MarTech Is Growing. Is Usability Catching Up?

So expected marketing technology landscape 2016 finally came out – now it contains 3,874 logos, almost doubled since last year. What I am thinking of, looking at this huge supergraphic, is usability. How customers can consume this amount, diversity and scope? Will marketers become smarter and more technically savvy, or will software become more intuitive and marketer-friendly? Where do these two vectors intersect?

You know that feeling – you are trying to use software, and it is not working right. You are setting it up, checking the instructions and manuals, carefully reviewing multiple menus, options, stages, layers, asking a support, googling and searching forums, but still it is screwing up your job, messing up your data and making no sense? Do you feel bad? Please don’t, it is not your fault.

In a short story by Robert Sheckley “The Minimum Man” there is a kind, intelligent, but highly misfortunate young man, who attracted all kind of bad luck and chances to get into trouble. Surprisingly, he was sent to colonize a remote planet. Why? Because superheroes can easily deal with many problems and hardships, while an average person can’t stand it. So this young man was supposed to prove that the planet gave enough chances to survive to regular men, women, and children.

When there is a conversation on marketing technology, you can often feel the same air of superheroism. It is still an evolving market, we all are learning and exploring, and the most techie marketers are pushing the way. They seem to circle dozens of platforms, hard coding their campaigns, and hacking whatever is not working.

But the reality is that marketing technology is becoming mainstream, a commodity. So technologies should be marketer-friendly enough to accommodate colonies of average marketers.  Intelligent, smart and always learning marketers – but still around the normal distribution mean of talents and competencies.

For now, this argument doesn’t often sound – marketing technology vendors usually refer to their rich functionality, unique features, and resources at hand. And honestly, we are not at the point where we would always consider our comfort while working with a product. We are fiercely checking features, comparing output, running trials or prove of concepts to see the best option for a company – not ourselves, a person or team who will work with the product directly.

But sooner or later this will become a difference. Imagine a row of competitors who offer the same set of buzzwords and promises. Doing a quality job and deliver results is not a competitive advantage – it is a category’s minimum requirement. But having ease of use and marketer-friendly interface might be a real advantage, and we saw the success of this tactic (e.g. Marketo’s positioning as “designed by marketers for marketers”).

So what business factors might accelerate MX design?

  • Commoditization and market potential. According to Census Bureau data, there are over a million people working in marketing and sales, so one out of 100 working people is our peer. Imagine that your software is to be used by a million people. Another perspective: there are 9 million people getting business degree every year, and only 1 million have IT major. Obviously, it is easier for IT speaks the business language than vice versa.
  • Amount of non-competing products. An average successful marketing stack contains about 20 software components. This “neighborhood” sets certain expectations on ease of use, ability to learn, switch and execute. Besides they share time and efforts you can put into their usage.
  • Amount of direct competitors. This might vary – between high, very high and extreme high. The market growth does not seem to slow down so far.

What might slow down marketer-friendliness:

  • Complexity of a product. Enterprise companies often need advanced rich functionality and can afford to keep a dedicated team of marketing technologists and technical personnel or to have an external team of professionals.
  • Specialization of a product. Huge marketing automation platforms require a whole team to be on board, able to use them, as they support a wide range of marketing activities and impacts practically every side of job. To the contrary, more specialized products are used primarily by marketing operations, demand gen or other specific professionals, this function might be outsourced or contracted.
  • Diversity of vendors. SiriusDecisions listed 37 categories of marketing tech vendors, Customer Experience Matrix provides a great overview of existing directories and listings, “a landscape of landscapes”.  This diversity narrows down competition and graying out standards and expectations.

Of course, there are many other factors: overall industry dynamics, leading products’ practices, increasing marketer’s job requirements, a switching cost, a business case of having a better design and experience, not just functionality.

I believe very soon we will see a spike of courses, schools and classes on marketing technology. Though they might aim to raise marketers’ technical competencies (e.g. last year they presented a college major in marketing technology with rather tech focus), but in reality,  it might lead to further commoditization of the industry and increasing demands in usability and marketer-friendly design. In a word, there is hope.


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