The field of marketing technology has exploded with options. By best estimates today, there are 3,800 software platforms spanning social media marketing, digital advertising, campaign and lead management, sales automation, and content marketing. Some product suites claim to manage some or all of these functions from one login.
It’s good there are tools to make your outreach more targeted, your success more measurable, and your job easier. But how do you filter through 3,800 possibilities?
At DKY, we know your pain. As Director of Digital Marketing, I field calls from tech startups nearly every day of the year. Working for our clients, I evaluate platforms, choose the best in key categories, and use them to bring value. So I have a few pointers when it comes to digital marketing anxiety.
But before we get into details, one ground rule guides everything: It’s about relationships. Good marketing technology simply helps you build and invest in relationships with your audiences. And they do so without coming across as robotic or programmed. Tools that publish information or collect data are useful, but should never distract you from your customers.
With that in mind, let’s dig into what platforms you might consider, and how to narrow the options.
What to Select: A Digital Marketing Starter Kit
While your digital marketing toolbox is dictated by the needs of your brand, by and large, most companies do well to start with the following basic tools.
A good customer relationship management (CRM) platform is vital to supporting any serious sales team. Did you know it plays an equally important role in marketing? A robust CRM lets you personalize your messages –the key to engaging with your customers in relevant, timely, and lucrative ways.
Your website is (hopefully) built on a content management system (CMS), and your choice of CMS is a bigger deal than you probably realize. A beautiful, modern-looking website isn’t enough in digital marketing. You must be able to manage it nimbly and collaboratively. That’s why a conversation about CMS is usually one of the first discussions we have with new clients—and continually revisit with long-standing clients.
Email isn’t dead yet. In fact, for some brands, email marketing continues to gain traction and higher engagement. If email marketing will play a role in your overall strategy, it deserves a professional, dedicated platform. Your personal inbox is not that platform.
You need a place to post news about your company: a blog on your website or a dedicated blogging platform where you can direct users. As you get in the rhythm of publishing valuable information, the space will be invaluable when there’s an acquisition, leadership change, recall or other crisis. It will help you get and stay ahead of the news cycle with messages you control.
In conjunction with your blog, you need a channel to engage with customers. For some businesses, this will be a LinkedIn company page or group. For others, it might be Twitter or Facebook. Don’t overcommit; invest time in one or two. It will pay off when you need to alert them with breaking news, offers, or requests. A social channel gives you a pulse on your reputation, and serves as a “headline service” that links to your blog.
Analytics are critical beyond those that measure your website traffic. Strategic digital marketing requires a dashboard where you can view and analyze all performance metrics in one spot—email, social media, marketing automation, events promotion, mobile apps, and others. A comprehensive view will help you realize how the parts are working together.
Beyond this “starter kit,” a number of other technologies may be right for you: tools for planning content, publishing centrally to social media, creating and sending surveys, promoting events and tracking RSVPs, collecting engagement patterns, and much more. Before you jump in, though, assess each one for relevance and demand (what are your audience’s online habits?) as well as ROI.
How To Select: Think Partnerships with Platforms
There’s no one formula for picking the best marketing technology, and the process varies by niche and application. But here are a few truths and criteria we’ve discovered to make wiser decisions.
Rushing the process will backfire.
A bit of extra research and planning upfront can save your team countless headaches and costly rework later. We’ve found that it pays to do real discovery work early on, even if it adds some time to the project. Sticking with a smart plan we’ve thoroughly researched is actually easier (and less costly) than rushing into work and bouncing from one hastily-chosen option to the next.
What do the experts say?
The first and easiest help comes from published reviews. The more you research marketing technology, the better you’ll recognize experts who are smart, objective, and relevant to how you’ll use a given product. In general, look for authors with deep industry experience who have reviewed several products and services in the same niche. Comparison reviews can be especially useful as you near the bottom of the funnel.
What do my colleagues say?
Seek out opinions from colleagues you know and trust. Maybe someone within your company has experience with the tool. If not, scour your networks: associations you belong to or LinkedIn groups. Although not as objective, a candid conversation with a reference provided by the vendor can be helpful as well. Don’t hesitate to press for specifics and base your questions on the functions you need from the program.
Will the technology grow with us?
Technology companies like to tout their scalability. When that email platform claims to “scale with your business for years to come,” does that simply mean you can add thousands of names? Or does it mean you’ll have the added functionality your brand requires as you expand? You might want advanced features down the road that this provider will never offer. Also ask about integration—whether the platform plays nicely with other tools you use. Look for terms like compatibility, integration, plugins, APIs, and data exports. These things become increasingly important as you execute a unified marketing goal.
Can I start with a trial?
Whether free or just low-commitment, starting a new digital marketing engagement with a trial mode is a great way to mitigate your risk. Even if you’re sure you’ve found the perfect platform, if there’s an option to use it for 14 days before committing, take advantage of it.
Experiments take time.
Your first choice won’t always be the right one. You can do all your homework, contact references, begin with a trial…and still end up choosing a platform that didn’t live up to its claims. Before you jump ship, though, consider whether you’ve given your experiment enough time. Have you followed recommended practices? Consulted the vendor’s support team and escalated your concerns through the proper channels? Only after we’ve given a marketing tool a fair shake can we confidently say whether it’s a good fit or not.
This Was Supposed to Help Me Cope?
Yeah, there’s a lot to consider here. Maybe too much to take in at one time. It’s not easy navigating today’s digital marketing decisions. Some brands are staffed and equipped to handle these processes internally. Most aren’t.
If you’re looking out on a marketing landscape that’s more cluttered and overwhelming than ever, know that you don’t have to face it alone. At DKY, we love helping brands establish their voice despite the growing noise around them. Part of our guidance is sorting out the tools that help from those that hype.