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BirdsEye View

an alternative approach to marketing technology (part 1)

 

5 Rules for Marketing Technology & Operations Leadership

Marketing technology and operations have become a pillar capability of the modern marketing organization. Leaders of this function sit between two layers of marketing: high-level marketing strategy and vision above, and on-the-ground marketing and customer experience delivery below.

Sandwiched between these two layers is an opportunity to shape marketing’s capabilities and culture to your competitive advantage in the customer experience economy. While marketing technology helped create this opportunity, it also spawned a gaggle of complex challenges.

After watching hundreds of marketing executives wrangle with these new dynamics, Scott Brinker has developed a framework to capture the essence of this role, explain the forces it must manage, and guide how to manage them: The 5 Forces of Marketing Technology.

 
The goal of this grid isn’t to pick a spot and aim for it. “Our company should be there.” It’s exactly the opposite: you want to make sure your organization is covering the entire grid. Any gaps on your grid are weak points to be strengthened.
So we can recast this grid as five rules of marketing technology and operations leadership:
 
1. Centralize everything you can.
2. Automate everything you can.
3. Decentralize everything you can.
4. Humanize everything you can.
5. Embrace continuous change.
 
It is apparent that these rules are inherently contradictory.
 
Consider this F. Scott Fitzgerald quote:
 
“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”
 
In fact, this gets right to the heart of why marketing technology and operations leadership is challenging: we are being asked to balance powerful, opposing forces — and simultaneously be successful on both ends of the spectrum. Better centralization and better decentralization. More automated and more humanized.
 
Sounds paradoxical.
 
Paradox #1: Centralize & Decentralize
 
Banks have been wrestling with this dynamic tension for ages: where should power reside?  Should we give more power and control at the center of the organization (e.g., corporate headquarters) versus more freedom and flexibility at the edge (e.g., the field, the geos, the lines of business).
 
Such a trade-off often alternates back-and-forth over time, in a wave-like function.
 
 
Leaders on the edge push the boundaries to achieve their goals on the ground — until such decentralization starts to threaten the unity, consistency or overall efficiency of the whole. Then Headquarters pulls more control back in. Until the edge chafes at that yoke and creatively finds new ways around those centralized constraints that they find too restrictive, so they can get stuff done. Marketing wants both. We want the efficiency and brand cohesion of centralization — it gives us scale. Yet we also want the fast adaptability and creative experimentation of decentralization — it gives us agility.
 
 
But if this is a trade-off, a balancing act between centralization and decentralization, can you improve both simultaneously? That seems like a paradox.
 
Marketing technology, at its best, can help achieve this elusive goal. Here are a few examples:
 
1. A centralized CMS provides brand-standard templates, with established guardrails that prevent content creators from accidentally publishing bad or broken HTML. Yet it empowers a much wider set of individuals on the edge of the organization to quickly and safely create campaign landing pages and blog posts without being bogged down by a backlogged central production unit. It’s better centralization and better decentralization.
 
 
2. Customer data platforms (CDPs, or our MCIF), all the rage these days, provide a centralized way of pulling in data from across the organization and rationalizing it with a standardized customer identity. You can analyze and act on this data independent of all the different source applications that generate it. As a result, although they centralize this disparate data, the open architectures of CDPs simultaneously make it easier to support more data sources that are spread across the organization.
 
Just because data collection and activation activities are distributed, doesn’t mean they’re locked in silos anymore. So you can gain the agility of firing up new ones on the edge of the organization as needed, tailoring them to the local context in which they are being applied, without sacrificing the cohesive scale of centralized data capabilities.
 
3. A simpler example is with something like Google Sheets or even Excel. By standardizing on a common tool for spreadsheets — an act of centralization and imposed consistency — it becomes easier for anyone throughout the organization to create models, share them, collaborate with others, etc. These are network effects of centralization that give increasing benefits to decentralized teams and individuals. It doesn’t limit much what they can create, but it channels their creativity through an efficient conduit of how it is created and distributed.
 
4. An example of a cutting edge trade-off  is a new category of software known as application-platform-as-a-service (aPaaS) solutions. These low-code and no-code platforms empower regular users — i.e., not software engineers — to build web apps, mobile apps, and chatbots. But, like a CMS/MCIF, the underlying platform itself is managed by a centralized technology team that empower these “citizen developers” within a set of guardrails and clear governance, so they don’t accidentally come to harm or diverge from core data, standards, and policies that need to span the entire organization.
 
All of these examples create more scalable and efficient centralized capabilities while empowering decentralized teams with greater functionality they can wield in creative, agile ways. It’s not a paradox after all.