In our recently published ‘Five ways to simplify your MarTech stack’ article, we drew attention to the negative impact that bloated, disconnected technical infrastructures can have on a business. In this article we’ll explore how to intelligently categorise the tools and solutions within your marketing technology stack to enable faster decision-making, streamlined enhancement of your capabilities, and a simplified approach to budgeting.
The fantastic five
We recently reviewed and analysed a sample of submissions from this year’s MarTech Stack awards (affectionately known as the ‘Stackies’) and quickly noticed a pattern. From our survey, we saw that the best stacks all rely on intelligent use of categorisation to add structure and clarity to the vision and presentation of their marketing technology stack. We’ve boiled down some of the key categorisation in use in our sample review into five main pillars focusing that focus on end-to-end marketing execution: 1) Operate, 2) Acquire, 3) Engage, 4) Create, 5) Optimise.
To strike a balance and drive clarity in your overall vision, our take is to use no more than five categories when breaking down your marketing technology stack. We also recommend some kind of formalised oath-taking ceremony whereby IT decision-makers swear against the introduction of multitudinous supplementary sub-categories that will undoubtedly add unnecessary complexity. This then brings us conveniently to the next point, in the early stages of your analysis we suggest you keep an eye on evaluating how you can take some easy steps to reduce the total number of elements or solutions in your stack - aiming to get down to that magic number of around twelve tools - with minimal crossover in terms of what they enable.
“Just twelve, really?”
Okay, so we know it may sound like a pipe dream if you're starting with 36. Let's say, roughly twelve, in the ballpark of twelve. Why? Because things get muddled and difficult to manage very, very quickly. In the same way it can be difficult to throw away an old childhood teddy bear - even if Mr. Cuddles is sprouting mould and aggravating your little sister’s asthma - just like legacy technology, he’s probably not worth hanging on to.
Start by making a list of every tool you’re using, then rank them by how much value they’re bringing to your business. We’re not just talking about monetary value here either, remember to account for and quantify business impact and value in terms of increased efficiency, user productivity etc. Once you’ve made your list, take a step back, realise you don’t need five separate messaging tools and start cutting.
Now, let’s get back to those categories.
It’s what your tools bring to the table, not how they got through the door
It’s of course unrealistic to think that there won’t be crossover in terms of what tools have to offer, but try to keep a driving principle of simplicity in mind and use as few tools as possible (ideally just one) to achieve a specific outcome. Anytime you’re thinking about acquiring a new tool, be sure to ask yourself ‘are we ignoring functionality in a tool we already own that could achieve the same outcome?’ You’d be surprised how often the answer is ‘yes.’
This is why it’s important to categorise tools by both the benefits and functional capabilities they offer, rather than what discipline they would traditionally be classified under. Which is what makes the example of Operate, Engage, Acquire, Create, and Optimise such a good starting point; they’re all capable of ending the sentence ‘This tool is worth keeping because it enables us to effectively…’
Let's review an example
Let’s take a closer look at Operations as a category. Any tool that enables more efficient operation of your business belongs here (obviously). That might include tools that help you make payments, plan effectively as well as manage everything from security to analytics (not so obvious).
Hang on, analytics tools belong under Optimise right?
Wrong. This is precisely why there isn’t an ‘Analytics’ category, because analytics as it applies to your business will sport many different faces. A tool designed to manage analytics systems belongs under operations - meaning you’re just as likely to see analytics tools show up in Operations as you would in other categories like Engage or Optimise.
The reality is that effective MarTech categorisation will look different for every company. As an example, Operate, Acquire, Engage, Create and Optimise are a fantastic starting point if you need to get your analysis off the ground, but you may already have ideas of alternatives that match up better with your business. Point is, if you’re looking to categorise your MarTech stack always think of your tools in terms what they’re bringing to your business in terms of value. If they’re not bringing enough, ditch them.
Of course, depending on where they're at, some enterprises would see a suggestion of cutting back to around 12 tools to execute marketing and think, there's no way, that wouldn’t be enough to rename a Word doc file at their company. That may well be true, but so long as you’re able to critically evaluate a tool’s true value, and outline a process to go about prioritising your stack against that value, you’ll have a good sense of whether what you've got is worth holding on to.
To summarize, I miss and get nostalgic for Mr. Cuddles - just like some of my legacy technology and tools - but in the end I know that I'm really better off without him.
*Where there might be some ambiguity between terms that we have merged into other categories, we have based this on a 50%+ crossover of the types of tools that companies included within these categories e.g. tools under ‘conversion’ had a 100% overlap with tools included in ‘engage’ categories.