3 Tech Tools that Herald the Golden Age of Marketing
My first job after college was for a non-profit agency. It was a fantastic job in so many ways; I had more freedom than I would have ever had in a corporate job (that is, if there had been any corporate jobs available – I graduated into a massive recession), I got to work with fantastic people, and the job exposed me to many many aspects of running a business, even – gasp – IT. I can vividly remember panicking late one night, deadline-focused in the deserted office, when my computer completely stopped working. Luckily a computer-savvy and kind college friend walked me through the finer points of “cd..” and “del *.*” over the phone. Turns out my MS-DOS based computer had simply run out of space. A quick life lesson: get to know your technology tools.
We’ve come so far since then. First of all, every college grad can tell how much space she has left on her computer and delete or move old files to the cloud. Did I say college grad? I meant elementary school kid. Technology overall has become much easier for non-technologists to use.
I’ve watched this transformation take place in marketers’ technology toolbox as well, and want to highlight three tools that, in my opinion, have made it possible for us to enter the golden age of marketing, where we can target customers with customized messages, and track campaigns’ effectiveness. There are many more than these three, so feel free to share in the comments what you think are the key tech tools that have led us to this amazing marketers’ heaven of today.
1) Web Site Content Management Systems
Early web sites were programmed by, well, programmers, and every change, even just to move a comma, had to be sent to the Web developers to fix. This added a delay for each necessary fix, and a huge hassle factor to an already overworked Web development team. As a result, many marketers like myself, decided enough was enough and started to learn basic HTML. In that time period, I could fix minor typos myself, but forget about laying out whole pages and making them look nice.
Today, of course, most sites are built on content management systems (CMS), that allow even the most un-tech-savvy marketer the capability of creating new pages, moving menus around, adding images, uploading new content whenever the whim hits. Heck, today you can launch an entire new product line on your web site without involving a single web developer. Over the years, I’ve had the
pleasure nightmare of working with a handful of proprietary CMSs, and was thrilled when the market converged around three relatively easy to use open-source CMSs, Drupal, Joomla and WordPress. Basically you don’t need a programming course or computer science degree to set up and maintain a web site anymore.
Technical knowledge has its place, of course. We’ve done some fancy integrations between our web site and backend systems for which I wrote the marketing spec, but certainly didn’t have the expertise implement myself. Also, while it’s possible to build a WordPress web site all by yourself (you’re looking at such a site), it’s often nice to be helped along by someone with more experience, and the occasional coding that can be necessary for customizations. But for day to day management, you pretty much never need to talk to a developer again.
2) Marketer-friendly CRM / SFA and Reporting Tools
Customer relationship management (CRM) and sales force automation (SFA) systems are a must for any company managing more than about 10 customers (assuming you have a pipeline of dozens more). What started as a basically a computerized phone directory has become the central hub for managing the sales pipeline, launching marketing campaigns, and in some companies managing tech support.
If I go back to the dark ages of CRM, most of the old client-server CRM systems were so hard to set up that a development team had to spend hours to create any customizations, like, say, you want to track the campaign source of a particular lead. And forget about reporting – only a professional trained on creating Crystal Reports could squeeze the sweet data juice out of the content stored in the CRM system. You could receive pre-set, scheduled reports, but if you wanted a change, well, don’t get me started.
And then along came Salesforce.com. And suddenly the keys to the CRM system were in the hands of marketing. My team no longer had to camp out next to the server room to hopefully catch an IT professional going for a coffee break to beg for a favor. The solution was set up so that we could start using it immediately, and customize as we go, as we learn more about what we need. And if we already know some of the custom fields or reports we need, well, just dive in and create them. This created an absolute revolution in how marketers can be involved in the sales process, and glean valuable information and trends from what is going on in the field.
Salesforce.com also built up a huge ecosystem of related add-ons for practically anything you can think of – deduplication, mass email campaigns, customer surveys, added security – you name it there’s an appexchange partner for that. One of the areas that has seen tremendous growth in the past two years is marketing automation. Because today’s CRM tools are so easy for non-techies to use, it’s opened up the desire and capability to do more with the information we have. And marketing automation enables that. Which brings me to my third tool:
3) Marketing Automation
Marketing automation is the most recent tech tool to join the party, and it basically provides tools to automate processes that you could, theoretically, do manually, yourself. Some of the leaders in this space are Hubspot, Marketo, Pardot and Eloqua.
You could certainly decide that every person that registers for your free trial will receive a certain offer the same day, another offer 2 weeks later, and a third offer a couple weeks after that. But actually executing on that is complicated. I’m simply pointing this out because I think people tend to think of marketing automation as a panacea that will do their marketing work for them. It does the execution for you, but the thinking, strategy and content creation are still in the marketer’s hands. But the capability to segment audiences within a tool like Salesforce.com, rank leads automatically as they come in, send out different campaigns over a long period time, and of course track the effectiveness of all of these campaigns (that’s a whole other blog post!), all without involving a single IT person, is just magical.
I have nothing against IT people. I’ve worked in some places where I’ve received fantastic service from IT guys (and one gal). But there’s a huge difference in having to ask someone to do something for you and being able to do it yourself. Just watch a kid learning to tie his shoes for the first time – the joyful look of independence on that child’s face is unmistakable. I still get the same kick out of being able to set up fields in salesforce myself. And it takes me minutes. Instead of hunting down another busy professional, explaining to him, testing it out, going back for changes, etc. etc.etc.
That’s why I think we’re in the golden age of technology tools for marketing. We have everything we need to do amazing stuff, measure its effectiveness, and then do some more, all by ourselves. We didn’t always have this. Let’s make the most of it.
What other technology tools help you in your marketing efforts? Share them in the comments.
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