Building a Martech Stack: The Why and How

The marketing technology landscape is massive and rapidly expanding, and for good reason. Brands are awash in more messaging channels and data than ever, making it increasingly complicated to connect with customers. They need tools that allow teams to work efficiently, measure results, and optimize their impact. That’s where a marketing technology stack (or martech stack, for short) comes in. 

By building a martech stack aligned with your brand’s goals, you can automate tasks, remove workflow obstacles, and more effectively leverage data. And that frees up your teams to focus on the strategic work that makes an impact on your brand’s bottom line. 

Here’s what you’ll get in this piece:

What is a martech stack — and why do you need one?

So what is a martech stack, exactly? First, let’s get clear on what martech means. Quite simply, the term refers to the tools and technologies (like software, online platforms, and SaaS products) brands use to plan, implement, and measure their marketing tactics. Put those together, and you’ve got a martech stack! 

If you’re doing any kind of marketing, chances are you already have some kind of martech stack. It might be simple, like a content management system for publishing blogs, a scheduler for social posts, and a platform for email newsletters. Or you might have a complex collection with many specialized software solutions.

The problem is that many brands find themselves with a hodgepodge of martech tools that have been cobbled together over time without a clear strategy. That can lead to inefficiency, missed opportunities, and sub-optimal performance.  

Building an integrated martech stack can transform your operations and outcomes:

  • Efficient processes. Automating processes, cutting down on stakeholder back-and-forth, eliminating duplication of efforts — a system of martech tools that talk to each other saves time and money. 
  • Smoother collaboration. Your martech stack isn’t just important to your marketing department! Effective customer engagement calls for close collaboration across multiple departments, including sales and customer success. Your ecosystem of tools should enable all teams to work together seamlessly.
  • Data-driven marketing. Brands are swimming in data these days, and they need to harness it to optimize marketing efforts. Your stack should ingest data from multiple sources and bring it together so you can act on it — whether that’s through personalized messages, hyper-segmented campaigns, analyzing an A/B test, or optimizing your strategies

5 key components of a martech stack

There are dozens of categories of martech tools, but not all are relevant to every brand. You’ll want to assess your business goals and audience characteristics to zero in on your specific needs. That said, there are five types of martech tools that should comprise the core of any stack:

  • Content management system (CMS). Manage and update your website content, including blog posts.
  • Customer relationship management (CRM). Track and manage interactions you have with your customers, from initial engagement to long-term nurturing through the customer lifecycle.
  • Marketing automation platform (MAP). Build, send, and track messaging campaigns, including web and mobile messaging (such as email, SMS, push, and in-app messages). Customer.io, for example, is a MAP with CRM-like capabilities, and other MAPs are increasingly expanding their boundaries as well.
  • Social media management. Create and schedule posts across social media platforms and measure performance. 
  • Search engine optimization (SEO). Research keywords, analyze your website’s SEO performance, and optimize performance in organic search.

Within each category, you might use one or multiple tools. With a holistic martech stack, all the components work together to make processes easier and engage customers at every stage of their lifecycle.

How to build a martech stack in 6 steps

The ideal martech stack for your brand will be unique, reflecting the nuances of your business goals, audience, and operational structure. Before you start test driving different software options, you’ll need to ask yourself some important questions to zero in on the right components for your marketing stack. After all, technology is only as good as the business value it delivers. 

1. Define your strategy

Take a look at the big picture. How do marketing, sales, and customer success departments work together? What outcomes are you aiming for, and what tactics will support them? How do you intend to expand your marketing in the next couple of years? What data silos currently exist between teams? How well do your current processes support your KPIs?

Poll your teams to get their insights; the people using martech tools every day — or creating manual workarounds — can give you vital information about current challenges and opportunities. These considerations will help you define the strategy behind the martech stack you’re building: what you’re trying to achieve and how you’ll get there. 

2. Understand your audience

If you haven’t already mapped out your customer lifecycle, now’s the time to do it. When you know who your audience is and how they behave, you’ll have a clear picture of the types of tools you need in your stack. 

Leverage your market research to determine the channels where your potential customers spend their time. Mine your data to see which campaigns get the most engagement. Look for the holes in your messaging throughout the customer journey.

3. Identify the types of martech tools you need

With your strategy and audience insights in mind, you can begin to identify the types of tools you need, as well as how they interact. For example, if you’re highly focused on lead generation, you might need to add search engine marketing (SEM) and advertising tools to your stack. If your audience engages most on their phones, you’ll want robust mobile messaging capabilities in your MAP. If your company’s product is an app or online platform that generates a large volume of data, you may need to include analytics tools as a component of your martech stack. Think: what manual processes are taking the most time away from my team that could benefit from an automation tool?

Based on your analysis, sketch out a martech stack diagram that captures the types of tools you need as well as the capabilities that must be covered within each category. 

