In 2019, marketing technology (martech) was already a $121 billion dollar industry.
Fast-forward to 2021 and this number is bigger still. In fact, experts estimate the pandemic accelerated the adoption of digital technologies by on average seven years.
McKinsey & Company calls this “a quantum leap at both the organizational and industry levels.”
What does this mean for the modern marketer?
For starters, it means there are a wealth of new technologies to choose from. Second, it means choosing the right solutions for your brand can get complicated. And even, overwhelming.
All this choice can also lead to an inefficient martech stack and reduced ROI.
For marketing leaders, this is the stuff of sleepless nights. In today’s digital landscape, an optimized stack just isn’t optional. So in this article, I’ll dive into strategies for streamlining your marketing technology, with a focus on our specialty here at Dyspatch: Email.
But first, let’s get aligned by clearly defining “martech stack”.
What is a marketing technology stack?
Simply put, a marketing technology stack refers to the digital tools a company uses to conduct marketing processes. These tools help marketing teams execute, optimize, and analyze campaigns. Internally, they can also help streamline workflows and promote collaboration between teams.
Now, you may get some value from using marketing software in isolation. But you can unlock much more value by understanding the big picture. By stacking your software, you can create a cohesive marketing machine that drives results and rapid business growth.
Sounds good, right? So let’s take a look at that big picture…
The Big Picture
The marketing technology landscape includes over 8,000 solutions.
ChiefMartech’s, Scott Brinker, shared a famous slide that sums it up:
As you can see, that’s a whole lot of ground to cover!
So I’m going to come at the martech landscape from an email angle. More specifically, I’ll go over the fundamental pieces you need to engage in modern email marketing. Of course, many of these pieces are also integral to marketing as a whole.
Breaking it down to the fundamentals, this is what the email marketing ecosystem looks like:
Broadly speaking, there are three approaches to building an email marketing stack.
One, you can use a cross-channel marketing platform like Braze, Hubspot, or Iterable to cover the entire email marketing cycle. This approach may be simple. But often, it’s too simple. That is, you lose out on the advanced functionalities specialized marketing tools provide.
Two, you can use ‘best-of-breed’ solutions for each step of the process. That might look like this:
- Customer contact data uploaded to the CRM
- Customer data synced from the CRM to the email service provider (ESP)
- Email campaign designed in an email production platform
- Email campaign run through an email testing service
- Completed email campaign sent to an email list through the ESP
- High-level email metrics, like open rates and click rates, tracked through the ESP or cross-channel marketing platform
- Lead-specific metrics, like replies and conversion, tracked through the CRM
With this approach, each tool is tailor-made for the task at hand. This leads to a better experience for your team, higher quality campaigns, and improved results. For mid-market and enterprise grade companies, this approach is best. It empowers your team to not just create, but innovate.
The third and final approach is a hybrid stack. This involves using a cross-channel marketing platform with select best-of-breed tools, depending on your needs. For small businesses and startups, this marketing strategy makes sense. Your team gets some specialization, with the flexibility to add to your stack as you grow.
At a minimum, you need to cover the major functions listed in the process above. But what’s the difference between a CRM, cross-channel, and marketing automation platform? And why do you need an ESP and an email production platform?
Next, I’ll zoom in on each of these pieces, and what they can do for your marketing efforts.
Cross-Channel Marketing Platform
What is a cross-channel marketing platform?
A cross-channel marketing platform is just what it sounds like! This type of platform orchestrates digital marketing across multiple channels. Some key features include central management, analytics, and automation tools.
Note: Cross-channel platforms may or may not support AMP for Email — an innovative technology that increases conversions by allowing users to take action directly from the inbox. So if you’d like to try AMP, make sure you check whether your platform supports it. Hint, Braze and Iterable both do!
What’s the benefit of using a cross-channel marketing platform?
In a word, simplicity. With a cross-channel platform, your team can use a centralized system for multiple functionalities. And each functionality is tightly integrated with the next.
The downside? As I touched on earlier, the functionalities provided by these platforms can be limited. Integrating so many tools requires compromise. So compared to a best-of-breed solution, the user experience may fall short.
The other consideration is your business model. By necessity, cross-channel platforms have a point of view. They’re organized around a philosophy about the customer journey, which influences:
- How data should be stored and presented;
- How functions interact with each other;
- And how customers and users should engage.
As a result, your team needs to adapt to the structure of the platform, instead of the platform supporting the structure of your business. That said, these platforms have a lot to offer. And you can always combine them with best-of-breed solutions, depending on your needs.
