Steve Petersen, Author at MarTech MarTech: Marketing Technology News and Community for MarTech Professionals Fri, 12 May 2023 13:56:40 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Where to find marketing ideas to boost your performance Fri, 12 May 2023 13:56:31 +0000 Marketing inspiration and ideas are out there for the taking. With some awareness, they're easy to find. Here are some tips.

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Are you looking for inspiration to improve your organization’s marketing performance? Well, there’s plenty of inspiration if you keep your eyes and ears open. This may seem obvious, but sometimes I have to remind myself of this fact and of all the opportunities out there.

As marketing-oriented professionals, we’re all responsible for contributing ideas, regardless of where we sit on the organizational chart. Further, we are also targeted by our fellow martech practitioners. So, let’s learn from each other, even if we do so indirectly.

You, the consumer

We’re all in the market for a variety of items regardless if it’s in a B2B, B2C or D2C context. Thus, it doesn’t hurt to pay attention to all the various tactics and channels our counterparts employ to persuade us to purchase their goods or services.

For example, when I was involved with A/B testing years ago, I was visiting a website for my personal interests. One day I noticed a significant UX difference from when I was last on the site. For some odd reason, I decided to check the site on another device and it was what I last experienced. I caught that website conducting an A/B test.

Upon realizing this, I could examine what different design elements the organization was trying out. I could also consider my two different devices to surmise how the organization was potentially segmenting audiences, which could’ve involved factors like device type, anonymous/authenticated, referral source, etc. This situational awareness allowed me to develop new ideas for my job.

Broad horizons

When looking for inspiration or conducting “secret shopper” research, consider more organizations than your employer’s obvious competitors. 

For instance, while conducting a shopping cart SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis, my boss challenged me to broaden the definition of competitors. In that case, we explored possibilities for our lead forms and shopping cart journeys. My then-employer wasn’t an ecommerce organization, but she instructed me to consider large companies like Target, Amazon and Priceline. They have shopping carts as well, right?

Although there are apparent differences between sectors and contexts, most organizations have many similarities, especially with martech. Websites, email, social media, SMS texts, databases and lead forms are just a few elements and components of martech-enabled campaigns that a broad swath of organizations employ. Thus, don’t limit yourself to apparent competitors. There’s inspiration in all sorts of places.

Direct competitors

Occasionally, we all find customers of our employer’s direct competitors. This can happen for a whole host of innocent reasons. When you find yourselves in such a situation, remember how your interaction with them proceeds. Look for opportunities to test things out. For instance, instead of directly speaking with a representative in person, why not test communicating via the mobile app, chat or other messaging channel? 

Consider different types of UX decisions. What triggers an automated message? How is that message drafted and delivered? How do your inputs and actions affect your customer journey? It also doesn’t hurt to look to see what vendors they’re using, and sometimes that is easy as paying attention to fine print or looking at available source code (like in browsers).

There are plenty of safe and ethical ways to go about such research. You might also employ them, as any competent competitor is already checking you out.

We should act in good faith when conducting such research. It’s not fair to needlessly fill a database with bogus data. Nor is it fair to give bad ratings to see how an organization will respond or distract a customer-facing employee from their duties for mere research. As the Golden Rule states, do unto others as you would have done unto you.

Keep those eyes and ears open

Inspiration and ideas are out there for the taking. With some awareness, they’re easy to find. However, maintain some work-life boundaries. Not every transaction needs to relate to your day job.

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8 inexpensive professional development ideas for martech pros Fri, 31 Mar 2023 13:39:41 +0000 Looking to stay ahead in your career? Consider these cost-effective learning opportunities for martech professionals.

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Marketing and technology are two fields that constantly change, and the intersection of the two fields – martech – certainly reflects that. That’s why as martech professionals, we need to develop our skills and knowledge constantly. 

It is also necessary to build various capabilities beyond your domain expertise. Take advantage of opportunities to develop interpersonal skills. And don’t forget to learn about the skills of those you work with. For example, DevOps and sales topics can help you better understand your stakeholders. 

Professional development doesn’t have to be expensive and time-consuming. Here are some reasonable and cost-effective opportunities that require varying levels of commitment.

1. Company-provided training

Companies have a strong motivation to develop their employees. That’s why they hire and run talent development teams for that purpose. Such teams tend to offer training applicable across disciplines for skills like coaching, teamwork, emotional intelligence, ethical behavior and prioritization, in addition to helping onboard new hires and promoting the established organizational culture.

Training is typically promoted in intranets, internal newsletters and town hall meetings, usually occuring during regular business hours. Since senior leadership backs it, it is easy for people to rework their schedules and obligations to accommodate training sessions. Most importantly, they typically don’t cost participants personal money and can help them network within the organization.

2. Industry and discipline outlets

Regardless of their profession, people should stay abreast of the industry in which they work. Understanding your company’s products is crucial no matter how technical or in the weeds a martech practitioner is. 

Plenty of industry-specific outlets provide up-to-date news about trends and forces affecting industries. These are worth following. They typically have websites, newsletters, podcasts and webinars. Examples include Inside Higher Ed for higher education, Skift for travel and hospitality, Supermarket News for grocers and many others. In some cases, trade associations maintain such outlets.

Following such outlets is helpful for professional development. They can help you understand the needs and motivations of customers and users to inform strategies and tactical decisions. They also provide competitive intelligence and emerging trends and tech to consider. As for discipline-related outlets, MarTech itself is an excellent example for our field.

Dig deeper: What are the top skills you need for digital marketing?

