Tech Takes Over Marketing (But Not How You Think)

An old saying goes that marketers only worry about two things — the logo and the Pantone color.

Well, the entry of digital technology 25 years ago certainly changed all that.

But has it gone too far?

New research indicates that in a few years, marketers will do only one thing — manage their technology. That’s right — no more ads, no more content — just 100% pushing buttons, reading dashboards, and automating everything.

Yikes! They said AI would put marketers into the matrix, but it might just be martech in general.

So, what are you supposed to do?

We asked Robert Rose, CMI’s chief strategy advisor, for his take. Watch this video or read on:

Marketers have been wrapped around the axle of marketing technology for the last two decades. More, more, and yet more technology has entered marketing operations. The average marketing department now resembles a NASA control room rather than a place to create powerful content that changes the behavior of your intended customer.

In fact, this week, Scott Brinker released his famous Marketing Technology Landscape report for 2024 (registration required). It contains over 14,000 providers — 27% more than last year’s 11,000 vendors.

The report says marketing departments use fewer apps — most average a reduction of 6% to 10%. But even with those decreases, the number of applications in use still boggles the mind. Small businesses average 162 apps, and companies with over 10,000 employees use 650 marketing technology applications in 2024.

Surprise from The CMO Survey

But The CMO Survey reveals more pointedly technology’s fundamental disruption of marketing.

The 32nd edition, released last month, looks at marketing spending, performance, leadership, and, of course, technology, especially the growth of generative AI.

Here’s what didn’t surprise me.

In most businesses, AI still isn’t a fundamental piece of martech. Only 10% of companies use large language models. Another 39% have never used these tools. The remaining half (51%) is either evaluating or piloting these tools.

Those findings reflect what I’ve observed over the last eight months or so: Most businesses don’t know how to integrate generative AI and remain in experimental mode.

This surprised me: Marketing as a percentage of the company budget is around 10%, which continues the downward trend seen over the last two years. However, the marketing budget as a percentage of revenue increased to 10.1% from 9.2% in fall 2023.

What does that mean? In most companies, marketing budgets grew more slowly than in other departments. They went up, but not as much as in other business functions.

But this really surprised me: Marketing technology now accounts for 20% of the entire marketing budget. And marketers expect that share to grow to 31% over the next five years.

Let that sink in.

Technology spending is expected to grow at a compound rate of 9%, yet budgets will grow at a compound rate of 8%.

CMOs seem to indicate that every dime (plus a few quarters) of marketing budget increases will go to marketing technology over the next five years.

Tech strategy mistake

Of course, this won’t turn out to be true. Still, the trend remains troubling.

Too often, marketing chases technology as a cure-all for a strategy. Marketing departments typically look to the newest technology to add capabilities that will become their strategic approach. They’re less likely to look at their strategic approach and then figure out if the newest technology can help them execute it.

The numbers from The CMO Survey are a clear warning sign for marketers.

But it’s not a warning to stop acquiring new technology. Marketing is changing and evolving, and technologies exist to help you scale better and work more efficiently and effectively. It’s a warning sign to reorient your marketing systems.

So, what do I mean by marketing systems?

Most marketing technology is designed for one job function in one specific part of marketing. The demand-gen team spends its time on the marketing automation system and analytics. The web team spends its time on CMS and web analytics. The email team spends its time on the email newsletter solution. The sales team spends its time on the CRM system, and on and on it goes.

Is it any wonder that when companies look at generative AI, they produce hundreds of use cases, all siloed into their siloed functional requirements?

Make this big ROI move

Take a moment to look at not what you are marketing but how you are marketing as a business. Are you all working in technology silos? Or are you collaborating across integrated processes and workflows that transcend the technology tools?

Think about it like this.

According to The CMO Survey, marketing teams use about half (56%) of the technology solutions they purchase. That means that 44% of marketing’s technology spend goes unused.

So, if you believe the finding that 20% of all marketing budgets go to technology, roughly 9% of the marketing budget is going down the proverbial toilet. What would you do with a 9% budget increase? You’d probably make good use of it.

These numbers serve as a warning — or a promise — that getting your marketing systems (operations) to collaborate is worth it.

It might just be the biggest ROI initiative you can do.

Join us for ContentTECH Summit, a free digital event on May 15-16, 2024, where industry leaders will share expertise to help you unlock the potential of content technology in your organization. Register today.


Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute