The year that changed martech forever

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If there’s a moment in time that should count as the birth year of marketing technology, it’s probably 2007. That is the year that the internet changed forever, kick-starting a consumer behavioral change that has driven the exponential growth of the martech landscape.

Why 2007? Let’s go through a quick timeline.

In January, Apple announces the iPhone, and Netflix announces a shift to streaming. Fast-forward to April, and Twitter becomes its own company and begins to grow rapidly under Jack Dorsey, while Google buys DoubleClick for $3.1 billion. Then in June, Facebook announces Platform, which allowed third parties to build apps on the social network for the first time. The fall brought about some big tech announcements as well — with AWS coming out of beta in October, Google announcing Android and Facebook launching ads in November.

How did we get here?

The year that changed martech forever

So yes, 2007 was a big year. And, boy, did the market respond, in the form of a plethora of tools designed to help marketers take advantage of the new opportunities that were emerging.

This represented a massive shift in the fundamentals of marketing, as we moved from a world where we were constrained by the number of channels we had to reach consumers to one where we had a one-to-one mapping of people to touch points and our constraint was how to deliver and personalize messages. Thus was born the marketing technology revolution.

The year that changed martech forever

Since then, we’ve all watched the Martech Landscape slides (above) continue to fill up, growing more than an order of magnitude in just the last seven years. As a result of that growth, the primary bottleneck of marketing has once again shifted. In fact, at the beginning of this year, Gartner said that by 2020, the biggest bottleneck will be marketers’ ability to develop content to fill all those channels.

“Personalization will become standard for brand engagements,” they explain in their 2018 predictions, “but lack of scalable content creation processes will become the limiting factor for success.” In other words, marketers did such a good job implementing software solutions to help with the targeting and distribution of content that they’ve created a whole new challenge for themselves: content creation.

What kind of bottleneck are you facing?

Simply saying you’ve reached a content bottleneck is one thing, but identifying what kind of bottleneck you have is way more important, because what you do to solve it will depend massively on the answer to that question.

That bottleneck is usually framed in one of three ways:

  1. A content quantity problem (“We need more content”).
  2. A content quality problem (“We need better content”).
  3. A content coordination problem (“We have lots of great content but struggle to get it to the right place at the right time”).

No matter which bucket you fall into, the outcome is the same: a failure to deliver on business imperatives. After all, if you imagined your marketing process was a car factory, it wouldn’t matter that you produced 1,000 cars this month if only 30 of them ever made it to the dealer’s lot.

The time to fix this is now

In the marketing world, the only content that counts is the content that reaches the consumer. Luckily for marketers, there are ways to overcome the content bottleneck and better deliver on content needs, creating additional capacity to drive incremental growth.

Here are five steps inspired by the book “The Goal” by Dr. Eliyahu Goldratt — a “business novel” about a factory in a small town dealing with bottlenecks, introducing a host of important ideas about managing production processes, most famously the “five focusing steps” that make up the Theory of Constraints.

  • Identify: I’ve touched on this briefly above, but to reiterate, in content, we should think about quantity, quality and coordination.
  • Optimize: This is all about the ways to optimize the process at the center of your biggest bottleneck. The basic idea here is that you can lay out anything along a spectrum from low to high variance. Low-variance activities generate a similar output every time, and high-variance activities generate different outputs. You’ve got to squeeze every ounce of efficiency you can out of those low-variance activities (think legal approvals) and enable better collaboration to occur for the high-variance stuff (think creative ideation).
  • Support: Since a constraint limits everything that happens after it, it’s critical that we get other parts of the organization to reorient themselves and support the constraint, not vice-versa. The three ways you should look to further alleviate your content bottleneck are through rethinking resource allocation, processes and the connections that exist between your systems.
  • Elevate: If you’ve successfully delivered on the first three steps, then you should have been able to elevate your capability in the bottleneck process and use that to drive incremental growth. This is critical (and why all of this matters). If you can not only deliver on your current demand but actually deliver excess capability, you can start to knock some of the big projects off your list — like finally implementing Account-Based Marketing (ABM) or further segmenting your customer base.
  • Iterate: The thing about bottlenecks is that you can never totally eliminate them. Don’t allow inertia to cause a constraint. It’s important to remember that while we talk about content as one big bottleneck, it’s actually many little ones. When you fix one thing, you need to go back and iterate. The ultimate sign of agility is the ability to continually tame bottlenecks as they emerge.

While 2007 is the year that changed marketing forever, 2020 will be the year we see content creation as the biggest bottleneck. Marketers, now’s your chance to apply these theories and help mitigate content issues before they set you, and your company, back.

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