3. Vendor offerings

Many tech vendors offer product training and certifications – especially big players like Salesforce and Adobe. Common offerings include webinars, white papers, user communities and user conferences. Of course, this is to their advantage in developing a strong and devoted user base. In many cases, such offerings are free or low cost, which makes it easy to justify effort and time. 

It is important to note that many of these offerings are product-specific, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have broader value. Consider how product-specific information can apply to a broader context — including competing products. Keep in mind, however, the advantages and disadvantages of product specialization.

4. Professional groups and communities

Like other professions, many martech-related groups and communities aim to provide a venue for members to assist and support each other. Meetup is one of many places where you can find such groups.

Such groups come in different types. Some form around specific products, which vendors sometimes explicitly support, while others form around specialties. MO Pros and Marketing Ops Professionals are two examples of MOps communities.

Groups sometimes are devoted to specific specialists working in the same industry. There are also geographic groups like Silicon Slopes in Utah for people working in tech disciplines or tech in general.

These groups may have LinkedIn groups, Slack workspaces or listservs. They also require participation and volunteer leaders, so help out and simultaneously strengthen your network.

5. Online courses

On-demand training providers, like Coursera, LinkedIn Learning, and Pluralsight, offer access to most content for free. In some cases, libraries offer access to their patrons at no additional charge.

While on-demand courses lack real-time interaction between instructors and fellow participants, they are very convenient. Many also have hands-on projects and offer legitimacy to course completion through quizzes and exams.

6. Libraries

Your local library also has many great resources. They have books and other publications, but library card members can also access premium databases like LexisNexis and other outlets with paywalls. 

If you can’t find a specific book or publication, ask a librarian to order it. You’ll be amazed at their willingness to order something at a patron’s request. Put your tax money to work. Besides, not everyone has room for massive bookshelves.

7. Mentor relationships

Don’t forget mentor relationships. While these typically don’t require much financially, they certainly require mutual commitment of time and planning between mentor and mentee.

Both parties in a mentor relationship must contribute to making it worthwhile for both people. NPR’s “Life Kit” podcast recently dropped an episode about effective mentorships that provides many helpful tips on how both parties need to prepare and behave to produce a positive outcome.

8. You

You. Yes, you are another great professional development resource for others. There are many ways requiring a wide range of commitment that you can help others grow professionally. 

Present at an event or conference. Mentor another professional. Contribute to an outlet. Attend a virtual or local meet-up and then participate. Hold expert open office hours.

Accept that invitation to speak in a class setting. Host a martech intern at your organization. Start a podcast, blog or YouTube channel.

Contributing to MarTech is one of the most fulfilling parts of my professional life. While I’m no genius, I appreciate the ability to give something back by sharing my perspective and helping others avoid mistakes and hurdles I’ve encountered.

Dig deeper: People skills vs. martech skills: You don’t have to choose

Ample opportunities but sole accountability

Many inexpensive professional development opportunities are available today. However, you are the master of your destiny and are solely accountable for taking advantage of them.

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Why understanding the product is a must in martech, MOps Tue, 07 Mar 2023 16:00:00 +0000 Here's why martech and MOps professionals should strive to develop a deeper understanding of their company's products.

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Hopefully, I’m not the only martech or marketing operations (MOps) practitioner who sometimes feels disconnected from our companies’ products. We’re not product marketers; when we’re involved in campaign planning and execution, we’re focused on technical configurations and performance. We work on delivering the message — not the messaging itself.

While there’s little difference in managing an email nurture campaign, for example, to sell blenders or airplanes, that doesn’t mean understanding the specific product is not essential for the folks administering the marketing automation platform.

Knowing the company’s products helps us understand stakeholder motivations, needs and requirements and better tie their work to the organization’s goals and performance metrics. Here are some examples from my career where making an effort to understand the product led to greater marketing results.

B2B Software-as-a-Service (SaaS)

A high-level understanding of the product is always handy in B2B SaaS. While working for Zuora, I learned what the company’s products are trying to solve for revenue professionals. This doesn’t require taking a finance or accounting class or earning an MBA.

Keywords, for instance, play a key role in digital marketing — from paid ads to running an account-based marketing platform. When the product marketing and creative folks provide a list of relevant keywords, knowing about them helps with system administration. 

If a system allows for keyword ranking, it helps to know which ones are most relevant to the target audience. This can also help when designing messaging (webpages, emails, text messages, etc.) by ensuring they are visible or providing guidance for A/B testing of email subject lines and landing page UX. 

Learning about such topics made it easier for me to grasp direction from my colleagues and translate that into system configurations or coordination with vendors. That makes things easier for everyone. Understanding — and speaking to — prospective customers’ pain points isn’t just for the business development, account executive and customer success folks.

Dig deeper: Product-led growth: 3 important lessons from the front line


As part of my current gig with Wyndham Hotels and Resorts, I learned that hospitality has significant similarities with fast food. The vast majority of properties are franchised. Wyndham manages the overall portfolio of brands, provides guidance and support to franchisors, builds overall brand awareness and offers other services. Thus, I’m helping sell far more than hotel rooms and amenities — including opportunities for entrepreneurs.

Along those lines, although the B2C side of the travel sector is very apparent, there’s more to the picture. Understanding how our martech systems are useful to our franchise partners who deal directly with guests in person when they’re at a property is beneficial.

Further, like many other companies, loyalty programs are a big part of the business. They’re a huge deal. “The disclosed pro-forma valuations of AAdvantage and MileagePlus exceeded the airlines’ [American and United, respectively] own market capitalizations,” according to the Harvard Business Review.

