Time to stop obsessing about the marketing stack

Bryan Cheung, Founder and CEO, Liferay

Building the right marketing stack is probably an obsession that most CMO can relate to.

A collection of tools and technologies to empower marketing to outreach, segment, target, engage and convert, marketing stacks tend to define a CMO’s tenure. Often this stack changes as new CMOs lead a firm.

After all, with many marketing teams swimming in voluminous data, marketing stacks are essential for getting actionable insights and driving up marketing qualified leads (MQLs).

Stack up on predictive

One area where marketing stacks are evolving fast is in predictive analytics. In the past, it was the job for the business analytics team, the operations team, and procurement expert. Today, it is a vital component of a marketing stack to allow firms to know their customers better than the customers themselves.

Bryan Cheung, Founder, and CEO of Liferay – a global thought leader in using digital technology to transform firms into customer-first organizations and owner of the Liferay Digital Experience Platform – agreed. 

“One thing I’m seeing more often is companies incorporating predictive analytics into the lead qualification process. Before, people were using a fairly straightforward lead scoring model that measured profile (who a prospect is) and engagement (what they do) in a scoring matrix. Regional teams could ‘throttle’ their MQL flow (accept less qualified leads or only accept the most qualified leads) based on how busy or free their sales reps were,” Cheung said.

Machine learning is changing this. It is allowing marketing teams to “develop the profile dimension of a lead score." Many of these services analyze historical data to identify patterns among "closed won opportunities, cross-check that data against a firmographic database, and then create a predictive model it then applies to prospects to identify those most likely to purchase," Cheung added. 

Focus on customers, not tech

The problem, though, is that marketing stacks are also notoriously difficult to build. A key reason is that martech is evolving rapidly.

Keeping up with the innovations can be difficult for CMOs who are responsible for increasing conversion rates, better corporate goal alignment and improved contributions to the top and bottom lines. Also, they have to evolve their own marketing teams’ talent pool and skillset to meet the evolving stack—difficult in a climate where talent is a premium.

Cheung urged CMOs to stop searching for the “ultimate” marketing stack. He believes CMOs should re-imagine their roles to enhance the entire company’s understanding of the customer. It requires a change in mindset and culture and requires top management buy-in. 

“Marketing departments have the opportunity to be, if not to own, a leading authority on what customers experience end-to-end in their relationship to a company. But to do that, they need to balance their mandate to generate leads with an outside-in mindset that strives to give a prospect what they need,” said Cheung.

In fact, Cheung believes developing a customer-first mindset across the firm is more important that building the ultimate marketing stack.

“Customer-centricity needs to be a company-wide initiative, but you may face political barriers from sales or customer service if they are vying to ‘own’ the customer relationship,” Cheung said.

Building a close working relationship with the IT and digital team can help CMOs align digital transformation efforts to serve the customer well. “And for that, you absolutely need IT's buy-in,” he added 

Orchestration is the glue

While many CMOs worry about backend and frontend integration, Cheung noted that orchestration is becoming more important for successful marketing stacks.

“A lot of companies these days are getting [backend and frontend integration] right by choosing or designing backend systems with APIs that make frontend consumption easy. We’re five-plus years into the frontend renaissance that has seen HTML/CSS/JS and mobile become first-class priorities alongside Java or .NET backends and Cloud-based infrastructure,” he said. 

Where CMOs need to improve is in the “orchestration” of customer journeys across all frontend experiences.

“Merely surfacing things from the backend to the customer through an interface is straightforward now, but we need to do a better job of unifying the customer experience, say, across several visits to a website, visits to several landing pages, SMS interactions, and an in-store visit. Your backend should constantly update its knowledge of the customer’s needs and preferences with each subsequent interaction, and use that understanding to personalize the next experience,” Cheung said.

Embrace AI for customer centricity

Getting this orchestration battened down now is important as marketing intelligence, and AI start to move to the center marketing stack, and not just a nice-to-have add-on. 

“We’re in that phase now where companies are simply applying new technology to existing practices, and I think using chatbots for customer service is an example of that. In the early years commerce sites just replicated existing storefronts and catalogs, and now they’re immersive, follow-me-everywhere, highly personalized digital shopping experiences enhanced with social metadata,” he said. 

Having a customer-first mindset first before building the right marketing stack will allow CMOs to stay ahead of new and disruptive technologies. They can readily gauge the martech’s usefulness from a customer viewpoint.  

“The more obsessed you are with understanding your customers and serving their needs, the more likely it is that you’ll develop an innovative way to use AI and automation to exceed customer expectations. Customer-obsessed companies have a competitive advantage that will outlive any new technology,” Cheung said.

Further reading: 

The art and science of growing your brand

Branding needs an intelligent rethink, says new study

How to create, and keep, a business customer for life