As a startup founder in the martech industry, I’m routinely asked by other founders what should be in their marketing stack. It was also a topic of discussion during a birds-of-a-feather session at the MarTech Conference. It would be nice to respond with “acquire these ten products, and then you’ll be all set,” but unfortunately, that’s not how marketing works. Many factors impact product selection: marketing objectives, budget, composition and skills of the marketing team, and the market and competitive environment.
Startups are very different from established companies from a marketing perspective. They have no established brand position, limited personnel and little to no budget for technology. They may be entering uncharted territory by defining a new market category or jumping into an already crowded space with well-established competitors. So, where to begin?
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You can’t be successful in building your tech stack without first creating well-defined marketing objectives. You should have 3-5 high-level achievable objectives for the year (no more, or you’ll drive yourself insane). They should be aligned with the company’s business objectives and current position in the market (don’t set an objective for market leadership when you have no product or no revenue – it’s not achievable nor believable).
Here are some guidelines.
If you are entering an already established market category, your first objective should be related to positioning and differentiating the company and creating brand awareness. Creating a new market category should be about market education and socializing the new category. Do not create a new category if you don’t have to. I’ve done it twice under duress, and it requires a huge investment in market education and hard work to ensure that there is a line item for your product in your customer’s budget. In addition, if you define a new category and remain the only company in that category it is not a category. It is just a marketing description.
Your second objective should be related to the most important thing you need to do in the coming year, e.g., drive leads, revenue, launch a product, etc. You can customize your objectives to support your particular goals. As you write your objectives, you should identify the metrics that will define success for each objective so that you can quantify what you are trying to achieve.
When you are clear on your objectives, you can then define how you will achieve those objectives in a marketing plan. Content marketing will be a large component of your marketing plan for most startups because it is cost-effective and impactful. With your marketing plan in hand, it becomes straightforward to build a technology plan. You need to look at each component of your marketing plan and define where you need technology to support each component and what you need the technology to do.
Experienced marketing operations professionals will be the first to tell you to start by defining what the technology needs to do before determining what type of technology you need. Don’t start with a technology shopping list, e.g., CRM, email platform, analytics, etc. Even though you may instinctively know that you need a CRM system to satisfy a need to manage contacts, to select the right one for your environment you need a clear definition of what it needs to be able to do for you. Continuing with CRM as an example – besides managing contacts, do you need it to send emails individually and to lists? Do you need it to create a pipeline structure in a specific way? What sort of reports do you need to generate? Does it need to give you the ability to create landing pages? With a comprehensive list of needs in hand, you can identify the types of technology required in your stack, and in many cases, you may find that one type of technology addresses multiple needs.
It’s important to do the work noted above, but as a starting point, I can confidently say you’ll most likely need the following components in your stack:
- Source of lead data.
- CRM to manage contacts.
- Email platform or marketing automation system (note: some CRMs will provide you with enough of this capability to get you started).
- A variety of content creation and management tools.
- An analytics platform (could be as simple as Google Analytics).
- A social media management platform.
- Productivity and collaboration tools.
The work defining functional needs will be vital in selecting the right vendor for each of these categories. As you think about functional requirements, don’t forget to think about which pieces of your stack will need to integrate with one another frequently, which will dictate your vendor options.
Choosing the technology that’s right for you
Once you’ve determined the type of technology you need in your stack, two critical factors in choosing the right vendors for your environment are cost and skills. Most startups are budget constrained, and marketing technology frequently follows programs and people when it comes to the budget. That’s the bad news; the good news is that numerous excellent products are free, cost very little or offer significant discounts to startups, so you should get what you need within your budget constraints. And, remember you are not selecting technology that will be in place forever. As a startup, get what you need for the immediate future.
By nature, startups move fast, and startup employees generally perform multiple functions. Your team members must become “jacks of all trades,” leaving little time to master complex tools. Finding tools that are easy to implement and use is critical. Not every tool will be intuitive, and your team may need some new skills to leverage them properly. Invest in training. There are free programs and webinars as well as courses that charge for participating. You’ll get a great return by empowering your team to keep learning.
If you follow the guidelines above, you’ll have no trouble building your initial stack, and you’ll establish good discipline around technology selection at the same time, which will serve you well in the future. However, recognizing that some of you are under a lot of pressure and want to know what to put in your stack, I’ll share two things:
1) My company’s martech stack, which is continually evolving as we test and try new things.
2) The most popular tools in use by businesses with less than 100 people, which we’ve extracted from the aggregated data on our stack management platform:
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily MarTech. Staff authors are listed here.
Before Deciding Where Your Content Team Reports, Pay Attention to This
When a brand creates a new content marketing or content strategy team, they often ask, “What function or department should the content team report to?”
My answer? “Yes!”
Now, I’m not trying to be a smart aleck. (Well, I am a little bit, do you even know me?) But seriously, my yes comes from years of helping implement content teams in dozens of businesses. My affirmative response indicates the most important thing isn’t to whom content reports; it’s that content teams report to the business.