4. Audit your current martech stack

Before you start building from scratch, take a careful look at what you’re already using. Are teams using different tools that have the same primary functionality? Which tools have features you’re not currently leveraging? Are you using any legacy technology that might be less effective than new options?

Don’t forget to look at your operations as well. Where do you see a lot of friction in your workflows? Is there duplication of effort across roles or teams? What data is siloed within one department that could be used by others? Do you have manual processes to compensate for martech tools that don’t integrate with each other? Are all stakeholders’ needs met effectively?

Use this intel to flesh out your martech stack diagram with more specifics about the kinds of tools you need in each category — and how they should work together to meet your teams’ needs. Then draw up a list of the things you need to replace or add to your stack.

5. Assess your options

Now you’re ready to start researching martech tools to add to your stack. These considerations can help you evaluate how well each option aligns with your strategy: 

  • Features. What is the core functionality you need, and how well does the tool perform? Does it have additional features; if so, do they actually provide value to your specific use case? Will this tool scale when your business does?
  • Technical specs. What are the tool’s technical requirements? Does it work seamlessly with your existing infrastructure (including hardware and core operational software)? How much tech expertise or training will your teams need to use it?
  • Security. Does the tool have strong security features? Does it comply with GDPR and other privacy laws? Does it comply with any security and privacy concerns specific to your industry?
  • Integrations. Your martech stack should function as a well-oiled machine, and that means all your tools must work together. Assess how the tool integrates with your existing systems and the other tools you’re considering, and ensure it has a secure API to transfer data. 

6. Test the waters

Implementing any new tool, not to mention an entire martech stack, can represent a significant time investment. Before you dive into a full commitment, do a pilot with each new component. Take advantage of a free trial if that’s an option (or sign up for one month of the service), and put the tool through its paces with a single campaign or initiative. Review the results with your teams to ensure it actually solves the problems you have and gets the results you’re after. 

Pro tips for building your martech stack 

Even with a clear strategy in hand, it’s easy to get off track, both when initially building a martech stack and maintaining it over the long term. A few handy tips to keep in mind:

  • Avoid “shiny penny syndrome.” It’s smart to explore new innovations, but don’t let yourself fall into the trap of adopting something just because it has exciting new technology. Evaluate whether the features actually add value for your needs — and can integrate well with your current tech stack.
  • Be wary of all-in-one solutions. When wrestling with how to build a martech stack, it can be tempting to just adopt an all-in-one platform that seems to offer everything you might possibly need. But give such options close scrutiny; often, you’ll find that they sacrifice quality for quantity. And they might either have way more tools than you really need (leading to a bloated, cumbersome stack) or miss a key functionality for your business (which defeats the purpose of the all-in-one approach).
  • Invest in onboarding and training. A martech stack isn’t just a handful of software and platforms; it’s a holistic set of tools and processes. You need every member of your team on board to make it successful. Devote time to training all team members, not just on using new tools, but also on updated workflows and collaboration processes. And while you’re at it, ensure you’re documenting your processes so it’s easy to scale your teams. 
  • Institute annual audits. If you’re building a tech stack now, you can bet that unexpected changes will make the landscape look a bit different in a year. You can prevent inefficiencies and gaps from creeping into your operations by auditing your martech stack and processes every year. Tweak your strategy according to your evolving business goals, review your tools to make sure they’re still delivering the best value, and gather your teams’ insights about what may need to be optimized. 

Best martech stack tools

As of early 2023, there are currently over 10,000 martech companies. And that number is likely to expand; the market grew by 24% between 2020 and 2022 alone! If you’d like to sort through them all as you’re building your martech stack, martechmap.com has a plethora of useful data. 

But to help you get started, here are our top picks for martech tools in five key categories. 

Content management system (CMS): WordPress

We’re not alone in the WordPress fan club: this CMS powers more than 43% of websites, from personal blogs to global organizations. The seamless UI and template library make it accessible for non-developers to build a fully-featured website, yet it’s robust enough that your dev team can dig into the code to their hearts’ content. 

  • Highlight: With over a dozen APIs and 55,000 plug-ins, you have lots of options for additional tools in your stack, and integration is a snap.     

Customer relationship management (CRM): Salesforce

Salesforce has been a leader in the CRM space for over two decades, but unlike some early martech tools, it’s more than kept up with the times. Thanks to continuous innovation, it now offers a suite of products that enable cross-functional collaboration across teams of any size. 

  • Highlight:  Their AppExchange features more than 7,000 third-party apps built to integrate seamlessly with the CRM.

Marketing automation platform (MAP): Customer.io 

We set out to build a platform that offers the control and flexibility we value, and we hope we’re not tooting our own horn too much in saying that it’s a darn good solution. A powerful segmentation engine, flexible data integrations, and sophisticated workflow builder empower you to send personalized messages that people actually want to receive. 

