a stopgap measure while you review new tech options.
Evaluate martech needs that extend beyond marketing
A strategic, cross-team approach to martech decisions makes future upgrades easier and ensures any new tech you select will meet your organization’s immediate business needs, as well as those that are likely to arise in the near future.
Here’s a process you can use to take the insights you’ve gathered through your audit and build a strategy that can work well across multiple functions of your enterprise:
Review your business goals and content marketing objectives: Dig into your documented business strategies and current marketing plans to get a clear understanding of where your priority content goals and objectives lie.
Asking these questions can help sharpen your focus:
- What are our plans for using content over the next one, five, or 10 years?
- How are we planning to grow our performance? Through acquisitions? By introducing new content products or services? By targeting new personas? Through other means?
- What are our customers’ biggest pain points? How will our content help address them?
- What are the steps of our customer journey? How do new customers typically discover, research, and make purchase decisions about the types of products and services our business offers?
Map those goals to your current and future marketing plans: For example, if increasing your market share in the next five years is a top priority for your business, what content tactics will you use to meet that goal? Will you use search ads, social ads, digital content, physical or virtual events, email campaigns, account-based marketing (ABM) campaigns, or other approaches? Your answers here will help you determine what tech capabilities you need to account for.
List the other functional departments you work with – and the data your teams need to share: Sales teams, social media teams, IT, and even customer success teams can frequently collaborate on content. Yet, their efforts are often siloed, which can add complexity to the process of optimizing an organization’s tech usage – especially in a digital transformation setting. In fact, a recent survey found that this is a top challenge for 39% of companies.
It’s important to know what kinds of marketing data those teams might need access to, as well as the processes and tools they currently use to store, retrieve, update, and manage the insights they generate. This gives you a clearer understanding of the integration and implementation challenges you might experience when adding new technology to the mix.
For example, if you know email campaigns will play a big role in your content strategy, consider which other teams might be involved in helping you execute and support those campaigns. Likewise, think about how your team might benefit from direct access to the customer data those other teams own – such the products or versions your targets use, their updates, and any feedback given to sales or complaints made to customer service.
Select useful criteria for tech evaluation and comparison
After you determine your needs, the next step is to create a shortlist of solutions to consider and evaluate each one to confirm whether it meets the criteria you established. This helps you ensure that any new marketing tools you decide to implement align with your overarching martech strategy.
A spreadsheet can be helpful to organize the information you gather on each tool you’re considering and make it easier to compare their feature sets, capabilities, and requirements. Here are a few other criteria you may want to track on that sheet:
- Value add: How much value would the tool add to your content operations and/or to your business on the whole?
- Features and functionality: Do the features and capabilities offered by the tool apply to use cases that are similar to your needs? Would it be easy (or possible) to add new capabilities as needed?
- Implementation and integration: How easy will the tool be to implement? How much customization might be needed to get it to fit your existing tech infrastructure and particular use case? Will API integrations be required? If so, can they be managed in-house or do they need to be configured by the vendor?
- Cost: How much does the system cost and what’s included? What would the add-on/incremental costs be if you need customization or want to scale your access up or down (e.g., add more storage space; increase the number of registered users)?
- Transfer: How difficult will it be to transfer data from your current technology solution into the new system? Is this something the vendor would help with during onboarding? Is that included in the cost of purchase or is it an option that costs extra?
- Customer references: Can the vendor’s sales team provide you with positive reviews and ratings from their customers, particularly those who might be using the tech in an industry or with a use case similar to yours?
- Upgrades: Are software upgrades frequent and easy to manage? Does the vendor have a product development roadmap that shows the long-term vision for how the tech will scale – and how that growth might align with your prospective business needs?
The following criteria are less essential to the decision-making process, but they can serve as valuable points of distinction once you narrow down your consideration set to a few likely candidates:
- Cybersecurity and data privacy: Who has access to your data? How easy is it to manage access? How is your proprietary data and customer data secured? What happens to that data if you decide to stop using the tool?
- Geographical (and/or virtual) storage locations: Knowing where the data is saved is particularly important for marketers in the public sector or those who operate in highly regulated industries like health care or finance.
- Vendor’s track record and industry reputation: Has the vendor had prior data breaches or lawsuits? While they may be long-resolved issues, it can be helpful to know how the company addressed them so you have an idea of the steps they might take should you have technical or customer service issues.
- Product demos and free trial periods: Are they available? To make the most of trial periods, learn as much as you can through tutorials before you sign up for the trial. Don’t waste trial time trying to learn the tool only to run out of time to test it.
- Training and education: What is the onboarding process? Does the vendor offer detailed tutorials and training sessions to help you get up to speed and answer your questions? Are they recorded for online/on-demand access or conducted through personal, one-on-one sessions with a service rep? How long do you have access to their assistance?
Take a strategy-first approach to save time and money
When looking to improve your company’s existing technologies – or acquire new ones – it’s important that you first take the time to build your marketing strategy for digital transformation. Do not say yes to any technologies or tools that are presented to you as viable options until you’ve identified your needs, consulted with your collaborators, and evaluated your options thoughtfully and thoroughly.
When this kind of comprehensive analysis is done right, it can save your business a lot of money, effort, and frustration. Making well-informed tech decisions can also boost your content marketing effectiveness, performance, and ROI, and help keep your efforts aligned with your organization’s business goals.
Want to share your thoughts on this article or suggest additional ideas? Email us at [email protected].