While recently working on a project to implement a Tag Management System for a Fortune 50 company, I had the opportunity for my mind to be blown all over again that today's digital marketer can choose from more than 550 distinct vendor-provided tracking scripts and pixels to assemble a powerful and robust digital marketing infrastructure.

Most of these are software-as-a-service (SaaS) cloud-based solutions. They are aimed at breaking the dependency that marketers have traditionally had on SDLC and IT release calendars in order to maximize agility in timely, responsive marketing execution. By design, these emerging capabilities are built to give non-technical users direct control over three things:

  • Implementation of new digital marketing tools
  • Configuration and management of digital campaigns
  • One-click access marketing data (raw and processed)

These tools generally fall into 5 categories: analytics, advertising, personalization, social, and voice of the customer. They are the result of an explosion in digital marketing technology aimed at responding to the singular imperative of customer-centric, data-driven marketing which is simply this: To present the right offer to the right customer at the right time, every time. I refer to these technologies collectively as "Plug-And-Play Marketing" because they are designed to be implemented very rapidly (when deployed through a Tag Management System), compatible with one another, interchangeable, and immediately usable by the business.

As you can imagine, there is great potential here. I'll even venture to say that the right mix of Plug-And-Play Marketing capabilities appropriately integrated with enterprise data can create a strategic advantage for one company over another with regard to customer acquisition, reduced attrition (increased loyalty), and improved focus on the most valued customers. But the push-button simplicity of Plug-And-Play Marketing is deceptively dangerous as well. Rapidly spinning up capabilities and attempting to leverage data in new ways without solid strategic direction can just as quickly undermine marketing effectiveness by creating duplicate functionality, reducing data quality, and erecting siloed business processes and marketing execution.

So, how to choose which tools should make up the technology and data integration layers of the digital marketing stack? After all, there are 550 options and an infinite combination among those. There are three things to consider before the first remarketing script is implemented - before the first advanced attribution pixel is ever fired: Identifying the business objectives, determining success measures, and defining agility requirements.

Sound obvious? Perhaps. But I cannot tell you how many times I've witnessed marketers chase after the next big thing in digital marketing with a myopic, tactical approach rather than acting broadly and strategically. Plug-And-Play Marketing can make matters worse where there is a strong propensity to act before thinking.

  1. Identify your business objectives: The highest-level business objectives define the people, processes, technology, and data that is needed to ensure success - not the other way around. You don't erect a digital marketing infrastructure then determine what goals it can fulfill. A top-down approach is important to ensuring strategic alignment all the way down to campaign execution where Plug-And-Play Marketing tools get used. A bottom-up approach in a Plug-And-Play world allows eager marketers to deploy duplicate functionality and establish rogue business processes that kick off a ton of interesting but generally useless data. Wash, rinse, repeat and you've got sanitized chaos. So the first step is to focus less on tools and more on business strategy such as sales and retention goals, business agility, reduced operating cost, better customer servicing, and so on - preferably with executive involvement.
  2. Determine how success is to be measured: Working from a high-level view of the strategic objectives, the next step is to define "success" (both quantitative and qualitative), identify the key insights and metrics to measure progress, and determine whether any of the required data points are available through existing customer analytics or enterprise data sources. Since a majority of Plug-And-Play Marketing vendors are analytics related, a huge potential pitfall is following the path of least resistance in data acquisition by standing up entirely new analytics capabilities rather than taking the extra effort to integrate with and leverage existing data channels. This compromises the veracity, quality, and authority of new and existing data and misses opportunities for data convergence, which is a foundational component of success in data-driven marketing.
  3. Define and prioritize your agility requirements: It is also important to determine how much direct control marketing execution teams realistically need in configuring and managing the types and categories of campaigns under consideration for the new capabilities. For example, marketers and analysts typically need to have frequent, hands-on involvement in the planning, execution, and management of social media campaigns and the technologies used to deliver them, given the real-time and organic nature of social engagement. But tracking conversions through a relatively static sales funnel for a particular product or line of business may not necessarily require that business users have direct control over setup of conversion events as changes to this type of user behavior analysis is somewhat infrequent and can be performed by IT. Although Plug-And-Play Marketing tools are often hyped as a means of cutting ties with IT once and for all, in reality that rarely happens. These cloud-based technologies represent a significant paradigm shift for many enterprises whose security and IT policies often stand opposed to SaaS-based hosted solutions residing outside the firewall. It can take a very long time, involving a lot of politics, stakeholders, executive sponsorship, and redefinition of legacy policies to win approval for these tools. Life in the enterprise is difficult enough without taking on the challenge of winning business agility if it is not required by the strategic goals or marketing capabilities roadmap. Eating elephants in one bite is never palatable.

Identifying your business objectives, success measures, and agility requirements are three important first steps in moving along the path toward Plug-And-Play Marketing. But they are only a starting point. What other areas do you think need to be considered? Has your organization followed a strategic or tactical approach on the road to Plug-And-Play Marketing? What has worked, and what hasn't?