These programs provided associated airlines with financial cover as travel plummeted during the pandemic. They also allowed companies to continue engaging customers and generating revenue through partners like associated credit cards and retail affiliations. 

Dig deeper: Why we care about loyalty marketing

Product understanding informs your efforts

When martech and MOps practitioners better understand their company’s products, they can skillfully partner with colleagues to coordinate marketing campaigns and better tie efforts to corporate goals.

This helps decrease the time butting heads with others to decipher the target audience and broader organizational needs, providing informed insight that can garner success for all

We’re the practitioners with technical acumen. A significant part of our duties is to help translate our colleagues’ persuasive brilliance into the digital realm.

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4 areas of martech with ethical concerns Wed, 15 Feb 2023 14:47:15 +0000 Martech professionals don't mean to sow chaos in the world, but what we do can have unintended consequences.

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I recently completed Max Fisher’s book, “The Chaos Machine: The Inside Story of How Social Media Rewired Our Minds and Our World.” Released in September 2022, it is an excellent read and I highly recommend it.

Fisher’s book focuses on how social media companies — inadvertently or not — have had a profound effect on global society. He argues that they have played a key role in causing the amped-up societal tribalism and political polarization causing so much contemporary turmoil. 

Like us all, Fisher has had a front-row seat to this commotion, but he’s had the job to view it critically as a journalist at the New York Times and before that at The Atlantic and the Washington Post. As I read his book, I thought about how the marketing technology industry has a role in this ethical minefield.

This is especially important as marketers and people, in general, are beginning to use powerful technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) that require ethical consideration. Here are four areas in marketing technology that require such consideration.

1. Targeting and segmentation

A very clear example of how marketing technology has played a role in social media’s effect on the global society is targeting and segmentation.

For instance, just last year Meta settled with the United States Department of Justice over Facebook enabling housing discrimination. In the past, the platform allowed landlords to target or exclude people from seeing their housing ads based on sensitive characteristics including race, gender and religion. The most recent suit requires Meta to adjust Facebook’s Lookalike Audiences ad targeting tool to avoid perpetuating housing discrimination based upon such characteristics.

On a humorous side note, just after one of my good buddies got married, he related a very apparent change to his Facebook experience. When his relationship status was set to “Engaged,” he got a lot of ads for groom-to-be wedding services like venues, jewelry shops and photographers. However, once he changed his relationship status to “Married,” he suddenly got ads for divorce lawyers. Yikes. Were Facebook and its martech enabled advertisers out to get him and his marriage?

Additionally, using data to target or nurture customers through a journey also has pitfalls for customer experience. These circumstances can occur in many different settings. For instance, a smart scale shamed an infant for gaining weight (which is likely healthy, by the way). 

Understanding users is difficult and can present ethical concerns when sloppily grouped together. Even when using personas, they’re not perfect. There’s a hilarious meme showing how despite several shared demographic characteristics, Ozzy Osbourne and King Charles III have very different preferences and needs.

Further, it is important to consider ethics when brands form relationships with their audiences using personalization. For brands to avoid creepiness, Rasmus Houlind, author of the forthcoming book “Hello $FirstName: Profiting from Personalization,” advises, “Most customers don’t want an intimate relationship with brands — you’re not their new best friend and you won’t be.” So, don’t act like it.

While these examples are straightforward, countless more nuanced ethical ad targeting and segmentation quandaries occur. 

2. Data collection

Marketers are an interesting and varied bunch. However, one thing is certain about virtually all marketers; they’re data-hungry. They’ll take all the prospect data they can get and social media networks are goldmines for such information. As they say, if a service is free, the user is likely the company’s product.

Legislation like GDPR in the European Union, CCPA in California, PIPL in China and LGPD in Brazil have forced companies to grow more cognizant of their data collection. These laws include ethical guidelines with regard to sensitive data and its retention.

Further, given crises like the Cambridge Analytica scandal, numerous high-profile catfishing incidents and expansive data breaches, the public has grown more aware of the perils of data collection as well. Even publications like Marie Claire educate their readers about privacy.

Of recent concern is wellness service data collection that entices individuals and governments looking for evidence of illegal abortions, in which opportunities for out-of-context misunderstandings abound.

Don’t forget the current spat regarding TikTok. Its owner, ByteDance, has strong ties to the Chinese government. This has made many other governments wary. Can ByteDance keep user data away from the Chinese government? What would the Chinese government do with such data? 

Such trends have definitely complicated the marketing technology and operations industries.

3. Conversion and engagement

A key focus of Fisher’s analysis involves conversion rate optimization and engagement. For instance, Alphabet’s YouTube is strongly interested in increasing the time people watch videos on its platform. The more people watch, the more ads YouTube can serve them.

It uses AI to encourage people to watch and engage with more content. By assessing what a video is about and how much users interacted with it, it can then recommend other videos that are about the same topic and are engaging to users. 

However, as Fisher points out when it comes to engagement, social media platforms have learned that people respond to flashy, worldview-affirming, identity-reinforcing and argumentative content far more than calm, vetted and nuanced content. 

This likely helps explain recent emotional dust-ups we’ve experienced with our families, friends, neighbors and associates. While it is ethical to provoke thought, is it ethical to inflame people for engagement metrics?

One of the great parts about conversion rate optimization is that technology enables us to conduct A/B, multivariate and other types of experiments when we explore and develop new UX elements. While this certainly helps us iterate and progress, there are ethical concerns. 

