Is there – or is there not – a convergence between adtech and martech? Does it matter?

March 29, 2017 | By

In the last few months, the following has happened:

  1. Marty Kihn of Gartner has convincingly reneged on his prediction that we’re headed toward a world of “madtech” – marketing plus advertising technology – because of different business models, talent, and customer data.
  2. Scott Brinker of ChiefMarTec argues that the distinction the two is a “false dichotomy
  3. Joe Stanhope of Forrester wrote a thorough and well-reasoned report forecasting that the convergence of these two types of tech are going to “revolutionize marketing.”

These thought leaders are three I follow devotedly and admire tremendously. And I actually think that they might all be right – mostly because I don’t think there is a one-prediction-fits-all-marketers model.

Marketers need to acquire, engage, convert, and retain customers. Technologies support discrete functions and programs within each of those objectives, as well as across them. For example, ad networks support acquisition of net-new customers and the retargeting of both new and repeat customers: acquire and convert. Email helps engage, convert, and retain. Meanwhile, digital analytics helps understand what’s happening on different channels to explain those four objectives, and customer data platforms provide a profile-level view of the people’s behaviors in the context of those objectives.

In essence, Kihn, Brinker, and Stanhope articulate three models that companies can take in how they approach their marketing (which includes advertising for the purposes of clarity). And all emphasize the critical role of customer data in facilitating even a partial convergence between categories. In my view, each has merit – and drawbacks:

  1. The Kihn Stack works well for very large companies with a decentralized marketing technology management strategy; different departments and business units have wide latitude to buy their own tools in support of discrete objectives and KPIs for which they are accountable. The culture issues, separate buying centers, and siloed customer data are common problems at the enterprise level – and ones that may be insurmountable and better off just managed.
  2. The Brinker Stack avoids labels and purchases for function, assuming a progressive and fairly flat technology management strategy and operation. Medium and large companies are more likely to fit this profile, with fewer chefs in the kitchen and an ability to avoid redundancy because each team’s remit is broader. As Scott says, “adtech” is a fuzzy bucket and perhaps just a label – but it’s okay to measure programs that use one kind of tech differently from another.
  3. The Stanhope Stack demands that marketing take a sophisticated and rigorous approach to integration of all the component parts of the tech stack, likely with a dedicated leader or team responsible for marketing technology. This strategy assumes hefty resources (headcount and dollars) and the chops to be a heavyweight in negotiations with vendors. This isn’t just enterprise companies; this is a very select few companies who have either been disrupted so completely as to have no other option or, on the other end of the spectrum, have deliberately chosen transformation of their business at this scale as their differentiation. This stack isn’t for everyone – or even the majority – but for those who succeed at building it, look for convention-defying innovation from these firms.

What we all can – or perhaps should – agree on is that when insight (e.g. customer data, analytics) is the fuel for the marketing tech engine, our marketing performs better by virtually any measure. What kind of car you choose, that’s up to your company, and I’d say you’ve got options.

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