Integrating marketing technologies? That’s the easy part

Obstacles to Marketing Technology Success

Is the “integration” challenge of marketing technology really our top obstacle?

There are two studies that I’ve come across in the past couple of weeks that have caused me to wonder if integration has become a bit of a red herring for marketers who are wrestling with the much more hairy, vicious, pointy-toothed beast of digital transformation.

The chart at the top of this page is from a brand new report by Ascend2, Informatica, and Dun & Bradstreet on B2B Marketing Technology Strategy listing the most challenging obstacles to marketing technology success. At the top of the list: 52% report complexity of integrating technologies.

Obstacles to Consistently Integrating Marketing Activities

This smaller chart from eMarketer, based on data from Econsultancy’s Quarterly Digital Intelligence Briefing: The Multichannel Reality lists leading obstacles to consistently integrating marketing activities. Again, top of the list: 56% report nonintegrated tech platforms.

It’s not surprising to me that integration is considered a challenge in these two studies.

What is surprising to me is that it was at the top of the list, by far, when compared with these other challenges:

  • Lack of an effective strategy
  • Inadequate budget/resources
  • Inefficient processes and workflows
  • Limited organizational buy-in
  • Complexity of customer journey
  • Organizational structure
  • Company culture

Compared to those challenges, technical integration seems downright easy in comparison. I don’t want to trivialize the technical work involved. But I’ve been engaged in a lot of marketing technology integrations over the years, and it’s mostly black-and-white. You determine what data is available, and what data is desired, from one component to another. You configure the data exchange between them, or in less pre-defined integrations, figure out the APIs available for getting stuff in and out. You map the data flow, implement, test, and deploy.

That can be work, for sure, but when you’ve got someone technical involved — enter stage left the much-beloved character of a marketing technologist — it’s not mysterious.

And the truth is that marketing technology vendors have been making incredible progress on simplifying a lot of these integrations. Almost all of the major “marketing cloud” platforms have significantly improved their API layers and grown their ISV ecosystems of plugish-playish third-party products. Many of the specialist point solution products out there have invested in out-of-the-box integrations with those clouds, as well as peer-to-peer integrations with other products that they have the best synergies with. And the current generation of “marketing middleware” solutions — from tag management to cloud connectors — offer additional options for connecting the dots together.

Again, I’m not saying that integration isn’t a challenge, or that we don’t have further to go to improve that aspect of marketing technology. But ranking it as the primary obstacle to success seems a little exaggerated.

I just read a great article last week on TechCrunch by Randy Rayess, Is The CIO The Next VP Of Electricity? that seems to put integration challenges more in its proper place, so much so, that it threatens the future of the classic IT department: “Of course, implementing large SaaS tools like Salesforce or Workday usually requires some integration work, but the trend over the last few years clearly points to a decrease in integration requirements and the simplification of enterprise apps.”

Integration is getting easier. Marketing, however, is not.

Compare for a moment the challenge of “complexity of customer journey.” Only 39% said that was a leading challenge in that Econsultancy study. But that seems a much harder nut to crack, with customer touchpoints multiplying in a kaleidoscopic fashion around us.

To anyone who says, “Ah, but if only all our technology were all perfectly integrated, we could figure that out” — with all due respect, I call: “Bull-oney.”

If you have 100% of my digital exhaust — full access to everything I do online, on your site, or any other site — which clearly you don’t and won’t — you still wouldn’t be able to know my context or intent with rock-solid certainty. You don’t know what’s in my head. You don’t know the conversations I’m having with my colleagues. You don’t know my collective life history that influences how I think about the world. And the rate at which external factors are changing and influencing my thinking and priorities are beyond your reach.

A machine learning algorithm is not going to figure that out for you and automatically target me with the right auto-generated marketing to make me instantly decide, “I’ll buy!” More likely, you will overstep in your assumptions about me and simply turn me off of your brand.

Quoting Shakespeare: “There is more in heaven and earth than is computed in your algorithm.”

Sorry, there is no Magic Marketing Machine. (See Laplace’s demon for scientific limit.)

Now, all the data that you have access to gives you much more information about my context and intent than ever before. But it’s only pieces of a puzzle that still require human judgment and insight to relate to the right kind of content and services.