In 2014, University of Maryland Law School Professor James Grimmelmann raised serious ethical concerns about Facebook and OkCupid performing behavioral experiments without user consent or knowledge. He argued that “the ethics are only half of the story… Facebook and OkCupid are bound by research laws and those research laws quite clearly prohibit what they did.” We clearly need to think carefully about our efforts to boost conversion rates.

As for conversion and engagement tactics, let’s not forget the potential misuse of incentives that can cheapen moral behavior. Would you wreck an office relationship for a $5 credit to the self-serve mini-mart in your breakroom by ratting out a colleague for stealing a $1 candy bar?

When it comes to martech practitioners, we should ask ourselves what content and engagement strategies we employ to drive sales. How are we contributing to such problems? 

Even more importantly, how can we balance the real and valid need for generating revenue and profit with the bigger societal picture? 

4. Strategy changes

A social media or other tech platform’s strategy can change slowly or quickly. 

For instance, Elon Musk’s acquisition of Twitter ushered in significant changes that caused short-term business continuity challenges for companies that use Twitter. Musk champions unfettered free expression, leading customers and the public to ask ethical questions about brands that appear near or advertise on controversial content.

Another social media example involves dating apps. The current season of Vox Media’s podcast “Land of the Giants” is about the dating app industry. Its second episode covers how the Match Group grew to acquire two-thirds (over 45 different brands) of the global market. 

The conglomerate has rolled out various “superpowers” across apps (like Hinge’s roses and Tinder’s super likes) that users either have to earn through use or purchase. These new features represent shifts in business strategy. 

While the Match Group spins them as a way to help its users find lasting love, critics wonder if such strategies and features merely vacuum money out of users’ pockets. Hinge, for instance, fancies itself as the dating app that helps its users delete it quickly, but if we think about it deeply, does it really aspire to that?

From a higher vantage point, how much power have we collectively given social media and other tech companies? We’ve seen numerous times how the whim of a platform owner or Wall Street investors can affect the rest of us — both as individuals and organizations — for better and for worse.

‘Don’t be evil’

Tech giant Google is well known for its former unofficial motto, “Don’t be evil.” Its beauty and inadequacy are both tied to its simplicity. While Google may have never intended to behave unethically, intent is only part of the equation. The same goes for us in the martech space. 

I hope that books like Fisher’s can help remind us all — marketing technology practitioners or not — to think about the real influence technology has on the greater world. 

One of the toughest parts is there are plenty of — as former United States Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld called them — “unknown unknowns” to our line of work. I personally don’t think that many of us in tech strive to sow chaos in the world, but what we do can have unintended consequences.

This is especially important as technologies like AI are growing in adoption and use cases. We need to keep our ethical eyes wide open.

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The dangers of saying ‘no’ in martech Fri, 20 Jan 2023 14:54:16 +0000 Sometimes “let’s test that” is an even better answer than “yes,” all while avoiding the dangers of saying “no.”

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I’ve heard many a story about people who have decided to spend a day saying “yes” to everything and anything.

There are very real dangers in saying “no” in the marketing technology and operations space. However, let me clearly state that there are certainly times and good reasons for saying “no.”

Nevertheless, there are real consequences of earning a reputation as a dream killer or wall of no. Maintaining positive relationships matters. 

Where there’s a will, there’s a way

During my career, I have seen scenarios where a stakeholder needed, for example, a project management solution. But instead of coming to the marketing technology and operations folks, they went with a tool with a free tier like Asana or Trello. 

Sometimes they used their work email address. Other times, they used a personal email address. In some cases, they used the personal email address inadvertently, as that’s the Google account they were logged into at the time. 

There are so many other types of systems where I’ve seen something like this occur — like Google Analytics, for example. The user then inevitably invites team members and other colleagues to join them in using the unvetted system. 

It is important to point out that in the vast majority of cases, such instigators aren’t trying to foil the best intentions of the martech and MOps teams. Nor are they trying to violate the company’s IT security policies or increase the risk of a data breach. 

They simply have a need and have found a free and easy solution for that need. In many cases, they can justifiably argue that the information involved isn’t that sensitive.

They may or may not have deliberately avoided oversight. Sometimes they act out of ignorance, while other times, it is indeed done to avoid bureaucracy.

While I’m sure that not all such instances are brought to light, I’ve seen many draw attention. When they are brought to light, the marketing technology and operations folks are understandably frustrated. 

The legal and IT security teams are alarmed and typically take measures like blocking company email addresses from being used with the service or blocking the service from the company’s network. Needless to say, drama ensues. Fun.

And let’s not forget all those times when a stakeholder finds a great solution and gets a senior executive to approve it before the ops folks even learn about it.

They either have a need and found a solution or feel that bringing the need to the tech and ops folks will slow them down from helping the overall organization. It is important to harness the Most Respectful Interpretation principle at such times.

Such messes could have started for a number of reasons, but one of them likely is that the instigator was either told “no” or expected to be told “no.” Besides, sometimes repenting after the fact is easier than asking for permission first. Further, as a disclosure, I don’t like it when people tell me “no” as well. 

Dig deeper: The secret to building a useful martech stack

Preventing messes when ‘yes’ isn’t on the cards

There are certainly times and reasons when “yes” isn’t a viable answer. That makes it really tough to avoid situations like I’ve explained above. However, some tactics can help.

An important objective is to persuade stakeholders that as marketing technology and operations professionals, we aim to help others succeed — and to do so often and spectacularly. 

We don’t slow things down to make careful and thorough deliberations as a power trip, sabotage, or just for fun. 

