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5 Challenges Marketers Must Face in 2017

While every marketer faces challenges unique to their organization, here are five that we all must tackle in 2017 PHOTO: Frank McKenna

Marketing today is a bit like being on a roller coaster — it has its ups and downs, but no one would ever complain that it’s boring.

Marketing is on the frontlines of revenue generation and fills a mission critical role in virtually every organization. Living in a chaotic and rapidly evolving environment is both challenging and energizing — and can be extremely stressful.  

But in my conversations over the last two years with CMOs, marketing technologists and agency personnel from organizations of all shapes, sizes and industries I can tell you one thing — no one has it all figured out.

Most organizations are convinced they lag behind their peer group when it comes to deploying and managing the performance of marketing technology. The CMO of a Fortune 100 company was embarrassed to admit that her team struggled to manage all of their technology. Believe me — we are all in the same boat. 

So as we move into 2017, let’s start by shaking off the anxiety, then roll up our sleeves to tackle the five big marketing challenges we all will face in the coming year: 

  1. Managing marketing technology across the organization,
  2. Adapting to a world where reaching prospects is increasingly difficult,
  3. Driving increased customer engagement,
  4. Delivering a unified customer experience and
  5. Measuring marketing performance.

1. Manage Marketing Technology Across the Organization

For many organizations, the acquisition and implementation of new technology has gotten ahead of the logistics of tracking and managing what is already in place. Low cost SaaS-based products make it easy for anyone in the organization to acquire a product — and just as easy to forget to cancel them when they fall out of use.

Lack of visibility and management produces that same feeling as when you haven’t checked your email in a week: fear that you’ll miss something important and anxiety around the sheer volume of incoming requests that need attention.  

To eliminate this anxiety and the corresponding “wake up in the middle of the night panic,” I recommend putting in place the following three practices:

  1. Take an inventory of all marketing technology currently being used across the organization and make it visible to everyone involved in the acquisition and implementation of technology. I’m a big fan of doing this in a stack format but anyway that works for you will do.
  2. Put a process in place to ensure that new purchases get recorded and that subscriptions are reviewed on a regular basis.
  3. If you are ready to take it a step further, create inventories for products being evaluated, in test and that have been retired or rejected. 

Knowing what’s in place makes it easier to think about what’s needed when the time comes.

2. Measure Marketing Technology Performance

One of the biggest challenges we all face is figuring out how to measure the performance of all the tools we use.  

For some it’s straightforward, but for others it’s a qualitative assessment or part of an integrated solution where it’s impossible to separate out the performance of one tool from another.  

What we need is a product that allows us to manage the performance of all of our tools from a single dashboard. A number of data integration companies are making progress in this area, but the challenge is in knowing where to focus integration efforts when dealing with a technology landscape of thousands of products.  

For 2017, avoid setting an unattainable goal of an integrated marketing analytics system and instead focus on:

  • Making sure that you have objectives — quantitative or qualitative — for every piece of technology you are implementing. And then commit to measuring against those objectives. It may not be perfect, but it’s a step in the right direction
  • Integrate analytics information where it makes sense and is feasible. This is the first step towards a fully integrated analytics dashboard
  • If you have some glaringly obvious integration needs, ask your vendors to partner with data integration folks who can deliver what you need. One of the other things we’ve learned at CabinetM is that many vendors aren’t sure what products surround theirs in a marketing stack, so they can’t easily prioritize integration efforts.

3. Adapt to a World Where Reaching Prospects is Increasingly Difficult

A number of factors are combining to make it increasingly difficult to find and connect with prospective customers: 1) A noisy marketplace: with so much good and bad content being produced, prospects are overloaded and less likely to access the content put in front of them. 2) Adblocking, email management systems and new opt-in privacy rules are giving more control to prospects over who and how companies market to them. And 3) an increase in the number of resources, community and social channels fueling the disbursement of prospects across many sites and channels.   

So what to do? Three actions you can take in the new year:

  • Commit to highly targeted quality content. Stop spamming the universe with content that even you don’t want to read. Put a content strategy in place with clear goals and objectives and then work to optimize consumption: delivering  content to the right channels and in the right form for your audience, making sure that what you are delivering in return for prospect content details is impactful and meaningful to a prospect (remember this is a brand exercise as well) and then following up with a well crafted call to action or promotion. Take the time to analyze your content consumption and experiment with topics, channels and distribution. Remember: less can be more
  • Start experimenting with tools and programs that encourage prospects to opt-in for engagement. Now’s the time to experiment before your prospects shut you down completely
  • Pay attention to your buyer personas and in particular spend time mapping where your prospects spend their time physically, online and using their mobile devices. You can’t be everywhere, so find where your prospects routinely congregate

4. Drive Increased Customer Engagement

All too often we focus more of our time trying to acquire new customers rather than engaging with the customers we have. At a time when our customer lifecycle and lifetime value is clearer than ever, there’s no excuse for continuing this practice. Devote resources to engaging current customers in order to increase customer life time value. Resolve to:

  • Develop and implement a specific customer engagement program
  • Tap other parts of the organization to help. With a good plan, customer service, sales and even finance can serve as an extension of the marketing team and assist with customer engagement.

5. Deliver a Unified Customer Experience

We’ve heard a lot over the last year about creating a unified customer experience that gives prospects and customers a consistent experience across all company touch-points, using any device.  

While this is a worthy goal, it’s still not easily attainable for most companies. Rather than viewing this as a binary issue — unified or not unified — think more in terms of a continuum.

  1. Look for places where branding, messaging and design can improve the uniformity of the customer experience.
  2. Focus on contact points (order conversion, customer service) that are most critical to the overall relationship with the customer.
  3. Start assessing technology that can help in this mission. You may not be ready to implement large-scale platforms, but now’s the time to start reading and thinking about what you might need in the future to realize the vision of a uniform customer experience.

Unlike traditional New Year’s resolutions that disappear the first time you eat something fattening, these MarTech resolutions only focused on forward progress, not an end goal, so any step you take is an improvement.

I feel so lucky to be part of this crazy, complicated industry. Sure it’s exhausting and anxiety provoking, but it is also incredibly exciting and filled with talented people willing to help.  

So make your final MarTech New Year’s resolution to build a network of peers who you can tap for recommendations and leverage as a strategy sounding board.    

I can’t wait to see what’s around the corner — bring on 2017!

Anita Brearton is Founder/CEO and Co-CMO of CabinetM, a marketing technology discovery and management platform that helps marketing teams manage the technology they have, and find the technology they need. Anita is a long time tech start-up marketer and has had the great fortune of driving marketing programs through the early stages of a startup all the way to IPO and acquisition.


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