How tech vendors can fight dark martech

Profile picture for user barb.mosher By Barb Mosher Zinck November 29, 2016
Dark martech sounds ominous. But it's more like Shadow IT - another misunderstood phenomenon. Barb Mosher Zinck looks at the surge of "dark martech" and assesses its pros and cons.

The marketing technology vendor landscape is a scary infographic for many marketers. Yes, you know you need a martech stack and you sort of know what key technologies should be in that stack, but how do you decide which ones are the right ones for you? And do you need marketing technology for every marketing function? It seems like some companies go it on their own when it comes to some of their marketing technology. Say hi to “dark martech.”

What the heck is dark martech?

An ominous term, “dark martech” is the use of homegrown tools or even simple spreadsheets to manage marketing functions. In research by TBR, a technology analyst firm, more than half of the 250 surveyed use homegrown tools. In a post on the Chief Martec blog, TBR analyst, Seth Ulinski, attributes this to resistance to change, lack of support from the top and the recognition that we are still in the early adoption stages of marketing technology.

The top three areas where these homegrown solutions are most used include:

  • Marketing operations (68%)
  • Core marketing functions (63%)
  • Marketing experience content (55%)

Ulinski notes that marketing is still seen as a cost-center for many organizations, regardless of how far we think we’ve come in bringing marketing out of the shadows. What happens when you look at marketing in this way? Technology investments aren’t seen as important, and there tends to be a focus on short-term effects (costs, imminent risk, getting things done fast).

Is dark martech all that bad?

As someone who loves technology and is pretty much willing to try anything, especially if it offers the opportunity of making my life easier, I’m still not completely sure homegrown solutions are all that bad.

I interviewed a company for a case study for one of my clients a few months ago, and when we talked about challenges the company faced when implementing the technology, they had a very interesting response. They told me that the technology was great, but they didn’t know what they could do with it. They went into the process thinking they just wanted to transfer their current process to the new technology, when in reality they actually could have improved the process had they understood what they could do. The vendor didn’t provide ideas or insights into what they could do; they only asked what the company wanted to do.

This tells me two things. First, it tells me that the vendor wanted to get the technology implemented and get out, keeping within the budget identified. Using this approach, the time wasn’t taken to think about the processes themselves and how the technology could improve them.

Why is that a problem? Because all you have done is move inefficient or ineffective processes to a technology platform and you don’t know if that technology was the best choice. Now you have invested in technology, and you’re stuck, at least for awhile. Yes, maybe you could swap it out quickly for something else when you realize it doesn’t give you the improvements you expected, but the time and effort to do that distract from getting actual work done.

The second thing this customer made me realize is that we rely too much on technology to give us innovative ideas and approaches to work. It’s true tech can do that, but sometimes we need to step back and think our processes and strategies through before we start looking at technology. Indeed look at technology for ideas, but don’t implement and assume the technology will think for you.

Maybe it’s better to start with spreadsheets and homegrown solutions to give you time to understand exactly how your processes need to work and what needs to happen. Sometimes, working like this even makes us innovative, because we need to find faster more efficient ways to do things.

Ultimately, you will need technology.

What’s the path to vendor success?

Marketing technology vendors have a challenge ahead of them if they are going to sway these dark martech users into buying into their technology. Going back to the TBR report, there is an answer.

The best way to capture the attention of marketers and other martech decision makers is to show their understanding of the complete line of marketing services and, even more importantly, expertise in the prospect’s specific industry. This might be a challenge for vendors with solutions that cross all types of industries, but that only means that partnerships with system integrators and agencies who can focus on niche industries are critical.

The TBR report notes that digital strategy services are growing faster than creative or commerce services (a 10% growth YoY from 2015), so the opportunity is there.

Perhaps those vendors and their partners that can demonstrate not only industry experience as it relates to marketing but how the marketing technology can support other aspects of the customer lifecycle will find the most success.

The report also discusses the important role the marketing technologist plays in selecting the right technology, so vendors need to understand how to talk to and win the minds of these key decision makers (or influencers).

My take

Dark martech isn’t a bad thing necessarily, but it’s a stop-gap measure to ensure organizations take the time to understand what they really need before they launch into a tech buying initiative. It’s not a permanent solution if the organization wants to compete in today’s quickly changing market.

I think it’s important to remember, for both the buyer and the vendor, that technology is the enabler. It’s not the solution; it’s a means to get to the right solution. Vendors who really understand the marketing universe and how the technology propels strategies forward will find the most success.