We are bringing a bigger-picture perspective and understanding of tactical and in-the-weeds details involved in pursuing any system or initiative.

We can convey this by following some tenets of the agile philosophy

A crucial tenet is transparency. If we can provide backlogs and Kanban boards, stakeholders can understand all that’s on our plates. 

If, instead of saying “no,” we sit down with the stakeholder to gather requirements and use cases, we can walk through some of the challenges or issues that will arise. 

For instance, if a new system needs to integrate well with the CRM, we can work with the stakeholder to see if their desired solution does that well. If it doesn’t, then the stakeholder should have a better understanding of why the answer may end up a “no.”

Another concept that the agile philosophy allows for is iteration. Perhaps a stakeholder has a big ask that others may not have bought into yet. 

However, through iteration, a minimal viable product (MVP) or setup could reveal if the bigger ask is worth pursuing. This is when a proof of concept can come into play. 

Further, in regard to UX matters, a multivariate testing tool can also provide an easy way to try something out without much effort or commitment.

If an MVP, proof of concept or A/B test yields poor or questionable results, then hopefully, the stakeholder will better understand why their request isn’t fulfilled. 

Sometimes “let’s test that” is an even better answer than “yes,” all while avoiding the dangers of saying “no.”

Dig deeper: 3 pointers to navigate the confusing martech marketplace

More people could say ‘no’

It is crucial for martech and MOps professionals to understand how to handle such requests, as more people can kill an idea. 

As I mentioned, legal and IT security are two prominent players in martech plans. Other actors can include finance, clients, vendors, boards of directors, regulators, partners, device manufacturers — and even customers. That is why fostering positive relationships is so important.

When we engage stakeholders by gathering requirements and accounting for numerous issues upfront, we can prepare the idea for the inevitable scrutiny from stakeholders outside of marketing. 

This can help build confidence in the stakeholder that their tech and operations colleagues are indeed looking out for them.

Avoid the pitfalls of ‘no’

We’ve all been there when either a colleague started using an unvetted system or got blindsided by a stakeholder gaining senior management approval for a solution that we learned about after it was approved and procured. 

While stakeholders’ understandable fear of us saying “no” isn’t the only cause of such incidents, it can certainly play a role. 

We don’t have to say “yes” to everything to avoid the dangers of “no.” However, by using “let’s test that” or “maybe” and including stakeholders in the deliberation that arrives at “no,” we can hopefully enable them to understand the bigger picture and why their desire isn’t viable at the moment. 

Perhaps deliberations may reveal an even better solution requiring less effort. That way, they can view us as allies committed to helping them succeed.

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Why prioritizing business continuity in martech is a must Fri, 09 Dec 2022 14:42:02 +0000 Preparing for the hypothetical isn’t a waste of resources. It's time to recommit to business continuity and disaster recovery planning.

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In the second half of 2019, I made a presentation to Western Governors University’s marketing department. There I discussed a project that involved working with an IT colleague. We were documenting business continuity and disaster recovery (BCDR) plans for the department. 

Business continuity planning means working out how an organization will function after a major blocker to normal operation suddenly occurs. On the other hand, disaster recovery focuses on preparing for catastrophes like major earthquakes or hurricanes.

While explaining business continuity, I asked questions like, “What if one of our major vendors went out of business overnight?” and “What if a staff member critical to a platform or project was hit by a bus?” 

Little did I know at the time that I could’ve asked this question: “What if there’s a major global pandemic that forces all of us — let alone the rest of society — to work remotely for an extended period of time? How will we function?”

Or, for a more recent example, “What if one of our major channels (*cough* Twitter *cough*) crumbles before our eyes?”

The COVID-19 pandemic

I doubt business continuity is a hard sell in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. It truly disrupted global society in a way that dramatically affected everyone. 

Although we now have viable treatments and preventive measures like vaccines, we’re still feeling the effects in our personal and professional lives. While those of us in the marketing technology space were better suited to work remotely full-time than many other professions, we certainly had challenges. 

I’m sure that there were instances of people who were critical to running a campaign or configuring a system but were taken out of commission for several weeks by suffering from COVID-19. 

Further, although our profession is tech-focused and typically pays relatively well, some people may not have had access to quality broadband internet where they live. And who can’t forget how employees suddenly had to work side-by-side with their roommates, romantic partners, school-aged children and/or pets? 

Those all certainly presented challenges. Somehow we largely and collectively made it work. There are pros and cons to working remotely, just as there are to working in an office. I certainly don’t miss my commute, but I miss the impromptu banter. 

While we had collaboration tools like Teams, Zoom and Slack to help us work together from separate spaces, they weren’t perfect for long-term full-time use. Solutions like Roam, Frameable and Party.Space are rolling out to make these working arrangements function better.

Despite surviving this turmoil, most of us know there’s room for improvement.

Dig deeper: What marketers need to know to prepare for 2023

On Twitter’s future

I’m not going to predict what will ultimately happen with Twitter. It may die, but it may also move beyond its current period of upheaval to flourish. However, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t some real business continuity issues right now.

There is certainly wisdom in not putting all of one’s eggs in a single basket. The same goes for marketing channels. Organizations that rely too heavily on one or a few channels certainly face risk. We’ve seen this before. 

  • Who remembers Vine, the short-form video platform? 
  • Who has spoken with an SEO after Google significantly rejiggered its search ranking algorithms? 
  • Who remembers how Cambridge Analytica misused Facebook data? That certainly hastened a reckoning (that was likely inevitable, by the way). 
  • Let’s not forget the very real high-level discussions of banning TikTok in the United States due to the social network’s Chinese government connections.

