Opinion: Winning the martech arms race

How to keep up with evolving rules and practices

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Marketing innovation continues to move at a rapid pace. Combine that with constantly changing technology, and martech becomes a whirlwind venture. Something simple like a web page's compatibility with multiple browsers is no longer so simple—you now need to consider more than 1,000 combinations of operating systems and browser versions, with new ones emerging constantly. Rules and best-practices are ever-evolving, meaning the cost and energy needed to keep up is significant.

To that end, here are four rules that CMOs have to learn or, in some cases, unlearn, to keep up.

Buy 90 percent, build 10 percent

Buy vs. build has always been a debate for martech, with many in the C-suite preferring to invest in building their own solutions. I myself built experience by testing solutions in-house for web properties a few years ago, convinced by the "best practice" of the day that this type of handmade platform would deliver the most value. But while it was true at that moment in time, those days are over.

The current reality is that there are significant hidden costs in building solutions, and most of your energy can get sucked into maintenance. Imagine a home-grown commerce engine that has to keep up with the sheer number of browsers and devices.

Today, many solutions in martech are commoditized to a point where they can provide most (but not all) of the value. Trading off the remaining value and building differentiating technology solutions can allow you to leapfrog your competition. If you are building solutions that are not core to how you stand out from competition, stop and rethink.

Vertical integration

The past few years of martech innovation was driven by niche providers creating innovative solutions to specific marketing problems. Choosing the best partner for each need was often the norm.

Two things have changed: marketing solutions have consolidated, and adjoining non-marketing functions are upgrading systems. As a result, a best-of-breed customer relationship management platform comes with the additional overhead of integrating with your commerce engine and enterprise resource planning solution.

If you're buying a solution, then it's likely a commodity-type solution. Your energy is better spent on building differentiating technology solutions rather than integrating an off-the-shelf provider with the rest of your organization. This is true for large solutions like CRM and for smaller solutions like testing and bidding platforms.

For once, the AI hype is real

Artificial intelligence-based solutions significantly outperform non-AI capabilities. Any prediction is better done with AI: media-mix modeling to predict optimal budget allocation; bidding to predict the best price to pay; testing to predict winning experiences; product recommendations that predict purchase probability; even customer support center capabilities. AI-based chatbots quickly outperform existing solutions.

But being judicious in use cases for AI will be critical to generate business value. Chatbots are mature, but AI-based hyper personalization is still evolving. Placing the wrong bets can sour the narrative around AI within the organization and leave value on the table.

AI is also an area where the build-vs.-buy decision is evolving far more rapidly than other areas. AI gets smarter as it gets more data, and hence buying a platform built on others' data can be an initial advantage.

Resist the urge to RFP

Request for proposals are less relevant in a technology-driven field. They're increasingly being replaced with "developer days," where internal teams work in a sandbox along with prospective providers and evaluate the toolkit being offered.

Some software-as-a-service providers don't even respond to RFPs because their solutions just work out of the box—plug it in, see if it works and then pay-per-use or move to the next one.

I doubt anyone would RFP for a maps application; you would just plug into the Google Places or Maps API. Same applies for commodity capabilities that are available as services.

As technology evolves and customer expectations continue to rise, martech can continue to be a potent weapon for CMOs. It can be difficult to keep up when the goalposts keep moving, but it's critical to have the right solutions in this space to gain the fleeting advantage in the market.

Yogi Jashnani is chief marketing officer at Advance Auto Parts

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