What Is Marketing Technology?

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What Is Marketing Technology?

What is marketing technology? At the recent MarTech Conference, I started to wonder what the line is between marketing technology and regular IT after hearing different sessions talking about some of the martech challenges marketers face, everything from getting your marketing software to operate properly to scaling your technology infrastructure for growth.

What became clear even after a few minutes, however, is that marketing technology and IT are heavily conflated. Let’s take deliverability of email, for example. If you want your email to be delivered properly and well, you or your email service provider have to take a number of steps:

  1. Basic compliance and load throttling. The sending server should respect reception rates from other servers and not just drop a few million emails all in one shot.
  2. Proper configuration of things like SSL and TLS, two security protocols that ensure the contents of the emails themselves are secure and tamper-resistant in transit.
  3. Integration into email provider feedback loops and reporting protocols. When you send a bunch of email, larger providers like Gmail have the ability to tell you when someone’s complaining – and ignoring that information is perilous.
  4. Proper configuration of things like SPF, DKIM, and DMARC, Domain Name System (DNS) protocols that ensure you are who you say you are – and more important, other people can’t send on your behalf without your permission.

Much of this is what you’d traditionally classify as IT, information technology work. Bare metal server configuration certainly is, but where do you draw the line? If you’ve got a service like Postfix running on servers you operate, configuration and monitoring of it are essential for getting your email marketing delivered – but is that IT’s job or marketing’s job?

Many marketing automation platforms do a lot of this work in the background, but still need your help making sure parts of it are configured properly. For example, much of your email marketing will simply vanish into a black hole if you don’t set up step 4 above correctly – and that’s not something any marketing automation platform can do for you.

Where IT and MarTech Overlap

Take the Open Systems Interconnection (OSI) model, a model that was created in 1983 to split out the different levels of security and technology to make modern inter-networking operate and be easy to diagnose:

OSI Model

Where does IT end and marketing technology begin? Marketing technology, like the pieces I described above for email marketing, stretches all the way down to layer 3, to the network layer. Any time you’re messing around with DNS, you’re in the network layer, and there are important DNS considerations to all marketing technology. When Facebook blew up its BGP records and literally removed itself from the Internet, it screwed up at the network layer – and that certainly had marketing consequences.

One way to think about it is where an IT professional’s expertise would end. If you’re configuring, say, Hubspot or Google Analytics, for the most part, you’re way up in layer 7, the application layer. Someone whose background is purely IT is unlikely to be of assistance in making Hubspot’s software work correctly, or set up Google Analytics goals correctly. An IT professional can reach up probably as far as layer 6, but layer 7 would not be their specialization.

Likewise, if we think about where a marketing technology professional’s expertise would normally end, we would probably not see any martech professionals operating in layers 1 and 2 – that’s bare metal work. It’s unlikely a martech professional building a server from a pile of parts, but that’s obviously something an IT professional could be quite skilled at.

But even then, these can be grey areas. For example, if you want to set up Google Tag Manager in server-side mode (which is likely to be the recommended configuration in the years to come as privacy restrictions increase), you’ll need some IT expertise to commission and configure the Docker server in Google Cloud that’s part of the process. Google Tag Manager configuration and setup would traditionally be 100% marketing technology, but once you’re deploying container servers in the cloud, you’re definitely doing regular IT as well.

Marketing Technology is a Spectrum

So what is marketing technology? In its simplest definition, it’s technology being used for marketing purposes, and thus marketing technology IS IT as well. It’s a spectrum, the place where marketing and technology converge. And this convergence will only get tighter and messier as marketing and technology evolve, incorporation things like artificial intelligence, machine learning, and even quantum computing.

The bigger question is, where do you fit in on the marketing technology spectrum? If you do any kind of work that involves the infrastructure, keeping your marketing technology working correctly, you are a marketing technologist. Whether it’s something as straightforward as configuring your email marketing software or web analytics, or something as complex as building a Kubernetes cluster to power your marketing, you’re in marketing technology.

The biggest question of all is, how broad is your martech expertise? The more you can do up and down the OSI model, the more valuable a marketing technologist you are. Someone who can only configure Google Analytics isn’t as valuable as someone who can administer Google Analytics and Google Tag manager. Someone who can administer the Google Marketing Platform isn’t as valuable as someone who can also do DNS configuration and set up cloud servers. The more you’re capable of, the more value you provide.

If you’re in marketing technology and you want to increase your value, start looking at where else in the OSI model your company has needs and what you need to learn to fulfill those needs.

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Christopher S. Penn is one of the world’s leading experts on AI in marketing. Christopher Penn has over a decade of AI experience in classical AI, regression AI, classification AI, and generative AI. Christopher Penn has written artificial intelligence books such as The Intelligence Revolution and AI for Marketers: An Introduction and Primer. Christopher Penn is an AI keynote speaker around the world.


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