Another important angle is how Twitter has rapidly decreased its content moderation teams. While we should enjoy free speech, that doesn’t mean that a brand feels comfortable placing an ad near someone’s controversial opinion on a hot-button topic. 

We should also consider abrupt and major product changes as well. For example, let’s consider Twitter quickly trying new verification modes. 

  • Did Pepsi really tweet that Coke is better? 
  • How much money did big pharma companies Eli Lilly, Novo Nordisk and Sanofi lose in stock value — let alone a rather unwanted public and political outcry about their business practices — over a fake yet “verified” tweet? 
  • Then there’s the increased prevalence of hate speech. Where do I stop?

Each of these is certainly not as disruptive as a global pandemic, but they can shake things up on a smaller scale.

That’s why it is wise for organizations to account for such disruptions in their marketing technology strategies. Business continuity planning is for far more than just when everyone is sent home to work remotely long-term or if someone is hit by a bus.

Dig deeper: Why people are essential to B2B marketing success

Business continuity should be a priority

Most people understand the importance of BCDR. But in reality, it is hard to prioritize when there are so many other pressing matters for deadlines and gains from “known and shorter-term” goals and milestones than anticipating “hypothetical” events. However, “high-impact, low-probability” events happen. (Remember Eyjafjallajökull?) Ignoring these risks presents dangers. 

Fortunately, accounting for and addressing such risks has benefits even if calamity doesn’t ensue. For instance, enabling people to effectively collaborate from disparate places will help them work better when someone attends a conference, works from home due to a repair person coming or tends to an ill child. In the past, most companies would require people to take entire days off for such things, but now someone can still put a somewhat full day of work in. 

Further, cross-training people to ensure that there’s some redundancy running campaigns and systems is quite simply smart. Even if someone critical isn’t hit by a bus, they may unexpectedly give their two weeks’ notice. In fact, how many of us work under at-will employment laws that allow our employers to fire a colleague or us at any time in exchange for allowing us to quit at any time without either party being required to provide notice? 

When fostering multiple channels, this practice can help the organization gather more data, try different tactics and find new prospects in unexpected ways. Preparing for the hypothetical isn’t a waste of time, effort or resources.

A renewed resolve

We should use the recent past and present to encourage us to recommit to business continuity and disaster recovery planning. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not hoping for the worst, but bad things happen — regardless if it’s a plague or significant turmoil at a prominent social network.

However, while martech practitioners already have a lot on their plates, BCDR should come off the back burner and onto their plates. Fortunately, there are BCDR professionals in IT and other risk management disciplines whom we can team up with to prepare for the worst while hoping for the best. We don’t need to do this alone.

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The MRI principle: Why it’s beneficial for martech practitioners Wed, 02 Nov 2022 17:19:06 +0000 Applying the “Most Respectful Interpretation” principle is a must for martech practitioners dealing with various stakeholders. Here's why.

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Recently, I attended an event hosted by the product management group Product Hive here in Utah that featured Spiff (a B2B SaaS company offering sales commission management software) Chief Product Officer Raphael Bres.

Bres spent a lot of his presentation focusing on interpersonal and leadership skills, which reveals how important he considers them for product management. 

One such skill is employing the Most Respectful Interpretation (MRI) principle which he defines as: 

“You must consider only the best, the kindest, the most helpful interpretation of every communication and respond solely to that version.” 

It is profound.

Why martech practitioners need MRI

Marketing technology practitioners definitely have a need for this principle as they’re movers and shakers who are always affecting their colleagues. 

I recall a recent item that highlights this. Spence Darrington recently shared some insights about helping CMOs better harness their marketing operations teams

His column got a response from several marketing operations folks who were flustered by senior leaders with unrealistic and/or constantly changing expectations. We’ve all been there. 

This response validated Darrington’s goal — helping senior leaders better understand how their actions affect marketing operations teams. It’s important to remember, while marketing technology practitioners need to give some grace to their superiors and colleagues, that doesn’t mean they should refrain from asserting themselves .

There are many benefits to MRI, and we as a community could certainly use them. These benefits include: 

  • Better relationships with our colleagues.
  • A more collaborative reputation than a dream-killing one.
  • A higher chance that people will engage us earlier on in projects that will eventually involve us.

All this will make things easier for all involved. 

Assuming the best vs. looking for undermining forces

I can attest that employing this principle leads to more personal peace, which Bres also mentioned during. When we take things less personally and are not constantly looking for undermining forces, we are happier. 

Further, if we look for offense as well as enemies/frenemies, we’ll find them in spades. Avoiding that enables us to work more productively and see things more clearly. It also demonstrates a more welcoming, open-minded personality. This invites people to partner with us instead of repelling them as they expect us to say no or slow things down. 

Dig deeper: Martech is mainly about relationships

Our jobs are focused on technology: enabling systems users, selecting and operating superb platforms, optimizing integrations, saving money and delivering quality leads. However, it’s the soft skill of maintaining positive relationships that will yield higher dividends.

Relationships over tools

It is pretty common when discussing how as practitioners we can confront human nature to recommend various tools and strategies. Such recommendations come from various fields like change management, project management, management and organizational behavior. 

These tools and strategies are helpful and useful. However, who hasn’t employed a tried-and-tested tool or strategy only to have someone foil it? 

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I have. That’s why I know they are not a substitute for maintaining positive relationships. 

Just as being nice alone won’t lead to success, neither will having an updated, accessible, highly visible and sufficiently bought-in kanban board get everyone to commit to it. Relationships matter.