You, as a marketer, still need to understand my journey and develop the right content and services to best assist me in that journey. A journey that prospects control the pacing and flow of, not you. A journey that can have many more specialized steps — depending on who the prospect is and what their particular needs are — that you can potentially address, if you recognize it, relate to it, and create the right marketing for that moment.

Make no mistake, that is a ridiculously hard problem to solve. I don’t believe it’s possible to ever solve it perfectly. At best, you asymptotically approach an ideal. The design and UX aspects alone of that mission are epic.

It is certainly a waaaaaaay harder problem than integration.

And that’s just one of the other challenges mentioned in these two studies. Company culture? Not an easy thing to change. Effective strategy? Not an easy thing to develop. Organizational structure? Not an easy thing to reconfigure.

Those things are not black-and-white. There is no culture API. There is no data source for strategy. There is no plug-and-play digital organization add-on. These things are gray and fuzzy.

But they’re also where the real treasure is buried.

Any company can solve marketing technology integration. It might take some technical elbow grease, but it’s solvable. As result though, it’s not — at least not by itself — really a defensible competitive advantage. Any of your competitors can solve marketing technology integration too, should they choose to prioritize that.

Strategy. Culture. The organizational capital of modern marketing skills. Real insight into your customers’ journeys. New processes and workflows that leverage these capabilities — that’s the stuff of competitive advantage. Damn difficult, but super valuable.

And I’ll bet that marketing technology integration isn’t the gating factor to addressing most of those challenges in most companies. If you’re waiting on marketing tech nirvana, you’re almost certainly ceding your market opportunity to someone else.

Integration may be the most obvious obstacle, but it’s not the most challenging, and it’s not the most important.

Speaking of which…


It’s these other challenges surrounding marketing technology that the MarTech conference series aims to address head on.

Sure, we have some sessions around integration topics — that is a part of the marketing technology picture. But we have many more presentations focused on strategy, process, workflow, organizational structure, culture, management, the customer’s journey, and how marketing technology enables and supports the digital transformation of these elements of your business.

Our MarTech Europe conference is just a week and a half away. We’ve got a terrific line-up of speakers who will be covering the full gamut of marketing technology challenges and opportunities. If you’re interested in more than just the plumbing of marketing tech, I think you’ll really enjoy this two-day event.

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13 thoughts on “Integrating marketing technologies? That’s the easy part”

  1. Interesting read Scott. I have always made the case that in larger companies the complexities of MarTech are around strategy, budget, Process, skillset and politics. Having said that, if you have multiple pieces of technology sitting in multiple parts of the organization and you are trying to execute specific strategies(no matter how simple), the inability to get 360 views of what a customer is doing is almost always tied to the fact that integrations don’t exist. There is also a bias in business leadership to believe that the reason their campaigns/strategies aren’t getting traction is due to tech rather than poor business execution.

    1. Thanks, Joseph.

      I’m definitely not saying that integrations aren’t still a challenge.

      But to rank them as the *top* obstacle, while downplaying the other, much more difficult — and ultimately, more meaningful — challenges that marketing organizations face seems a little “wag the dog” to me.

      Everything you just mentioned: strategy, budget, process, skill set, and politics. Those are much harder issues to solve.

      1. Totally get it. I am assuming they didn’t break down the respondents between business and tech. I would love to see one of these done by the IT staff that support digital business units to get their take on where they think the gaps are. I have a strong feeling I know what they would vote for.

  2. Hi Scott. Like you, I see a lot of studies on these topics. Most rank budget, skills, and strategy as top obstacles; some put technology first. Sometimes you even get different rankings for different questions in the same study! What I eventually realized is the ranking depends on exactly what question was asked (duh). So, in the two studies you cite, one asked about “obstacles to marketing technology success” and the other about “obstacles to consistently integrating marketing activities”. Both are asking about technical matters, so they get answers that put technology first. To take a counter example, there’s another study by Ascend2 that asked about the “most challenging obstacles to lead generation success”. Those answers came back in order as strategy, budget, content creation capabilities, marketing skills/resources, and so on. Similarly, a different Econsultancy study asked “the main reason preventing your company from delivering orchestrated cross-channel marketing activities” and got the ranking of resources, strategy, company politics, technology limitations, lack of single customer view.

