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:
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:
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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:
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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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:
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:
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:
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.