Building the marketing technology stack


With almost 2,000 tools to choose from at last count, building a marketing technology stack is a daunting task. Barb Mosher Zinck has some field-tested tips to help you on your way.

builder-plannerThe number of marketing technologies at a CMO’s disposal is staggering, and it’s growing at a steady rate. While there is no single “right” stack to set up, there are things you should have in place to ensure your marketing team has the right tools, integrated together, to deliver the best customer experiences for your organization.

In Scott Brinker’s marketing technology landscape (January 2015), there were over 1,876 marketing technology vendors represented across 43 categories, and he doesn’t even mention all of them. It’s one year later, and I can’t wait to see the updated graphic. I can also imagine the confusion and frustration marketing teams face trying to decide what they need and which vendors can fulfill their requirements best.

The core elements of a marketing stack

Most marketing teams have one or more base platforms from which they create and manage their marketing programs. These platforms should integrate at the data level, and if they are content-based, at the content level.

One of these core platforms is a digital experience platform which typically started out as a web content management platform, and evolved to provide more functionality than basic content management. Other capabilities range from personalization, testing and targeting, some social media marketing, mobile and responsive design, campaign management, etc. There are many digital experience platforms to choose from such as Adobe, IBM, Oracle, Sitecore, EpiServer, Acquia, Salesforce, SDL – and the list goes on.

Along with a digital experience platform, there’s usually a marketing automation platform (which offers email marketing, landing page campaigns, etc.) and a CRM platform. Again, plenty of choices to select from these platforms.

These platforms integrate at the data level to share customer data. Most digital experience platforms have a customer profile repository, where they connect disparate data sources with its data repository to create a 360-degree view of their customer. Customer data can also be sent to other platforms and solutions to support the activities of those solutions. If the digital experience platform doesn’t have the profile store, you’ll need to create and manage one using another solution.

Depending on the capabilities of the digital experience platform you have, you’ll want to connect other products and solutions to give you additional functionality. For example, advanced analytics, social media monitoring and marketing (which you might get with your marketing automation platform), e-commerce, testing and targeting, optimization and so on.

Not every organization starts with these three core platforms in their marketing stack, but for larger enterprises, this is often the case.

The technology you have in your marketing stack should have a purpose. Just because there are dozens of options for something like tag management, doesn’t mean you need to have one. Your stack can grow as your marketing strategy evolves (and it can also get smaller).

Focus your stack on the customer journey

There are any number of ways you can set up your marketing technology stack, but the best way to start to visualize what technology you need is to understand your customer’s journey to purchase and beyond.

I saw this best visualized in a marketing stack diagram from ion interactive:


Image from

Ion’s CEO mapped its use of marketing technology to where it’s used in the purchase journey. This visual shows three primary tools used throughout the entire journey (ion’s own interactive content platform, Pardot for marketing automation and for CRM. Around different stages of the customer journey, additional technologies are used to support different processes in each stage (called helper tools), and then there are overall marketing management tools and dashboard tools.

This diagram is a great way to visualize how different marketing technology is used throughout the purchase journey. It ensures that your primary focus is on the customer and not implementing technology because it’s new and flashy, or someone told you that you needed to have it.

Taking the time to map out your customer’s journey enables you to understand where you need to create content or processes to help move the customer along their path to purchase. It helps you start to understand what kind of technology you’ll need. It won’t tell you every technology you’ll need, but as you track and measure the performance of your programs and campaigns, you’ll see where you might need more information, or need to improve and what technologies will help you continue forward.

Data and content are the heart of the marketing stack

The other key point made in reference to the ion interactive marketing stack above that applies to all marketing technology stacks is that the technologies need to be able to share relevant data and content. The ability to share customer data gives you a more complete view of your customer, and in some cases, your anonymous visitors.

Of course, integrating marketing technology isn’t always easy to do. A recent Ascend2 study showed that the biggest challenge for marketing technology success is the complexity of integrating different technologies:


Image from ascend2.dom

As noted in the chart above, other data challenges include inconsistent data and poor data/accuracy. It’s critical you get your data strategy right – so as you look at technology, look at what data you need to share and if it’s supported by each technology. Look at how the data is shared across technologies and what customizations you might have to make to ensure its shared properly.

You also want to share content across solutions. Content created in your digital experience platform can be shared with your marketing automation platform (e.g. use the DXP to create and manage landing pages or email content).

This ability to create content in a single location means you can deliver a consistent content strategy across your marketing department. It means you don’t have to manage multiple versions of content or have different teams within marketing producing similar content, or worse, content is that’s saying different things but is directed toward the same audience.

Final Thoughts

There is no right marketing technology stack and every marketing team needs to outline their marketing strategy well before they can think about adding additional technologies. Start with some base platforms (maybe it’s only one to start) and build from there. As you bring each new technology into the mix, ask how it will help improve the customer journey and ask how it shares data and content. Put in place a plan to measure its effectiveness and remove technologies that are too complex or aren’t helping you achieve your goals.

Image credit: building plan © ballabeyla –

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    1. Nice post Barb. I’m glad people have finally started to talk about what has always been the most important thing – “improve customer journey”. We work with lot of small brick & mortar businesses and customer journey is the main thing they focus on. With customers having the ability to switch and hop between so many channels, providing a seamless journey, and more importantly tracking it has become very, very difficult. But I hope as more and more people start focusing on the final thoughts that you have mentioned, we’ll eventually see innovative ways to tackle this problem.