Typically, here’s what cross-channel platforms offer:
- Email marketing campaigns. For most brands, email is a key marketing channel. And these platforms can be used to deliver emails to a large audience on a regular basis. They may also offer segmentation and customization based on dynamic variables.
- Nurture messages. Nurturing customers is also key. Semi-customized messages automatically delivered to customers can help. These messages may follow a time or event-based trigger, like a website action, conversion, or status change. And they can be sent through a variety of channels, including email, text message, social media, and even voicemail.
- Forms. This is where all inbound marketing begins. The platform should offer a versatile tool for designing forms that capture prospect data. Then, that data is automatically sent to various systems for storing and action. Most platforms also include a decent landing page builder, which can help with lead generation too. Alternatively, you can look for a platform that integrates with an external landing page builder.
- Lead Tracking & Scoring. Here’s another key strength of cross-channel platforms. This type of integrated system excels at tracking customer behavior across multiple channels. Based on this data, leads can be scored on perceived intent and buying stage — a functionality not often found in standalone systems.
- Lead Management. What should you do with lower quality leads? Many cross-channel platforms offer a centralized “holding area” for leads that aren’t engaged enough to be passed on to the sales team. This provides better pipeline visibility on future revenue.
- Media Management. Every year, it seems there’s a new social media platform. To address the large and ever-expanding number of social channels, most cross-channel platforms offer a central “control panel”. This can be used to distribute content across major social media sites, like LinkedIn and Twitter.
- Integrations. Even cross-channel platforms need integrations. At a minimum, these platforms integrate with a company’s website. Often, they’ll integrate with best-of-breed solutions too. The concern with integrations is to keep things lean. Custom fields, data flows, and automations can lead to bloat, so it’s important to choose your integrations with care.
Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Software
What is customer relationship management (CRM) software?
Again, CRM software is aptly named! This type of platform manages your brand’s relationships with current and potential customers. Some key features include helping you stay connected to customers, providing visibility into the sales pipeline, and of course, capturing leads.
P.S. Think of a CRM as a sales tool, while a cross-channel platform includes marketing functionalities.
What are the benefits of customer relationship management (CRM) software?
CRMs provide a single source of truth for all your customer data. As you grow, this becomes increasingly important. When an account has to pass through marketing, sales, and customer success teams, it’s crucial everyone has access to the same information.
Most CRMs will provide the following key features:
- Lead Capture. Leads come in from a variety of sources. Some common ones include form fills, social media messages, conferences, and more. CRMs allow you to store all that information in a standardized, categorized, and easily searchable format. For extra efficiency, you can grant appropriate team members direct access to all this info.
- Customer Conversation Records. Beyond contact information, it’s essential to keep track of actions, interactions, and conversations. These records provide context for future communications with customers, especially if a long time goes by between messages. After all, referencing previous conversations is a great way to personalize a message. And studies show people buy more from brands that provide a personalized experience.
- Sales Automation. Some sales tasks can be a bit repetitive. To save your sales team time, a full-featured CRM allows you to schedule emails, text messages, automatic responses, and reminders.
- Follow-up. Follow-ups can be time consuming. Especially, when your sales reps are handling dozens of prospects a day. CRMs can keep track of follow-up schedules. And prompt your salespeople to reach back out to prospects at regular intervals — a crucial step for building customer relationships.
Email Production Platform
What is an email production platform?
Email production platforms are all about (you guessed it!) production. Specifically, they focus on the email design and creation process. As highly specialized platforms, they provide a better user experience and advanced technical functionalities.
A key point to understand: These platforms don’t send emails. Rather, they integrate seamlessly with your existing ESP or cross-channel platform.
What are the benefits of an email production platform?
Email workflows are notoriously difficult. A good email production platform streamlines this process.
For example, Dyspatch makes design easy with its no-code drag and drop email builder. No need to spend days coding and designing an email. With Dyspatch, all you need is minutes.
Dyspatch also includes built-in commenting and approval workflows. No more sending PDFs over Slack or email and compiling feedback from multiple sources. Get feedback directly in Dyspatch and apply it all in one go.
And Dyspatch supports cutting edge technical features, like AMP for Email. To recap, AMP increases conversions by allowing users to take action from an email. For example, a subscriber could register for a webinar or book a meeting right from their inbox.
Now, not all email production platforms are made equal. But most include these core features:
- Modules and Templates. A set template can be restrictive, while modules alone can require too much formatting. A good email production platform will leverage both. For flexibility and efficiency, most of these platforms use templates built from reusable modules.