    Obviously, those obstacles all matter and must all be removed for success. The real question is what’s your strategy for removing them? One way you know that strategy makes sense is that it addresses all the different dimensions.

    (While we’re talking about surveys: it’s also important to look at who is answering. Sample bias is a huge issue in most of the industry surveys that get published. Ascend2 and Econsultancy are actually much better than most in this regard.)

    1. Good points, David!

      The wording of the question, the wording of the choices, the larger context in which the question is being asked, and *who* is answering can all have a significant impact on the “results.”

      In this case, I’m certainly guilty of having seen a set of data and used it as the impetus for a rant that I was already predisposed to have. (Anecdotally, I hear a lot about integration challenges, but proportionately not enough about strategy, structure, skills — and that’s been on my mind.)

      Thanks for sharing the encouraging data that suggests, at least in different study contexts, that the right issues are more likely to be at the top of the list.

    2. Very interesting observation, Scott. I agree with your point that integration issues are easier solvable than other management changes.
      I also suspected as David, a bias in the surveys – maybe unitentional or maybe not. The survey may have a hidden goal – to promote a specific technology solution, that claims to integrate better as others.

  3. This seems rather obvious: No strategy, then little or no confidence in the possibility of integration. Technical integration may be complex, time-consuming, and frustrating, but in the absence of a cleanly-articulated and clearly-communicated business strategy it is inevitability stumbling, bumbling, and self-defeating.

  4. Full disclosure: I’m VP/Mktg @Sprinklr.

    While you know I don’t necessarily agree w/you about the supposed strengths of largest software vendors of “marketing clouds,” 🙂 I do agree with your final assessment.

    It is strategy, but it may even be bigger than that. What many brands have yet to fully realize (or are not pivoting to with the speed required if they have) is the business transformation (of which digital is a big part) that is the necessary outcome of the age of the empowered customer.

    This requires a shift in mindset from efficiency-centric thinking to experience-centric thinking. A brand must think AND COMMIT at every possible moment of engagement to delivering a relevant, context-driven experience. Is that simply “strategy?” Perhaps, though I think it’s more of a reorientation or a reimagining of how to engage with customers now that, as you said, there is a ” journey that prospects control the pacing and flow of.”

  5. Great post, Scott. 100% agreed. But I find real gold in the illustrative point you have made along the way: A complete view of the Customer Journey is simply unattainable. As common sense as that sounds, stating this is pretty much akin to a sacrilege in many circles.

    In short, kudos to you for throwing that into the mix with clarity and confidence.

    My thoughts on the topic, should anyone care:

    Finally, very much looking forward to meeting up at Martech Europe in a few days.

  6. Ignoring David’s valid points about the survey for a moment…

    If integration is the most difficult problem to solve, its because most marketers really don’t know how to do it. The CMO is not qualified to make IT decisions and the vendors make integrations easier only when they must. The fragmentation of marketing technology leads to a fog of war where vendors promise overlapping features they cannot deliver and consultants make their business as technicians rather than leaders. There are woefully few people qualified to be CMTOs, and no risk to anyone falsely proclaiming this pedigree. Developers often lament the coding interview where they are asked to program something that isn’t relevant to the actual job. Marketing tech doesn’t even have this standard of quality in assessing skills.

    If this is the most difficult problem, its because those tasked to solve it are weakest in this area.

  7. Another key reason integration gets ranked first is that it is so tangible. It is often difficult to tell how good or bad your strategy is but you can always complain that the systems are not giving you all the information you need. It is often more difficult to dig deeper into the problem and realize that having another data source or integrating the newest feature is never going to really get your customers to convert. It is the hard work of understanding who they are, what their motives are, and how to successfully target them in a world that is full of advertising and targeting noise.

  8. Deepak Teja Paripati

    As per the article and a few other links shared in the article, the author Scott Brinker (Leading Marketing Technologist) has a contradictory point from what the research says in terms of “complexity of integrating marketing technologies” .

    The author although admits about the gap and the challenge in terms of integration, with today’s progress by vendors and also the platforms themselves, it is definitely not leading a problem.

    While, the other problem stated by the research “complexity of the customer journey”, is stated to be more important and hard to crack.

    On the whole, it is definitely in inclination with our idea on developing integrations around a MA software. #pipemonk

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