As a non-technical technical leader who has spent most of his career straddling business and technology teams, I have seen marketing technology significantly change over the years. During my career, I’ve led the redesigns/refreshes (at the enterprise, medium-sized business, and small businesses) of more than 50 major brand/product websites; I’ve led digital departments and worked as a management consultant. But the two words I would use to sum up the evolution of marketing technologies revolve around speed and specialization. Furthermore, it’s important to understand how these terms, speed/specialization, are either effective or efficient or both. To be effective, the effort needs to impact the bottom line. To be efficient means, it reduces friction in the overall process. I would argue you always want to be effective, sometimes being efficient gets you there but not always. (NOTE: When I use the word technology, I include resources such as people because their skillsets are the ultimate tools to get work done.)
When I started in digital around 20 years ago (it was called interactive marketing), there was a lack of sophistication. Initially, we were marketing people who went into digital from print and recreated the offline online. This is because the industry was so new; it was unclear what you needed to know on the web. We strove for consistency. We leveraged pretty pictures, clever copy, buying domain names that seemed relevant. As new web technologies appeared, we would adopt them, whether it was flashing banners, pop-ups, pop-unders, or even keyword stuffing to maximize keyword density. We thought we were quick, but we had extensive internal checkpoints to clear for business approval, and once approved, they went into the development queue that was always strained. The marketing team, at this point, was not very specialized in terms of digital skillsets.
“The shift to agile marketing is probably one of the biggest changes in the technology landscape for marketing.”
The other side of this coin were the technical people who could build out the websites. Initially, they had the final say of what could and couldn’t be done. They had most of the power in the organization. With the development team empowered to control the flow of projects, they were more efficient (since they picked work, they knew they could get done), but not effective. The technical team was comprised of front-end, back-end, database, and network team members. Since the technical team rolled up to the CTO and the business team rolled up to the CMO, there was a constant battle of doing what could be done technically versus doing what marketing needed to be done to drive revenue. To break this power struggle, we began to outsource our work to creative/development agencies that were accountable to the CMO and would develop against our scope and deliver against it. The outsourcing of development work was less efficient, but it effectively delivered what we needed. However, this challenge of outsourcing to go around the development team was ultimately resolved through company restructuring. The CMO became a CRO (Chief Revenue Officer)or the CCO (Chief Commercial Officer) with technology rolling up to him. I would argue that the CRO/CCO role was a C-suite specialization was needed to accommodate this departmental disconnect. With marketing and technology rolling up to the same ultimate leader, the agendas of both teams were aligned with a single mission and directive. This allowed for the speed of development on revenue-generating initiatives and became more effective and efficient.
As we scheduled enterprise capital projects in the past, we needed enterprise project teams. Large scale projects would have the following functions attending weekly status meetings: the business owner, the project manager, the business analyst, creative designer, copywriter, information architect, web development front-end, web development back-end, and quality assurance. Usually, the same individuals in these roles were on all the in-flight projects (sometimes four at a time), so there were a lot of meetings. We would hear the common refrain that people spent their entire day in meetings and never getting any work done until they got home in the evening. Sometimes a project was just starting to be scoped versus others that were in QA; however, these team members needed to be present to address any issues that arose during each stage of the project. We followed a strict waterfall approach where we scoped the project and then set a launch date. We thought we were efficient. In the early days, each project was yearlong and always seemed to have a million-dollar price tag. Our project speed was very slow. Now fast forward to today, we are in a paradigm shift to agile marketing. We take the best parts of agile development and layer it against the marketing plans and marketing schedule. While agile marketing cannot be as flexible as agile development, since there are set timelines for creative creation, there are ways to speed up the process when assigning stories to epics to themes and defining and prioritizing the feature backlog. The project meetings, now called agile meetings, are now daily and led by a trained agile scrum master, and only relevant team members who are assigned stories need to attend. Meeting that used to be weekly 2+ hours are now daily 15 minutes max. We discuss what was done yesterday, what needs to be done today, and any obstacles to what needs to be done. In four weeks, we deliver usable products that are designed, developed, and tested.
