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Making martech work: why you now need techies on your marketing team

(Image credit: Image Credit: SFIO CRACHO / Shutterstock)

One of the hottest terms in communications is "martech": technology-powered marketing.  Encompassing everything from email marketing and blogging, to chatbots, AI-generated content and big data, the blending of marketing and technology is fast becoming a vital way to reach consumers.

But it isn’t always successful. We only have to look at Microsoft’s Tay – the chatbot that generated racist content within 24 hours of its launch – to see that badly implemented technology can spell disaster for a brand. And more fundamentally, in the world of email marketing, two-thirds of chief marketing officers say they’ve experienced “disasters” when it comes to managing data in campaigns, while more than three-quarters (76 per cent) suspect they’ve missed out on opportunities because data hasn’t been managed effectively in-house.

The marrying of technology and marketing isn’t always easy – but it’s now necessary for brands who want to keep up with their competitors. So, how do marketers make the best use of tech and avoid brand-damaging failures?

Choose the right vendor – but is that enough?

It’s widely agreed that it’s more cost-effective to “buy,” rather than “build,” technology solutions. And given the density of the landscape – the sheer number of products available – there’s an abundance of information about how to pick the right technology vendor. From data storage technologies to security systems to a content governance platform like Acrolinx, comms professionals understand they must carefully choose the tech company that best meets their needs.

Savvy organisations already look for strategic purchases that can meet corporate objectives, rather than just buying “gadgets.” (It’s not enough to have an iPad in every retail outlet.) They check for service level guarantees and uptime levels – and they pick a tech vendor that can act as a true partner, flexible enough to scale and support them as they grow.

We believe there’s a long way to go from there, and that technical skills – like cloud computing, security, and software programming – are now a crucial part of the internal marketing mix. And a big mistake many brands make is to not employ techies on their marketing teams. It’s not enough to have tech power embedded in your relationship with outside vendors – you need power on the inside too.

Redress the balance

A lack of communication between techies and non-techies has always been, anecdotally at least, a problem in business. Productivity is at stake, and significant sums of money can be lost if a big marketing campaign is run for a product that programmers can't deliver on time. Technical experts, it’s long been said, have to understand there's more to their jobs than just dealing with machines: they have to relate to people too – and see the wider implications of their work.

But that’s not all. Today, tech people need to be firmly entrenched in the marketing team. By blending the disciplines, you avoid disasters. Data experts can anticipate a GDPR breach before it happens; AI experts can fix a risky chatbot idea at the very earliest stage; and, more positively, technical people can suggest where and how to blend technology into a content marketing strategy.

Importantly though, it’s not enough to just toss a couple of techies onto your marketing team. Indeed, this might be counterproductive, if you haven’t taken steps to integrate their personas and skill sets effectively. A good starting point for a more integrated approach is to upskill marketing professionals with enough technical skills to make smarter decisions.

Skill up

So, from database querying, front-end development, automation, modelling, and testing, there are a number of skills that marketers need to be successful in a tech-powered world. Let’s have a look at some of the most important ones.

1. Data analysis

Most companies use SQL-based databases, and learning how to run queries is an important skill for today's marketers. If, for example, a marketer wants to know what a particular type of user is buying, within a specific time frame, being able to query a database means they can answer these questions quickly and on their own. Indeed, if marketers can run these searches independently, they won’t take resources away from tech experts – a common gripe that separates techies and non-techies. 

But more than the ability to run database queries, advanced data analysis skills are invaluable within a marketing team, especially when it comes to evaluating things like your content performance. Are people interacting with your content, sharing it, and more readily clicking through to your website? Does your content resonate? Luckily, you can now measure all of this performance data with a content governance solution, and even make predictions about it in advance. That includes how likely your content is to perform well and what you can do to improve it.

2. Front-end development

Marketers don’t need to become full-blown developers, but those who understand the basics of HTML, CSS, and JavaScript can be more useful to the team, and to the company. Not only can front-end development skills help marketers use analytics tools, they can help define what they ask their tech team to do.

How many times have technical teams been asked for websites, concept pages, or apps that they simply can’t deliver? A basic understanding of development on a marketing team means those members will be more in sync with the capabilities of the development team – and match their ideas to what the developers can actually deliver.

3.  Marketing automation

We all know there are now hundreds of tools available that automate many of the most common marketing tasks. And, to be successful in their roles, marketers must become adept at using these automation tools. Products like MailChimp, for example, make it easy for marketers to segment and personalise emails. Indeed, by keeping up-to-date on the automation landscape, it’s now incredibly easy for marketers to adapt and target their outreach. Acrolinx too, helps marketers create content that better fits the needs of the audience – defining language and tone that will resonate with potential buyers.

Closing comments

Of course, there’s plenty more to consider. It’s important, for example, to have a security expert within reach of a marketing team – to advise against (or point toward the safe use of) platforms or apps that might pose security risks. But ultimately, it’s a brave new world for marketing, and this comes with the need for new skills and new teams. It’s important for companies to move with the times and be able to flex to these new requirements.

At the moment, for many techies, technology is what they work on – it's why they took a job and what pays their salary. But for others, technology is just a tool of limited interest. And it’s this divide that needs to close, if we’re to successfully exploit the potential of technology-powered marketing.

Christopher Willis, CMO, Acrolinx