Strike the balance between kindness and weakness

Giving people the benefit of the doubt and assuming the best in our interactions doesn’t mean we should operate as doormats. We must respectfully stand up for ourselves and our perspectives developed from our expertise and experience. 

However, we need to influence others through genuinely positive persuasion. This way our colleagues will more likely view us as partners. Along these lines, Bres shared some statements. Two of them are: 

  • “Be strong but not rude.”
  • “Be kind but not weak.” 

Striking this balance is not easy but ultimately is worth the struggle.

Here’s the thing. Regardless if we’re employed in-house, serving agency clients or are solo practitioners advising others, we do not succeed alone. We rely upon others to do their part. 

Thus, striving to maintain positive relationships with others only boosts the chances of our own success.

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Data analytics: Your stack’s past and limitations Mon, 03 Oct 2022 14:13:49 +0000 Understanding your martech stack's evolution makes working with data analysts more efficient.

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At our recent MarTech Conference session, “It takes two to tango: How marketers and data analysts can excel together,” Arti Munshi and I talked about some high-level concepts marketers can understand to help them work efficiently with data analysts. A key part of this is understanding data’s limitations. One of those limitations is a martech stack’s evolution.

Different types of evolution can hinder what a data analyst can do with data collected over time. Here are a few examples.

Analytics platforms

It is not unheard of for a company to change analytics platforms within its stack. There are numerous options for each type of component and plenty of reasons why a company may change which components they use.

A common example is a web analytics platform. Two major players in this space are Adobe Analytics and Google Analytics. If your company swapped one out for the other, this could limit your company’s historical web data. Granted, your company may have stored data from both systems in a data lake, but that doesn’t mean the platforms gathered and organized the data similarly. This makes things difficult for an analyst to account for. If a marketer can understand this history, they can incorporate this evolution into their requests and expectations.

Don’t forget that other stack components can also affect data collection and processing. Switching those around will present similar issues.

The broader organization

Marketing departments don’t stand alone. They exist to promote a broader organization. The broader organization can also present issues that affect data collection.

For instance, a company may not have a data lake where data from systems throughout the organization are stored. Having data all in one place can make it easier to bring other data in for a broader perspective. For instance, leads, conversions and opportunities are not the only pieces of the puzzle. Customer happiness, touchpoints with customer service representatives and so on are all part of the bigger picture. 

More robust and complete findings are possible if analysts can look beyond a customer’s interaction with marketing campaigns. However, that depends upon how easy it is to pull all that data together in the first place.

Dig deeper: What’s the difference between a data warehouse and a data lake?

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It is no secret that privacy regulations have evolved. In the past, it was permissible here in the United States for web browsers to collect a lot of information about website visitors. There was a lot more allowance for sharing or selling that information to other parties — especially with third-party data. Because of this analysts could provide richer and more robust information. Federal and state regulations have clamped down on collecting that data, so this is no longer the case.

Further, privacy regulations also vary throughout the world. The European Union is well known for protecting the privacy of its citizens — far more so than other governmental entities. This shouldn’t surprise any marketer, but analysts are more constrained with EU data when compared to the U.S.

Dig deeper: With Apple privacy protections hurting revenue, some companies are finding ways around it

Device manufacturer influence

Tech companies certainly have to comply with regulations. However, sometimes they adhere to more stringent standards than what they’re governed by. For instance Apple has restricted the data companies can collect about its device users. It turned that privacy focus into an extensive marketing campaign. Regardless of how much the perception matches reality, marketers need to note that it is possible analysts won’t have the same data for Apple and Android users.

Customer self-identification

Sticking with devices, this point is a well-known limitation. Most people use multiple devices ranging from laptops, phones and consoles. It is not uncommon for someone to have multiple of each. For instance, they do a few benign personal things (like checking the news) on their work laptop and do that again later on a personal laptop and phone. Ideally, it would be nice to stitch that individual across their devices so the data would represent them as one person instead of multiple people using different devices.

One way to do that is to collect first-party data and look for individuals using multiple devices. Perhaps they have an account and log into your systems from multiple devices. That is certainly one way to accomplish such stitching. However, an organization may not always have accounts for people to log into. In some instances, that may not make sense for someone to open an account with an organization’s systems. 

If your organization was able to introduce accounts for people to create and use, please keep in mind that looking back to times when that wasn’t available or widely used will hinder analysts’ ability to track people across devices over time.

Limitations, not impossibilities

As marketers, it is essential to understand such data limitations. Understanding them will help facilitate working with data analysts. Having said all of this, these are limitations — not impossibilities. This is when data analysts can shine. They’re well aware of the limitations, but as data specialists, they likely have far more tricks up their sleeves than a marketer is aware of. Hopefully, coming to the table with a high understanding of the terrain will facilitate some creative collaboration.

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6 martech contract gotchas to be aware of Wed, 10 Aug 2022 17:48:45 +0000 Martech contracts can raise thorny issues. Here are some to look out for.

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Having worked at several organizations and dealt with many more vendors, I’ve seen my share of client-vendor relationships and their associated “gotchas.” 

Contracts are complex for a reason. That’s why martech practitioners are wise to lean on lawyers and buyers during the procurement process. They typically notice terms that could undoubtedly catch business stakeholders off guard.

Remember, all relationships end. It is important to look for thorny issues that can wreak havoc on future plans.

I’ve seen and heard of my share of contract gotchas. Here are some generalizations to look out for.

1. Data

So, you have a great data vendor. You use them to buy contacts and information as well as to enrich what data you’ve already got. 