To be nimble in this new way of agile marketing, team members need to have “T-Shaped Skills.” T-Shaped marketers need to be a mile wide and an inch deep in one or two key areas. The shift to agile marketing is probably one of the biggest changes in the technology landscape for marketing. However, agile is fraught with multiple challenges. It requires trust. And it gained a lot of trust from the leadership because it truly empowers the agile team to tackle the necessary projects. It also stops the executive interference of “I need this now” in the marketing queue. Therefore, this agile marketing is an effective way to set expectations and control delivery. But the agile rules need to be agreed upon by everyone and should come top-down. It’s unsettling for some people to roll out agile processes because middle-level managers give up a measure of control to manage their direct reports as the directors become floating members of agile marketing teams. Departments’ structures also need to be re-evaluated too. Team members need to be retrained, and everyone needs to buy into the process. This overall organization re-alignment and training is the primary and usually show stopping obstacle to agile marketing.
Similar to the move to agile marketing as a process, how the teams communicate with each other on project deliverables and on a daily basis is equally important. In terms of project collaboration, years ago, we initially managed our project through our intranet that wasn’t single sign-on. It’s seemed no one was ever able to access the intranet. If people were somehow able to remember their password and not get locked out, they could never find the information they needed on the intranet. The directory structure was always very confusing. So, we ended up just emailing documents around when people needed them. So here, the speed is slow, and this wasn’t effective or efficient. With the shift to technologies like Teams, where it was a one-stop-shop, the sharing of project information becomes simpler and easier. It also helped foster better intrateam communication. In my earlier roles, we would rely solely on email for communication; the response rate (like now) was never instantaneous. The CEO would walk around telling all of us to get out of chairs and walk to the person in our company and address our questions directly face-to-face versus just emailing. It’s much more efficient, he would say. But we didn’t because we wanted traceability and accountability via a written record of our non-synchronous communications. As chat functionality invaded the offices with Skype/Messenger and other tools, the instantaneous synchronous conversation was enabled with traceability.
Speed of interaction increased, though without the non-verbal visual cues of face-to-face communication, sometimes context is lost in the message. Fast forward to the pandemic and the explosive adoption of video Zoom, Google Meet, and Teams, we are video chatting, which is akin to walking into someone’s office for in-person communication. But, again, with these calls, we lose the written record(though it can be recorded) of what was discussed for accountability. However, being able to quickly get a team together by clicking their name on Teams, having a quick alignment chat, then sending out the meeting notes, and then following up with texts is the true speed of team collaboration. The evolution of the marketing technology to allow full integration of video, chat, and document repositories is both efficient and ultimately effective in terms of speed and specialization of the communication collaboration technologies.
The evolution of the content management systems (CMS) shifting control away from technical teams and agencies is truly empowering content editors. When we started years ago managing content, any changes we wanted had to be entered by our agency into their proprietary CMS. The agency would charge us per new page. If we wanted a new page built, we would have to put in a request and wait. This was neither effective nor efficient. When we shifted agencies, we lost all the content since it wasn’t portable. We had to screen scrape the old site and migrate it. With the new agency, we wanted a CMS that was open-source and non-proprietary so we could take it with us if we shifted agencies again. The new content management system allowed us to have more control over our content. We could edit the content and create new pages, but the pages never resolved exactly the way we wanted. We still needed to work with the development agency to fix the pages to look the way we wanted them to look. This consumed time and money. It was more efficient and more effective, but there was still room for improvement. We ultimately migrated to WordPress, it’s fast, easy, and allows us to go live pretty quickly, and the non-technical team members can effectively manage content. The improved ability to not just enter content but also and control the features on the page from CSS, button, widgets, and page layout is significant. With the evolution of the CMS, what used to require an agency and a developer can now all be done by one content manager.
However, we still have challenges of double/triple content entry for our website, for our app, and for our third-party partners. Plus, content gets out of sync very easily if the content managers are not very organized and detailed. Therefore, the trend in content management I am witnessing now is called headless content. This agnostic publishing platform allows content to be created once and then distributed and published to multiple sources. Essentially, all the places where the content would appear can be integrated into this new CMS. This is the ultimate goal for content management to have this flexibility and to allow the content to always be in sync with all the publishing partners. Headless content is fast, effective, and extremely efficient. It is the ultimate single point of entry system.
While I don’t feel I am truly qualified to share advice with veteran martech experts or budding entrepreneurs who regularly read the martech articles; I can share a few of my guiding principles:
• Be fast and nimble.
• Don’t’ be afraid to fail, but never fail at scale.
• Less is always more.
• People don’t read (unless it’s you and you’ve read this far!)
• Lead with energy, passion, by example, and roll-up your sleeves.