'Stay the course, there is no end state': Agency execs Chris Howatson, Adam Good, Vinne Schifferstein and Davy Rennie warn brands martech 'unbundling' could end in tears
Consultants have warned of a backlash against the likes of Adobe and Salesforce after over-complex martech integrations have disappointed. But digital agencies execs suggest the onus is on agencies themselves to make the big stacks work – brands need to take a longer term view and not ditch their investments prematurely.
What you need to know:
- Digital agency leaders have questioned a push toward martech unbundling – brands and publishers ditching big cloud providers such as Adobe and Salesforce for simpler, best of breed stacks.
- WPP's Adam Good says brands and agencies need to focus on business strategies and people skills before rushing to blame martech tools.
- Davy Rennie of DDB Tribal argues marketers are using short-term sales KPIs to justify poor martech investments instead of "staying the course" and plotting out "realistic" sales and brand building outcomes.
- Media.monks MD of Content Vinne Schifferstein says clients must select implementation partners willing to "push the boundaries of the technology".
- Howatson + White's Chris Howatson – now Howatson + Co according to an AFR report yesterday after the sudden exit of co-founder Ant White – says the conversation is less about unbundling and is the fallout of marketers maturing in their understanding of which parts of a tech stack are "fit for their business goals".
All technology vendors are leaning into this trend which ultimately creates more open than closed data platforms. We see the need for clients' technology stacks to be open rather than live in a closed walled garden ecosystem.
Having a partner that can push the boundaries of the technology but also has the experience to advise the business on the best path to follow is key.
The right partner
One of the villains in the martech horror story is often the agency using the available tools to bash together a website or e-commerce platform with no discernible competitive edge and then using a crude CRM approach to blast customers with emails.
Media.monks MD of Content Vinne Schifferstein says regardless of stack, too many people are failing on the operational basics – she thinks the problem maybe the agencies operating the tech, not the tech itself.
"A different partner can help deliver a quality solution that engages and excites business users, and encourages the expansion of the platform beyond the initial implementation. Having a partner that can push the boundaries of the technology but also has the experience to advise the business on the best path to follow is key," Schifferstein says.
"Partners who can have the 'just because you can, doesn't mean you should - have you thought about this?' kinds of discussions to bring out the best in the platform.
"These are two completely different journeys that can be delivered on the same software license, and the right partner will help you down this path to push the boundaries in the best possible way."
It might all come out of the box the same but the longer you work with a provider and agency, the more chance they are going to take creative risks and push the platform harder.
Consider your KPIs
Davy Rennie, MD of DDB's digital agency Tribal, has previously told Mi3 that many of the frustrations with hefty martech products come down to marketing teams generally only unpacking "about 10-15 per cent of the potential of the product".
Rennie says the same issue is causing marketers to think the product they have bought is falling short on its promises.
He says this is because too many clients invested heavily into martech with the expectation they could measure ROI using the same short-term sales KPIs they apply to other marketing channels.
Rennie argues this is where instead of abandoning the entire product suite or getting caught up in "the next shiny idea", clients should push back on their agencies for better creative execution.
"Clients need to be open in saying they don't know where they are going, not try to jump into something else because it's not working – they're just going to get caught out again regardless," Rennie says.
"What they should be doing is sitting down with their agencies and looking at planning how to maximise their enterprise solutions for different purposes and over different periods of time.
"Think less about why it's not delivering these immediate sales in three months, that's not what they are used for – instead marketers need to consider what it can do in 12-months for customer acquisition, then what tool can be used for retention or a better CX or enhance e-commerce."
Rennie says brands cannot consider martech as a collection of tools that are immediately fit for purpose, because that won't establish a point of difference between other competitors.
He says any agency "worth their salt" should be thinking about those long-term KPIs and discussing how they can wrap creativity around the tools the client has.
A former Deloitte Digital CX Director, Rennie also argues that agencies need to incorporate an element of management consultancy into their dealings with clients.
"There is often an issue where an agency will only recommend one tool or one area of the platform, for example pitching a major content strategy that really only utilises the CMS, and then they run with it," Rennie says.
"This ignores all the other functions that the Adobe, Salesforce or other provider has also sold into a client and that's often where management consultants get brought in, to explain the strategic use to drive growth.
"But good agencies will have that knowledge and applying it breeds success."
"Brands should stay the course with a platform but find an agency partner that is going to get the best out it," Rennie says.
"It also goes back to the argument around the difference in the competitive set. It might all come out of the box the same but the longer you work with a provider and agency, the more chance they are going to take creative risks and push the platform harder."
There needs to be right data, customer experience, project management and legal and compliance teams all rallying around the organisational structure and requirements.
But former CHE Proximity boss Chris Howatson, now at indy agency Howatson + Co, says clients still have to take responsibility and set themselves up properly to get their martech stacks firing, the onus can't be solely on the agency.
Another part of the problem, he suggests, is that marketers are using only a percentage of their marketing cloud and not taking responsibility for it as a core "organisational capability", then shifting the blame.
"There needs to be right data, customer experience, project management and legal and compliance teams all rallying around the organisational structure and requirements," Howatson says.
"If you begin to outsource all of those roles, then your martech cloud does get used for only one vertical like email sending or just personalisation and there are instances where that has occurred and frustrations are put on the product or agency.
"What you find with marketers and CMOs making strides in this space is a level of maturity when it comes to building the right team first, then finding agency partners that can augment and enhance a strategies delivery."
Howatson says agencies are better as "growth opportunity partners" who can use their technical knowledge along with their own internal data and insights capability to deploy effective campaigns, content and experiences.
The agencies that do it well recognise that creativity goes beyond basic content or website builds and involves every part of the consumer journey.
"As an example, if a client is under-penetrated by certain geography, demography or price level, the agency should then help run that use case end-to-end through their marketing technology," Howatson says.
"This could be around something as simple as building an audience profile so when anyone who looks like that audience touches a channel, call centre, store website, a certain offer gets given to that customer.
"It could be a little bit more complicated in that you go hunting for those people and so you build a personalised experience across your website, straps, your email communication and your paid media. Then what your agency does is you build those audience traits and then all those campaigns and then stitch that together, organised by an overarching personalisation hierarchy."
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