Whether you're a digital, brand, or content marketer, you might feel as if every vendor is serving you a new mix of letters. Sure, in-house marketers bat around acronyms like KPIs and MQLs. But that's just the beginning. Your company probably has a CRM platform and a CMS. It may also deploy more sophisticated data tools, such as a DMP, DSP, or CDP. Perhaps it also uses one of the many tools offered "as a service"—SaaS, PaaS, IaaS, and so on.

Many of those acronyms (and initialisms) are driven by martech vendors that want to create niches for themselves to ensure a strong unique value proposition. As a result, everything becomes Something-as-a-Service or another catchy phrase that then warrants an acronym.

Marketers are drowning in martech alphabet soup.

They must sort through that haphazard collection of acronyms that vendors have created to market their products. Then, marketers have to select the right acronym and the right vendor. And, after all that, marketing teams have to do the work of turning that acronym chaos—the social listening tool, the public relations database, the email automation tool and its link to the sales CRM—into an integrated collection of tools that can help them reach their goals.

Improving Marketing ROI Increases Pressure to 'Acronymize'

If that matrix of technologies were not enough, marketers are feeling more pressure than ever to prove ROI for every facet of their marketing, from campaigns and operations to their patchwork of various vendor solutions. The unfortunate result is that talented teams often migrate from thinking strategically about customer-led objectives to "this is what we've got, so let's make it work."

Vendor solutions often lock marketers into certain approaches or tools that can reduce flexibility down the road, adding additional tactical salt to the lack-of-strategy wound.

Marketers need to take back control, discarding vendor alphabet soup for the right blend of integrated marketing tactics—one that is strategic for their businesses. They need to define what they're trying to accomplish and only then look for the right technology match.

To start, resolve never to let vendors sell to your organization without first understanding where the new technology fits into your strategic goals.

How to Pick New Software for Your Stack

That resolve could make you part of an emerging trend. The martech space is getting more crowded and more competitive, which gives customers more power to choose the solution that works for them. Now that the Martech 1000 has become the Martech 5000, many marketers feel less hesitant to walk away from a bad deal. To win business in today's market, vendors will adapt to customers, and not the other way around.

For example, consider customer data platforms (CDPs). We know data is key to proving the ROI of marketing activity. A CDP can function as the warehouse for data as well as the analyzer that helps marketers turn inputs into insights. However, the upshot is another acronym and plenty of companies that will hitch a ride on the CDP bandwagon.

With marketers leading the charge, teams can move from "We need a CDP and any CDP will do" to ensuring the CDP and vendor have all the features needed to make the investment successful.

CDPs are not just for ingesting today's customer data; some also have the capability to harness data from Internet of Things (IoT) devices as they come online. Visualizing how your business might use data in the future will help you distinguish real CDPs from the CDPs-in-name-only, and help ensure that whatever system you choose will outlive today's buzzword.

How to Toss Out the Alphabet Soup and Pick a Healthy Entrée Instead

Marketers should follow a handful of key steps:

  1. Start by identifying and refining your use case. Before marketers invest in any particular technology, they need to define the problems they're trying to solve and the goals they want to achieve. Guided by that strategic insight, they can then choose the particular martech tools they need.
  2. Centralize data for a single customer point of view. Although your data can still live in legacy systems, creating a single view across those systems ensures data integrity for reports and easier use for marketers. A single view will also break down silos to ensure there's one single source of truth—and POV—for a target market.
  3. Be wary of getting boxed in. Think about the path that will work today and also what will scale as marketing strategies mature and KPIs change with business demands.
  4. Change management matters. Technology is no silver bullet. Often, great technology fails even when the first three steps are taken. Lack of employee training, inability to manage organizational culture change, or the absence of process in implementation can all derail your strategic plan.

In the end, this approach won't mean alphabet soup will be totally off the menu. What it does mean, though, is that marketers can skip past it, knowing they should order the entrée. The only combination of letters they really need, no matter the martech stack or the business goal, is S-T-R-A-T-E-G-Y.

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image of Tom Treanor

Tom Treanor is the global head of marketing at enterprise customer data platform Arm Treasure Data, where he drives strategy for the company's martech and data analytics tools.

Twitter: @RtMixMktg

LinkedIn: Tom Treanor