When it reports into a function, such as brand, marketing, sales enablement, demand gen, PR/comms, or even (yes, really in one case) finance, the business acknowledges content marketing is a real thing with real responsibilities, power, and capabilities to affect business outcomes.
“What outcomes?” you might ask.
Well, that depends on where content marketing reports.
Now you have the real conundrum.
You can’t figure out where content marketing and content strategy should report without knowing the expected business outcomes, and you can’t know the business outcomes until you know where they’re reporting.
Content’s pervasiveness creates the challenge
Content as a strategic function in business affects almost everything. That pervasiveness means nearly any function in the business could “own” content as a strategy.
For example, we recently worked with a company about a year into its enterprise-wide digital transformation strategy. They have a content team, and we were to help them assemble a governance and operational approach for their website content.
When we determined the right operational processes, we got into trouble. A content team leader asked, “What if someone proposed a new AI chatbot as part of this digital transformation for the website? Is it a content project with a technology component or a technology project with a content component?”
The question isn’t semantics. Instead, the answer determines the process for development, the team owning implementation, and the measurement by which it’s deemed successful.
It’s not just a technology challenge, either. The company also wanted to create new brand content guidelines for the website. Is that a content team project informed by the brand team or a brand project in consultation with the content team?
Given content’s pervasiveness, you can argue it is part of any meaningful communications initiative the business takes on. But sales’ needs are different from marketing’s, and HR’s requirements are different from the demand-gen team’s. However, to achieve consistency in content and communication, it doesn’t make sense to let each function determine its content strategy.
To achieve the balance between an enterprise-wide content strategy and the unique needs of every function in the business, the leaders and practitioners must decide to whom content reports. Again, the agreement is important, not the where or what of the agreement.
3 key attributes to identify in the decision-making process
As you and the leadership ponder how to balance the enterprise content strategy and where it should sit, consider these three key attributes that play an essential role in success.
1. Develop a content operations backbone
I don’t care if you have two people and one blog and a website or a team of 50 who operate on 35 content platforms across multiple channels. A content operations infrastructure creates consistent success across your digital content experiences. Content operations is an enterprise-recognized set of integrated and shared systems (meaning technologies), standards, guidelines, playbooks, and processes to ensure reliable, consistent, scalable, and measurable content across the business.
Content operations acts as the backbone – the foundation – to ensure the content is created, managed, activated, and measured the same way across whatever audience and whichever channel the brand presents to.
2. Connect with the audience across platforms
You can no longer expect to create one optimal experience that makes up for a bunch of sub-optimal ones.No matter your size, it’s not good enough to have your blog subscribers separate from your marketing automation database and all that separated from your CRM system. This goes for all of your audiences – from new employees to external parties such as analysts, journalists, partners, vendors, etc.
In this approach, the goal is to engage, build, and develop relationships with audiences. Thus, connecting audience behavior with insights on how to communicate better is not a siloed functional need; it is an enterprise need.
3. Build an accountability framework
This attribute in one word? Standards (and a team to keep them.) In a truly fascinating way, one of the earliest activities in building a content strategy makes the biggest impact on larger businesses: Come to terms with what words around content strategy and marketing mean. What is a campaign? What is the difference between a campaign and an initiative? What is an e-book? What is an article vs. a blog post? How long should a white paper take to write? Most businesses assume these things or create meanings based on contextual needs.
At a recent client, one group expected the content team to produce white papers within a week of the request. Another group expected them to be delivered in six weeks at double the length that the other group thought.
An accountability framework – and its ongoing evolution – presents clear ownership and coordination of content standards (roles, responsibilities, processes, types) across the enterprise. This model should not detail the definitions and standards but identify how they will enforce them.
Start your content decisions by deciding together
Where should you begin?
Well, just like in the beginning, my answer is yes. Independent of where you start, the critical point happens in the deciding of the elements. To be clear, these are institutional decisions, not simply “what you think.” In other words, it doesn’t matter what you believe the definitions, roles, or processes should be if the other parts of the organization don’t know, believe, or care.
A great first step is to create that accountability framework and make people care about its existence. At first, it might create a language of content that everybody in your business understands. When someone says, “I’d like to do a campaign,” or, “I think we should write a white paper,” everyone understands what that means and what it takes to do it. Then, the benefits of an accountability framework will start to become clear.
It makes the case for a team assigned to lead this consistency easier. And that enables the team to connect those experiences and audiences in a way that makes sense for everyone.
In the end, you have found determining the where, how, and what of a content strategy implementation isn’t the most important. The act of deciding is.
It’s a strange combination. In isolation, the reason for deciding seems straightforward. So why wouldn’t anybody want a clear definition of what a campaign is or a single source of the truth when it comes to the tone of your content?
But stacked together, those decisions feel like they are bigger than the content team and really should involve the entire enterprise. (Spoiler alert: They do.)
If you want any desired consequence, you had better decide on all the things that would help create it.
It’s your story. Tell it well.
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