  • Highlight: You can easily combine email, push, SMS, and in-app messages in your campaigns to reach customers in the right channel at the right time. And webhooks let you send data through any other service in your stack, too. 

Social media management: Buffer

It’s easy to fall down a rabbit hole with social media scheduling and analytics. Buffer’s all about simplicity: clean interface, straightforward functionality, and a minimal learning curve. It’s got just enough features to enact a sophisticated social strategy and track meaningful metrics without being bogged down by bells and whistles that many marketers won’t really use.  

  • Highlight:  The Buffer Queue feature automates scheduling posts at the times you determine, making it faster and easier to hit your audience at the optimal time. 

Search engine optimization (SEO): Yoast

Why is Yoast is the #1 WordPress SEO plugin? We suspect it’s due to a holistic approach to optimization that not only gets customers to your site, but helps keep them there. With automated content suggestions, structured data, and redirect management, you can ensure a better on-site experience with less manual work.

  • Highlight: Yoast continually releases new features that drive better customer experiences. We’re especially fond of their inclusive language analysis beta.

Other martech tools to consider

Depending on your product, industry, and business goals, you may need additional categories in your stack. And don’t forget about operational tools; software that’s not specifically devoted to executing marketing strategies is still a crucial part of your ecosystem. A few you might consider: 

  • Search engine marketing (SEM): SEMrush, WordStream 
  • Digital advertising: Google Ads, Quokka
  • Online events: Eventbrite, Livestorm
  • Customer support: Intercom, Zendesk 
  • Automation: Zapier, n8n
  • Databases: Airtable, Dropbox
  • Communication: Slack, WhatsApp
  • Project management: Asana, Trello

Martech stack examples

In addition to the five core components of a martech stack, brands need solutions specific to their business and industry. Let’s take a look at how companies in three different industries might build out their ecosystem of tools for their unique needs.

Industry: EdTech. From schools offering online classes to apps that teach new skills, EdTech companies need tools that help them engage learners throughout their journey. 

Example company: An (imaginary) online test-prep platform that helps people prepare for vocational and technical certification tests in multiple, catering to individuals as well as companies offering professional development to their employees. A few tools they might want to add to their martech stack:

  • Learning Management System (LMS): Moodle. This super-customizable LMS allows the company to build courses customized to the needs and learning styles of the different audiences they serve.
  • Online events: Livestorm. In addition to some live virtual class sessions, our example company can use this engaging platform to demo their solution to institutional customers.
  • Customer service: Intercom. Fast resolutions to problems and integration of marketing sales, and service communications allow our example company to keep prospective customers and current students consistently engaged. 

Industry: Healthcare. Bringing in new patients and nurturing long-term relationships with them calls for tools that personalize interactions while maintaining strict HIPAA compliance.

Example company: A (hypothetical) regional dental franchise with seven locations throughout a large metropolitan area. Their goal is to make “dentist appointment” a reason to smile by connecting meaningfully with patients. Some key additions to their martech stack:

  • Reputation management software: Birdeye. With this easy way to collect and share reviews on Google and Facebook, our example company builds trust with potential customers who are searching for a sparkling smile.
  • Online booking and appointment reminders: NexHealth. The convenience of online appointments helps the dental practice convert more customers, and automated reminders free up staff time.
  • Electronic health records (EHR) platform: eClinicalWorks. While keeping patient records entirely secure, the dental practice leverages their EHR as the critical data source for personalized patient outreach campaigns.

Industry: IoT. When the digital and physical worlds combine, data-driven marketing becomes all the more essential. Ingesting data from customer devices and translating it rapidly into insight enables personalized, real-time communication.

Example company: This one’s the real deal! Mysa is a creator of smart thermostats that help people save energy. Their customers trust them with one of the most important aspects of their lives: the safety and comfort of their homes. Beth Saunders, Mysa’s Data and Analytics Manager, shared four of the company’s favorite martech tools

  • Digital analytics platform: Amplitude. Connected devices generate a lot of data. This powerful platform helps make it actionable.
  • Customer data platform: Segment. With hundreds of integrations and applications for marketing, product, and engineering, the company can do even more with their data. 
  • No-code automation platform: Zapier. No-code automation enables any team member to create customized tools that meet the team’s specific needs.  
  • MAP: Customer.io. Mysa can send data into Customer.io to trigger messages that reach customers at the exact right time, in the right channel — personalized to each individual. 

Building a martech stack that delivers results

At the end of the day, any technology you use is only as good as the strategy behind it. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the massive number of tools available or beguiled by the latest cool features. So remember that building a martech stack is ultimately about understanding your brand’s entire landscape — your business goals, internal processes, and audience needs — and crafting an integrated ecosystem of tools that support the outcomes that make a difference.