- Drag and Drop Builder. Development time is expensive, and wrangling HTML is not the best use of that time. By offering no-code email building options, your production platform can free up your developers to focus on other projects. And speed up time to market too.
- Custom Elements. While no-code functionality is important, some campaigns may require custom elements. Your email production platform should support the creation of custom modules for more complex designs.
- Review and Approval Features. Review and approval is often one of the most time consuming steps in the email production workflow. An effective email production platform should have built-in support for comments and approvals to streamline the process.
- ESP Integration. Your email production platform should integrate with your ESP. That way, you can easily transfer your approved email designs to your ESP or cross-channel platform.
Email Service Provider (ESP)
What is an email service provider (ESP)?
An ESP takes care of the actual sending part. This type of service allows you to send mass emails through their proprietary servers. By adhering to best practices and monitoring these servers, ESPs optimize for deliverability.
Note: Some ESPs also offer basic cross-channel and design functionalities. But these are secondary value propositions. In other words, not best-of-breed solutions.
What are the benefits of an email service provider (ESP)?
It’s worth repeating: deliverability. By using an ESP, you can send a large volume of emails, securely and quickly. And you get peace of mind knowing ESPs are compliant with email regulations.
Here’s a closer look at the benefits of ESPs:
- Email Deliverability. Unless you really know what you’re doing, sending bulk emails from your own email client or server will be flagged as suspicious activity. This could get your domain blacklisted as a spammer by major Internet Service Providers (ISPs). That’s where ESPs come in. ESP servers can send large volumes of email without setting off spam filters. And if anything does go wrong, your domain won’t be blacklisted.
- Regulatory Compliance. Email marketing is heavily regulated worldwide. So it’s important to make sure your emails are compliant with the US CAN-SPAM Act, the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the Canadian Anti-Spam Law (CASL), and other international frameworks. ESPs take this off your plate. They ensure emails adhere to legal best practices in all relevant international jurisdictions.
- List Management. Many ESPs include a form builder tool. You can use this tool to add compliant email signup forms to your website. When a person subscribes, they’re automatically added to your email list. Easy!
- Personalization. ESPs allow you to personalize your emails in various ways. Basic examples include dynamic fields for a subscriber’s name, company, and title. Plus, most ESPs allow you to segment subscribers by source, behavior, and campaign activity, like opens and clicks. Then, you can send targeted, relevant emails to each segment.
- Tracking and Reporting. ESPs are master trackers. They can tell you everything from who’s opening and clicking on your emails, what type of campaign gets a good response rate, and which segments respond best to specific emails. Simply put, you can see what’s working and what isn’t.
Email Testing Service
What is an email testing service?
Testing, testing, one, two, three! Email testing services allow you to preview your template across a wide variety of clients, devices, and operating systems. It’s worth noting, these services often integrate with your email production platform or ESP.
Fun fact: Dyspatch automatically integrates with Litmus. So you can ensure compatibility on any device and in every inbox.
What are the benefits of an email testing service?
Consider this: 60% of subscribers will ignore or delete an email that’s difficult to read.
And if you don’t test an email, how do you know if it’s easy to read? Or whether it renders well on all devices? Or simply, provides a good customer experience? An email testing service can help answer these questions and more.
Here’s a breakdown of common email testing features:
- Content Check. Don’t leave anything to chance. Content checks allow you to see exactly what your email will look like sitting in the inbox, across email clients and devices. Some services also validate images, links, and even check messaging.
- Accessibility Tool. Make sure you’re communicating with all your subscribers. An accessibility tool validates your email against guidelines and helps you fix any errors. This type of tool will also scan your email HTML and adjust the code for accessibility, as needed.
- Deliverability. Feel confident every time you hit send. Deliverability functions help ensure your emails always reach your subscribers inbox. How? By verifying your email passes spam traps and checking your domain is clean. There are also standalone tools you can use to verify a mailbox exists before you hit send.
- Email Previews. An email is only as good as it looks on all clients and devices. Preview features allow you to see exactly what your subscribers see in real-time — whether they’re on Gmail or Outlook, mobile or desktop, or even dark mode.
Ready to build your email marketing tech stack?
There you have it! The building blocks of a successful email program.
Stack them wisely, and you’ll be well on your way to streamlining your marketing operations.
Don’t be afraid to experiment with hybrid and best-of-breed approaches either. Remember, a flexible stack comes with specialized functionality.
Dyspatch is the perfect example. With our no-code email builder, frictionless approval workflows, and integrated Litmus testing, Dyspatch can help your team focus less time on implementation and more time on innovation and growth.