Marketing technology has become a growing necessity for brands in recent years as digital technologies have boomed and the need to automate and optimise processes for competitive advantage have increased – here experts discuss how to get that investment over the line.

WARC recently published the latest edition of our annual report on the MarTech industry, in association with BDO, which saw the market size grow from $100bn to $121bn globally.

This rate of growth is reflective of an industry that now houses more than 7,000 technology vendors, with regular diversification through specialist players entering the market on one side, and consolidation by the big enterprise players at the other as they acquire specialist tools to add to their MarTech ‘ecosystems’.

For this year’s report, we partnered with University of Bristol to conduct some qualitative research into perceptions and uses of MarTech by a group of UK-based marketers and consultants. The following is part 1 of a three-part mini-series, showcasing the highlights of this research, conducted by Lecturer in Marketing, Dr Emma Slade.

Part 1 focuses on investment in marketing technology – how to get board buy-in, barrier to investment and touches on some ethical issues around the selling of MarTech platforms.

Key to securing investment buy-in from the board: explain where you’re going

Tell the growth story with data: “To get the tech you want, the data needs to be there to support it,” explains Danyl Bosomworth, Director of Marketing Innovation at The Home Agency in an interview. “A great business case outlines what you want to do, why you want to do it, what capabilities you need and what technology you need.

“Ultimately, the board wants to see a number and a story of how to get there,” he adds. “It outlines what processes will enable you to make best use of that investment and puts a number on it.” For many practitioners, putting that story together is hard, whether out of an inability to properly articulate the business case, or to evoke enough ambition to get the board to connect with the idea.

“There needs to be a narrative of growth that is substantiated with clear KPIs, clear measures of what you will be effecting, and therefore how growth will be specifically impacted.”

Alina Jingan, MarTech Practice Lead at MRM//McCann suggests that “most CMOs are still struggling to demonstrate where budget goes and how budget is influencing or driving revenue.  So I think anything from data analytics and the tools that are used for segmentation, for audience analysis, for insight, for CRM, I think is very, very valuable.”

Main barriers to MarTech investment

Fear of making the wrong choice in a big market
“Often it’s quite expensive and often you’ll be signing up to a contract, but your worry is that you invest and you sign up for a contract something that, after a couple of months, you realise isn’t right,” observes Mark Wainwright, Associate Director, Teneo.

“There’s also the worry that what you’ve invested in is going to be superseded really quickly, because the technology moves so fast, and actually become out of date five minutes after you’ve invested in it.”

The technology needs to be the enabler of strategy.

“Limited budgets mean you have to choose sometimes,” adds Simon Kingsnorth, CMO at City Relay. “You can’t have everything you want, and that’s where strategy is important. A lot of people, especially in larger organisations, will jump towards a tech solution without having thought about the strategy first. The technology needs to be the enabler to the strategy.” 

Helen Greatrex, Research Manager, Wavemaker Manchester, observes that “there are a lot of tools out there, and people can get overwhelmed. I also wonder if when agencies are managing MarTech on a brand’s behalf, the brand may not really understand what’s available.”

Overruled by non-experts
While most organisations now accept they need MarTech, Simon Kingsnorth argues that securing investment can be extremely challenging. Because, he says, “you can get overruled by people who ultimately don’t understand the challenge.”

The threat of the short-term
“There is also a challenge for people who do brand storytelling in this era of short-termism, to show the effect it has on the bottom line,” Wainwright continues. “Some older school creatives and planners really hate technology and hate programmatic because of that perceived de-prioritisation of brand storytelling. But the challenge they’ve got is that people are watching less and less linear TV.  People are exposed to fewer adverts than ever and consuming the kind of entertainment that they want to consume.” 

Too much sophistication but not enough resource
“A lot of MarTech installations are too sophisticated for the rest of the tools they integrate with. It’s like buying Ferrari technology and then leaving the Ferrari on bricks at the side of the road. That practical view of not only how to best use MarTech but then actually start to use it is lacking in some brands” says Danyl Bosomworth

“There can be a real fear-factor in brands bringing MarTech on board. I’ve seen many where the feeling is ‘I know we need to do it, but it feels like we don’t have the resource to implement it’ – that feeling stops most projects happening,” Carey Trevill, Co-Founder and Director, Mission Element

Measuring what matters
Despite the many great tools in the market, “there is a distinct lack of understanding of what is going to benefit that brand over both the short and the long term,” Trevill adds.

“The industry is very focused on short term at the moment, which is part of the reason why a lot of the brands we see out there are dipping their toes in the water with lots of different approaches without really understanding the long-term impact, and the penetration that’s really needed to build a brand.”

MarTech buyers still question vendor ethics

Questions remain, however, about MarTech’s ethical considerations. Many interviewees noted aggressive and even questionable sales tactics impacting the space’s profile.

“I think ethically there can be a problem in big tech vendors overselling where brands don’t need it,” says Danyl Bosomworth. “It’s that analogy of a Ferrari on bricks – people are half-building these amazing technologies, but the client has absolutely no idea how to use them so are metaphorically speaking left at the side of the road.

“We have so many conversations where the client has spent the budget and is a long way from being able to practically use the tech. They’ve spent the money, they’ve paid the licence fees and then there is a realisation of: ‘Oh right, actually, we’ve not even started. We’ve literally just built the house. We’ve not kitted it out.’”

“I think there is a lot of… almost double-glazing salesman technique being applied to these mass platforms which are very cheap, entry level points, but they are reliant on mass numbers of customers, and so I see some quite unethical practices happening on the selling technique,” says Trevill.

Two issues, she says, stand out: “One is this lack of understanding from the purchaser, and the other is an innate desire to sell from whoever is selling the tech, to sell at all costs. That is a big barrier for the ethical approach that we need to take, asking  ‘Actually, is it really fit for purpose?  Is it suitable for me?  Is it going to do the things I think it is going to do?  And will I ever be able to hear that straight from somebody who is on a numbers game?’” 

Look out for part 2 of this mini-series on the role of the agency in MarTech onboarding and use.