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Martech Heroes: Workfront’s Jada Balster on the ‘Jenga tower’ of martech

As tech stacks grow in size and functionality, so too do their level of complexity. In previous articles in The Drum’s Martech Heroes series, we heard how much effort is expended on ensuring that firms research and purchase the right tools to bolster their existing martech, and the difficulties of measuring how each technology perform as part of a wider toolkit.

Workfront’s vice president of marketing, Jada Balster, believes that as a result of that complexity many marketing firms will grapple with integrating new tools into their tech stacks for the foreseeable future. She says: “There is a lot of talk about integration. Every piece of martech that you could ever buy says that it integrates seamlessly into your stack, but often what this really means is lots of different tools and technologies that are very loosely integrated.

“I describe it as less of a stack and more of a Jenga tower. You're getting near the end of the game, they’re all kind of working together, but they could fall over at any time.”

Balster believes that while the most commonly used pieces of technology like a CRM system or marketing automation tool - “the ones that have been around forever” - tend to integrate seamlessly. This is due to the relative maturity of the technology and the universal need for their functionality, true integration doesn’t often extend much beyond that, so “the future of having true integration at the heart of the technology is going to be really important”.

Balster says that the lack of integration for the newer or less commonly used tools is due to a number of reasons, not least of which is the speed with which the industry’s needs evolve. The industry is at something of a “tipping point”, according to Balster, with each marketing team responsible for up to 10 tools which, if they aren’t working in harmony, end up hindering the team’s ability to hit their targets rather than helping as they should.

She states that as a result of the rapidly changing landscape, there are incentives for vendors to make big claims about integration, and challenges for firms to take the time to fully investigate those claims: “Does that responsibility sit with the marketing team, or does it sit with the vendor? My answer would be it's a bit of a mix of both.

“We can fall into the trap of vendors stating that they integrate seamlessly and that's not something that actually works out of the blocks or is easy to do. As marketers we have to take responsibility when we are looking at a new martech tool to say, ‘How is this actually going to work with my current tech stack?’ Is this just going to be something I'm adding onto the add-ons, or is it something that is going to be a seamless integration. But I think also vendors have to take the responsibility as well around expectations, and work through that buying cycle of what this would look like if it was integrated - and what it would look like if it wasn't’.”

She points out that the problem is exacerbated by all marketers’ desire to be at the forefront of the tech arms race, which leads to tools being force fit to a marketers’ goals rather than being genuinely selected to fit a company’s strategy. For Balster, “more often than we’d like to admit” the strategy is in service of the tools rather than the other way round, and only adds to the complexity of integrating the tool into the tech stack.

Redefining the vendor relationship

Even as the struggle to manage complexity and integrate tools effectively continue, the next great hope for martech, effective personalisation at scale, is upon us. Balster believes that while marketers need to be wary of any unfeasible promises around personalisation tools, the reality is that the industry is moving in that direction with “thousands and thousands of vendors” offering solutions. She notes that while audiences are increasingly aware of and resistant to ‘creepy’ marketing, particularly that which makes liberal use of a user’s personal data, vendors and marketers need to work together to ensure that the personalisation technology they use is largely invisible to the consumer.

“We’re in a world and an era where consumers understand that we are using technology to move their businesses forward. And it would be naive for anyone to think otherwise. I agree that you want the technology to feel invisible, but more from the perspective of personalisation configurations; you want any communication you're putting out to feel natural and to fit into people's day-to-day routines. It’s a really fine balance.”

As a result, she argues that the industry needs to realign its priorities and focus on developing relationships with vendors that offer more than just a one-off purchase.

“The companies that really understand the way we need to work are the ones that are going to win. The ones that don't put the effort, time and thoughtfulness into that are the ones that we will see fading out.

“It's amazing, though. We've all been through times where there's a tool which is the number one and you think it will never be replaced. Then suddenly this young company comes up with something new and innovative and really thinks about what customers need and it takes over this marketplace.”

The speed with which the industry is evolving, then, is the foremost source of stress on the development of an integrated tech stack. The need to reach consumers in new, more personalised and effective ways, and the misalignment of vendor and marketer priorities as a result, can easily lead to unwieldy tech solutions that don’t serve companies as they should.

Balster’s advice is that marketers need to resist the temptation of buying a shiny new tool and hoping it works in favour of developing relationships with vendors that truly understand the need for integration. She argues that could help pump the brakes on the industry’s pell-mell rush into complexity for its own sake. After all, nobody won a game of Jenga by rushing.

Featured by The Drum

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