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You know that sock drawer you've been meaning to clean out? It may just offer lessons for clarifying the marketing process, and provide CMOs and marketers with a more clear-sighted path for demonstrating their value.
The recent decluttering phenomenon inspired by the Marie Kondo book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, has folks rummaging through closets and bookcases, throwing out anything that doesn't "spark joy," all in the quest to simplify their lives.
Marketers might well ask themselves if "Kondo mania" could profitably be applied to their own world, too.
"The concept of simplification and greater focus is definitely a topic I'm seeing," says Lori Wizdo, VP and principal analyst at Forrester Research. Despite a plethora of channels and specialized tools for every conceivable marketing function, Wizdo says marketers are viewing a single, simple goal — better customer engagement — as the defining purpose of their job.
But it's not easy, and things are made more complex by a marketing technology buying binge. According to a study by marketing platform company Conductor, marketers on average continue to add up to five new tools to the martech stack every year. However, 53 percent of the 387 marketers surveyed say they feel overwhelmed by the amount of data compiled by these technologies, while 67 percent say they have to view too many different dashboards and reports to get any insight into their efforts.
"The fact is, there aren't that many ways of engaging with customers," Wizdo says. "When the next shiny marketing bullet comes along, you have to understand what you don't need."
What Do Marketers Want to Achieve?
With marketers feeling somewhat overwhelmed, a consensus is emerging regarding how to simplify the marketing process and the martech stack. Marketers may want to take a step back, and identify only those tools and processes that contribute to business directives, says Amisha Gandhi, VP of influencer marketing at SAP Ariba.
"We always think about integrating programs and campaigns, but the main thing is to integrate people and teams," Gandhi says. "You want people across all of your teams to collaborate, and not engage in siloed efforts or campaigns, and duplicated or overlapping content." Marketers need to talk to their digital teams and ask them what's working and what isn't, she adds.
"If something isn't working well, don't do that anymore," Gandhi says. "I know that people are afraid not to abandon the things they've been doing for years, and as a result you may have less content and fewer tools. But you may get better results."
As for the Kondo notion of focusing on joy, Gandhi says, "You can flip this, from thinking about what gives you joy to what gives your customers joy. If you're really interested in decluttering the marketing process, focus on this and eliminate everything else."
However, it's often technology and its own complexity and proliferation that make marketers feel taxed. Vice president of platform ecosystem at HubSpot and blogger Scott Brinker has catalogued nearly 7,000 current technology solutions available to marketers and offered by more than 6,000 unique martech vendors.
That's up from a mere 150 martech tools in 2011, and recently the pace of complexity has become frantic: The number of martech tools available to marketers today has more than doubled since 2016.
"Choosing the tools that are right for you must focus on intent, meaning you have to know what capability you need first, and only then look for the solution," Brinker says. "It's a recipe for disaster to grab some martech tool because everyone else has it."
Which Marketing Tools Work (Or Don't)
Brinker recommends conducting an audit of all solutions the marketing function depends on, calculating the time, money, and effort involved in each, and determining their measurable return. Based on this analysis, a reduction in the number of tools could be advisable.
Brinker also notes a shift in the industry toward integrated suites of tools from single vendors, which may help to declutter the marketing process. Here, companies create partnerships with a variety of specialized tool providers, and integrate (often via APIs) their technologies into their own platforms. The tools within these unified "ecosystems" can work well together within a single operational process, Brinker says.
These so-called "marketing clouds" — platforms from single vendors that extend their original purposes with other vendor-supplied functions — include such platforms as the Adobe Experience Cloud, Teradata's Integrated Marketing Cloud, Oracle's Marketing Cloud, and Salesforce's Sales Cloud, among others.
To illustrate how complexity can be consolidated — or "Kondoized" — Adobe's Experience Cloud offers more than 200 app integrations available on the company's Exchange marketplace. "This is a shift in the process, a new direction, and I think it's steadily working to make marketers' lives easier," Brinker says.
While the integration of multiple marketing tools into a single API-driven platform may be an ideal decluttering solution — and could be attractive to CMOs who are overwhelmed by the complexity of the job — some clutter might be the better solution, says Pieter Verstuyf, director of paid media at customer generation company MVF.
Should Marketers Consolidate or Pare Down?
"I'm really skeptical of single-view tools as a solution to decluttering," Verstuyf says. "I find that they remove understanding, because they're based on a single source of truth that you haven't built and don't understand. I think these platforms are appealing and seem to simplify things, but they may be just a patch for business processes or teams that aren't adequately integrated enough already."
As examples of channel-specific marketing tools, Verstuyf cites LinkedIn Sales Navigator, as well as Facebook-oriented tools like smartly.io, the data warehouse-specific Snowflake, and the data analytics tool Looker. Each may do specific tasks better, Verstuyf says; the decluttering stems from fewer but more precise technologies.
This approach actually dovetails with the Marie Kondo ethos. For example, Kondo recommends working within categories, checking off elements one at a time, and determining if a more streamlined process can also deliver the same or better results. Yes, it could be about shirts and socks, but it could also be about the customer engagement processes.
Regardless, Verstuyf advises to keep it simple and focus on impact. "It's important to connect with customers, but you might not need the fancy stuff to be effective at it," he says.
The smart money says it's not the tools, it's the processes. That's supported by an analysis by Deloitte, which notes that neither integrating nor simplifying martech is an answer to delivering the transformation promised by the digital revolution. Rather, the study notes, "Processes, systems, capabilities, culture, and behaviors all need to shift."
As an example, the study notes that many organizations keep their digital and marketing teams separate to try to avoid confusion. But this can also inhibit cooperation, where digital marketers don't understand marketing and marketers don't understand digital or data, according to Deloitte. The simplification process is borne out of bringing these and other teams together in a common direction. "Digital transformation will not be delivered by … technology alone," the study concludes.
Unifying the Team
SAP Ariba's Gandhi calls this "swimming in the same direction together."
"Bring in all the various teams in your marketing world, and have them sit at the table to figure out what they should be doing collectively," she says. "You'll soon find that some people have overlapping campaigns or tools. What the team needs is a single directive, a theme, that everyone collaborates on and executes."
Gandhi says one of her key SAP Ariba narratives is "intelligent spend management," working with influencers to co-create campaign assets and programs. As a marketing organization, they make sure to integrate messages and connect marketing and product development teams to assure that branding themes are consistent and on track.
"Marketing is in a different place today," Gandhi says. "For years things didn't change. Then social came along and things changed gradually. Now, everything is fast, reactionary. There is a need to be proactive and to stay ahead of the competition. A team approach can help clarify this, simplify it, and make it happen."