When you decide to churn from the vendor, does your contract allow you to keep and use the data you’ve pulled into your CRM or other systems after the relationship ends? 

You had better check.

2. Funds

There are many reasons why you would want to give funds in advance to a vendor. Perhaps it pays for search ads or allows your representatives to send gifts to prospective and current customers. 

When you change vendors, will they return unused funds? That may not be a big deal for small sums of money. 

Further, while annoying, processing fees aren’t unheard of. But what happens when a lot of cash is left in the system? 

You had better make sure that you can get that back.

3. Service-level agreements (SLAs)

Your business is important, and your projects are a big deal. Yet, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll get a prompt response to a question or action when something wrong happens. 

That’s where SLAs come in. 

It’s how your vendor tells you they will respond to questions and issues. A higher price point typically will get a client a better SLA that requires the vendor to respond and act more quickly — and more of the time to boot (i.e., 24/7 service vs. standard business hours). 

Make sure that an SLA meets your expectations. 

Further, remember that most of the time, you get what you pay for. So, if you want a better SLA, you may have to pay for it.

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4. Poaching

Clients and vendors alike are always looking for quality people to employ. Sometimes they find them on the other side of the client-vendor relationship. 

Are you OK with them poaching one of your team members? 

If not, this should be discussed and put into writing during the contract negotiation phase, a renewal, or at any time if it is that important.

 I have dealt with organizations that are against anti-poaching clauses to the point that a requirement to have one is a dealbreaker. Sometimes senior leadership or board members are adamant about an individual’s freedom to work where they please — even if one of their organization’s employees departs to work for a customer or vendor. 

5. Freebies

It is not unheard of for vendors to offer their customers freebies. Perhaps they offer a smaller line item to help justify a price increase during a renewal. 

Maybe the company is developing a new product and offers it in its nascent/immature/young stage to customers as a deal sweetener or a way to collect feedback and develop champions for it. 

Will that freemium offer carry over during the next renewal? Your account executive or customer success manager may say it will and even spell that out in an email. 

Then, time goes by. People on both sides of the relationship change or forget details. Company policies change. That said, the wording in a contract or master service agreement won’t change. 

Make sure the terms of freebies or other good deals are put into legally sound writing.

Dig deeper: 24 questions to ask ABM vendors before signing the contract

6. Pricing factors

There are many ways vendors can price out their offerings. For instance, a data broker could charge by the contact engaged by a customer. But what exactly does that mean? 

If a customer buys a contact’s information, that makes sense as counting as one contact. 

What happens if the customer, later on, wants to enrich that contact with updated information? Does that count as a second contact credit used? 

Reasonable minds could justify the affirmative and negative to this question. So, evaluating a pricing factor or how it is measured upfront is vital to determine if that makes sense to your organization. 

Don’t let contract gotchas catch you off-guard 

The above are just a few examples of martech contract gotchas martech practitioners encounter. There is no universal way to address them. Each organization will want to address them differently. The key is to watch for them and work with your colleagues to determine what’s best in that specific situation. Just don’t get caught off-guard.

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Winning the martech procurement process Mon, 01 Aug 2022 16:23:00 +0000 Making life easier for executive assistants will also make it easier for you.

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Procuring and renewing tech and services is a big part of martech management. Parts of that are enjoyable – finding out what capabilities you can add to your stack, for one. And parts are not – getting everyone to sign off on each step of the process, for example. While it may not be fun, getting those OKs is essential to getting your job done. So here are some tips on how to handle it.

At most companies, martech procurement goes through a formal request process involving reviews by legal, finance, procurement, other IT professionals and maybe information security. This is when buyers in procurement are your friends.

That’s why it is essential to foster positive relationships with people in the decision-making process. You’re not alone and need to partner with others. As Taylor Swift will tell you, it’s all about #squadgoals. 

To be sure, we weren’t placed on earth to shepherd requests through all of these bureaucratic hoops. However, it’s important to understand the organizational hurdles so they don’t stymy marketing. 

Many people need to chime in

While everyone on the team should have at least a passing knowledge of this process, it’s best to pick a couple of people to handle them. They can be the SMEs who understand the needs and quirks of everyone involved. In particular, they should get to know the various approvers in the process early on. That way, when there’s a rush request from a VIP stakeholder, they’re more likely to get a positive response. 

It’s also a good idea to get to know executive assistants and chiefs of staff. These folks can make a lot of things easier or a lot more difficult. They can also help track down the CEO mid-flight to approve or sign something. Something I’ve had to do!

Dig deeper: How to leverage intent and engagement in the buying cycle

Gather the essential information

Keep in mind, anyone working closely with a C-suite approver is bombarded with requests from people who want that top exec to do something. So, when you get in touch, make their lives easier by having all the information they’re going to want. That way they will prioritize your request ahead of the ones requiring them to do more work. 

The essential information:

  • What’s needed? For instance, does the executive need to approve and/or sign something?
  • The why. What’s the justification for the purchase?
  • Who has OK’d it. If your organization doesn’t have a procurement system, you’ll need to get creative with documenting previous approvals.
  • What’s at stake? Is this saving us money? If this purchase isn’t made, who can’t do their job?
  • Deadlines. Does the exec need to sign a contract within the next two hours to get the special vendor discount? 

This will let the assistant understand exactly what needs to happen by when and why.

While all this may seem ancillary to your “real” job, it’s anything but. Getting martech procurement approval at the right time can literally be the difference between success and failure. To paraphrase the old proverb: For want of a signature, the campaign was lost.

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