Rethinking The Marketing Technology Gap To Improve Performance

Last week, I heard Seth Godin speak to a group of agency executives about the future of marketing technology. Of course, if you follow Seth’s blog, you know that he almost never talks about technology per se. But he does talk a lot about customer behavior, organizational behavior and how technology is disrupting the old patterns of those behaviors and enabling new ones. “Destroying the perfect to enable the impossible” is how he characterized it.

He bluntly told the audience that ad agencies are on the verge of destruction. The old model of buying mass media to sell mass market products is anachronistic in a world where the media “channels” that customers spread themselves across continue to multiply, with those channels serving ever more specific niches. And the products and services being offered are increasingly diversified, customized and tailored to fit.

Seth’s new book, “We Are All Weird: The Myth Of Mass And The End Of Compliance,” presents this as the flattening of the bell curve of what’s considered “normal.”

People’s interests — and the ability to fulfill them — are spreading out, instead of being clumped in the middle.

Things that we now consider to be cool and remarkable are out in the edges; but on different edges for different niches. This phenomenon is exactly what Chris Anderson revealed with The Long Tail; but now, more and more industries and markets are subject to Long Tail dynamics.

“Weird” is good.

In one place in the book, Seth notes that the non-advertising parts of Omnicom — the second-largest ad agency holding company in the world — have grown from 11% of the company’s revenue to nearly 60% over the past 15 years. “That’s right,” he emphasizes, “more than half the revenue at the second-largest ad agency in the world comes from activities that aren’t mass advertising. Game over.”

How Does Being Weird Affect Search & Conversions?

For search marketers and conversion optimization professionals, this is wonderful — and manifestly true in our day-to-day work.

The best way to optimize CPC? Target more specific keywords with more specific ads. The best way to increase conversion rates and optimize CPA? Pair those specific ads with message-matched landing pages.

Our stock and trade is in exploring those edges beyond the middle.

My takeaway from Seth’s new “weird” theme is that we should push our work on those edges even further. Reflecting back on last month’s column, The Art of Seductive Landing Pages, that’s part of what makes them work.

A respondent who lands on one of those pages immediately experiences something different than the generic middle of mass marketing (or their landing page equivalent).

Getting Out Of The IT-Marketing Gap

At first, this might seem like a non-sequitur, but stick with me.

As I wrote in a column a couple of months ago, conversion optimization software — the tools of our trade — are only a slice of an exploding new field of marketing software. I happen to think that conversion optimization professionals are some of the most proficient at understanding how these kinds of tools work across many different facets of the new marketing. But admittedly, I’m biased.

I am continually amazed by what software now enables marketers to do. But the frustration that arises with it — and we see this all the time with website testing software, landing page management software, SEO tools, PPC bid management software and the rest — is that in many companies, it falls into the IT-marketing gap.

You’ve no doubt seen that gap, and probably experienced it firsthand. It occurs when IT is responsible for selecting and operating software, or at least parts of it, but marketing is responsible for getting results out of that software.

Even with the best intentions, that tends to cause things to take more time and effort than they should. Cross-departmental communications and collaboration are important, but they can be costly.

Tying back to Seth’s advantage of being “weird,” this overhead of execution tends to dampen experimentation and the velocity by which marketers are able to generate new and different experiences.

Econsultancy published a recent quarterly briefing where they reported that 68% of marketers consider conversion optimization to be “resource intensive” — and that only 26% are actively using it. It’s too much work to align the marketing and the technology.

How do we fix that?

Reorganizing Marketing To Be Weird, Faster

A new report from Forrester Research, Investing In Marketing’s Technology Future, proposes a major organizational shift to address this. If you work in the marketing department of a company of any significant size, this may be the most important marketing management report you’ll read this year. Seriously.

Forrester recommends creating a “marketing technology office” — enterprise-speak for a team — of technologists who work in the marketing department. This team lives fully in marketing and reports to the CMO (or a VP of customer intelligence) and takes responsibility for selecting and operating the burgeoning portfolio of marketing software.

The report states: “For marketing to build a technology strategy, implement and develop those technologies, and better integrate and act on the customer data it captures, marketing resources must be organized within a central framework that can act at the speed that marketing requires.”

It looks like this:

Marketing Technology Office (courtesy of Forrester Research, Inc.)

Note that this marketing technology office still has dotted line responsibility to the CIO. It has to adhere to good IT governance — this is not “shadow IT,” but an official part of a distributed technology strategy.

There is no longer an IT-marketing gap, because everything is now holistically contained within marketing.

Which lets us be “weird” faster.

P.S. If you’d like to read more on this topic, I’ve posted slides and a 4,000-word essay on agencies and the marketing technology revolution that I presented last week at the same event with Seth.

Diagram courtesy of Forrester Research Inc., from the Oct. 24, 2011, report “Investing In Marketing’s Technology Future” by Robert Brosnan, Suresh Vittal and Michelle Dickson.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Analytics | Search & Conversion


About The Author: is the president and CTO of ion interactive, a leading provider of landing page management and conversion optimization software. He also writes a blog on marketing technology, Chief Marketing Technologist. Follow him on twitter via @chiefmartec.

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  • Brian Massey

    It strikes me that the terms being used: “Marketing” and “IT” are totally inadequate for these evolving roles. Both terms carry certain baggage. The tools you hint at here are creating a “customer API” in which customers and prospects provide permission for access and through which communications people within a company carry on conversations. Consumers provide data through the API so that companies can provide relevant content. There’s another name for this, but I don’t know what it is.

  • Scott Brinker

    Cool idea, Brian. I like the reconceptualization of a “Customer API.”

    Al Ries wrote a recent article in Ad Age that pushed back on the concept of “marketing” as the umbrella for what we do today. He gravitated toward “branding” as the better label, but I’m not sure that fully captures it either:

    The world is shifting in pretty big ways, and sometimes what we need is new nomenclature to fully appreciate just how significant the change is.


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