by Tom Kaneshige

Marketing tech pros,‘Frankenstack’ tools and the future

May 18, 20158 mins

Today’s marketers are asked to take control of the digital customer experience, from brand awareness to sales conversion to customer loyalty. To make this work, marketers need an integrated set of tools. Instead, what has emerged are ‘Frankenstack’ tools. talks to marketing tech expert Scott Brinker about the challenges that lie ahead.

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When marketers go it alone, what can go wrong? A lot.

Marketers have been operating in silos for years, gobbling up tech tools to solve point problems. At larger companies, there are even silos within the marketing department. Now marketers are being asked to take control of the customer experience, from initial brand awareness to sales conversion to customer loyalty, across all sorts of digital channels.

To pull this off, marketers must have an integrated set of tools. They need to become data scientists of sorts, tapping into a customer data pool with cutting-edge analytics tools in order to glean actionable customer insights. In other words, they need a well-designed marketing technology stack.

scott brinker

Marketing tech expert Scott Brinker.

Unfortunately, after many years of operating in silos, marketers have created something far different: the Frankenstack — a hodge-podge bunch of tools and data islands not integrated, not working in concert. Even worse, remaking this Frankenstack into a sound marketing technology architecture won’t be easy.

“This is going to be the challenge of the next 10 years,” says marketing tech expert Scott Brinker. “There’s no quick fix.”

Not many people understand the issues surrounding marketing tech and the Frankenstack better than Brinker, creator of a popular marketing technology landscape graphic, editor of the ChiefMarTech blog, host of the MarTech conferences, and co-founder and CTO of Ion Interactive.

Brinker has emerged as a calming voice in the tumultuous world of marketing tech. He brings technical clarity and logic to marketers bombarded with thousands of marketing-tech pitches making all sorts of lofty promises. Central to Brinker’s view is the role of the chief marketing technologist — someone who can bridge technology truth with marketing action. sat down with Brinker to get his insights on the marketing technology architecture. What is a ‘Frankenstack?’

Brinker: It’s become a humorous label. We already know marketers have dozens of marketing technologies and vendors they’re working with. Are all these different pieces organized in a way that makes sense? Say you’ve got two dozen vendors worldwide, and you know where each vendor fits into a very rational picture. It’s giving you what you want. On the other end of the spectrum, say you have two dozen vendors and there’s overlap. You’re not quite sure what you’re using each vendor for.

The Frankenstack comes from marketing silos that grew up independently. What the search marketing people were doing five years ago wasn’t connected to social media and completely separate from what they were doing with email. One of the missions of the new generation of marketing leaders is, they’ve got to get the technology stack organized. It’s not going to change overnight. People are dependent on these tools. It’s a process. The Frankenstack is an amusing term for a not-very-amusing state of affairs.

Marketing has grown up in silos to be a very large mission. You’ve got a whole bunch of technologies and responsibilities around search marketing, email marketing, website. While content marketing touches a number of things, it kind of developed its own team within most marketing departments. Within individual teams, marketers have a very good feel for what tools they’re using to accomplish their specific goal. But as people move to a more integrated approach, really looking at how all these different channels fit together, how can you connect and coordinate the tools and data from the different silos? It’s part technology, part process and organizational structure. What does a good marketing technology stack look like?

Brinker: The challenge for most companies wresting with assembling a marketing technology stack is that they’re trying to get one primary vendor to provide the main suite, like an Adobe, Oracle, Salesforce. If it’s a small company, they might be able to buy one package that does everything, such as HubSpot.

For large companies, they might buy one suite that will serve as the coordinating device, a central repository for data, the system of record. Then they will supplement that with specialized products. They need to make decisions about what data needs to get passed from this specialized product back into that primary suite or platform. Most marketers say they’re wresting with that kind of an architecture. More advanced ones — not sure if you heard Tony Ralph of Netflix speak at MarTech — have a very sophisticated marketing-ad technology team that assembles things that are more best-of-breed or built in-house. Your marketing tech landscape graphic is wildly popular; I see it everywhere. Is this an example of a marketing technology architecture?

Brinker: The landscape is definitely not an architecture. I needed some rough way to categorize things. With nearly 2,000 vendors, if you don’t provide some level of categorization it’ll be completely unreadable. I tried to think about products that were positioned [within] infrastructure, platform, and to a certain degree middleware for some of these products that are really helping to exchange data between multiple systems.

On top of that, there are many more specialized point solutions, such as content marketing, social media marketing, very often more specialized analytics capabilities. The diagram is not intended to propose an architecture. Marketers get caught up in specialized point solutions, but a central repository of customer data seems to be key to all this.

Brinker: Marketing as a rule is not a very analytical discipline. But now we’ve got so much data coming from so many different channels, it is overwhelming. The architecture I’m hearing about is, ultimately, there should be some centralized repository of data, which people are calling a data lake. All the data feeds into this lake, not just on customers and prospects but also on your market, how you’re performing from a financial perspective.

Then you set up a mechanism by which different departments — whether it’s marketing, customer service or finance — can apply their own teams to mining that. If this becomes the central repository where marketing is going to mine insights, it also creates an incentive for them to want to make sure that all the systems that generate data are properly connected to that data lake. Technically, this feels like the right architecture.

One of the reasons why I have an infrastructure set of categories at the bottom of the graphic is to surface some of that visibility. When people think about technology components that marketing is becoming dependent on, they should recognize things like the core data systems.

The CMO of EMC was talking at MarTech about how they created a data lake. While the data lake was built and managed by IT, the CMO had his own marketing team of data scientists leveraging the data lake to be able to do analysis relevant to them. EMC is probably on the more sophisticated end of marketing departments today, but I think you’re starting to get more and more marketers recognizing that marketing technology isn’t just about things like the website or social media management tool. It’s more about how to connect marketing to the broader infrastructure that, frankly, runs across the whole company.

The nature of point solutions is that there’s a high variance about how much integration needs to happen for a point solution to be valuable to a marketer. That bar is changing over time. If I’m using a content marketing tool that helps scan the Internet for content pieces on topics I’m interested in and helps me curate them so that I can keep a queue of good stories that I want publish on the website or blog, there’s not a lot of integration touch points.

If I’m using a social relationship platform to track customers’ social interactions, this isn’t just a marketing thing. It ends up connecting back into customer service and mobile sales. Once you get those data streams coming at you, do you want to find a way to connect that back into the core CRM? At that point, you have serious questions coming from an IT architecture perspective about integrating these components. How does IT fit in?

Brinker: Some of these point solutions that marketers are running on their own, I don’t think they should be doing completely on their own. There should be rules of IT governance. If you’re using a SaaS product, what are the requirements for the security of data, service level agreements, these sorts of things? When you’re putting the company’s brand on the line, you need at least a minimal set of assurances from an IT professional.

This is new for IT as well. The number of different marketing systems and the pace of change is overwhelming for technical professionals. This stuff is at a very accelerated cadence compared to other waves of enterprise technology.

Part of why I advocate for technology savvy people working in marketing is not so much to take away responsibility from IT, rather once you have the systems in place, how do you apply them? It requires people who know what technology is capable of, but can also relate it to the marketing strategy and customer experience.