It was only in the 1960’s, when mailing lists were computerized, that new technologies begin to make more data available and marketers get new tools to work with it. Those evolved slowly – personalized printing and modern campaign managers appeared in the 1980’s. The big changes started in the 1990’s when email and Web marketing provided a flood of data about customer behaviors and vendors responded with a flood of new systems to work with it. But it wasn't until the late 2000’s that the number of vendors truly exploded.
I can’t prove this, but I think what triggered martech hypergrowth was Software-as-a-Service (SaaS). This made it easy for marketers to purchase systems without involving the corporate IT department, allowing users to buy tools that solved specific problems whether or not the tools fit into the corporate grand scheme of things. Major SaaS vendors, most notably Salesforce.com, made their systems into platforms that provided a foundation for other systems. This freed developers to create specialized features without building a complete infrastructure. Building apps on platforms also sharply reduced integration costs, which had placed a severe limit on how many systems any marketing department could afford. Easier development, easier deployment, and easier acquisition created perfect environment for martech proliferation.
But every action has a reaction. The growth of martech led to the hiring of marketing technologists, as marketing departments realized they needed someone to manage their burgeoning technology investments. That might seem like a good thing for the martech industry, but it introduced a layer of supervision that restrained the free-wheeling purchases that marketers had been making on their own. After all, the job of a martech manager is to rationalize and coordinate martech investments, which ultimately means saying “no.”
The quest for rationalization leads to long-term planning, vision development, architecture design, corporate standards, and project prioritization: all the excellent practices that made corporate IT departments so unresponsive to marketers in the first place. The scrappy rebels in martech departments hear the call of order-obsessed dark side and find it increasingly hard to resist.
And it only gets worse (from the martech vendor point of view). As marketing technologists discover just how many systems are already in place, they inevitably ask how they can make things simpler. The equally inevitable answer is to buy fewer systems by finding systems that do more things. This leads to integrated suites – marketing clouds, anyone? – that may not have the best features for any particular function but offer a broad range of capabilities. When the purchase is made by individual marketers focused on their own needs, the best features will win and small, innovative martech vendors can flourish. But when purchases are managed by the central martech department, integration and breadth will weigh more heavily in the decision. This gives bigger, most established firms the advantage.
In short, martech today is at a crossroads. Martech managers can follow the natural logic of their positions, which leads to greater centralization, large multi-function systems, and increasingly frustrated marketers. Or they can retain their agility and support new, innovative martech vendors, recognizing that near-term efficiency will suffer. Put so starkly, it’s obvious that agility is the better choice, and there is plenty of discussion in the industry of how to maintain it. But the dark side is powerful, relentless, and seductively rational. Martech managers – and the marketers they ultimately serve – must tread carefully to stay on the right path.