Tech & Marketing Services Don't Mix

By Matt Spiegel, CEO
Appeared In iMedia Connection

The world of digital marketing and media, one that requires both strong marketing strategy and equally strong technology tools, has seen the line blurred between marketing services providers and technology developers. However, there is a fundamental difference, even if some companies that fit into one category try to play on both sides of the aisle.

At the core of any individual business unit (be it a stand-alone entity or a division/subsidiary of a larger organization) is that company's DNA. This DNA dictates everything from business strategy, to product offerings, to personalities of those who work for it and more. Most importantly, this DNA dictates whether that particular business unit is a technology developer or a marketing strategy and services provider. At its core, no company is or can be both.

So what? Does this really matter? The answer is absolutely. It is of particular importance to marketers as they select vendors and partners to manage their marketing and media programs. If you need one and get the other, you will soon be searching for a new partner.

Let's start with technology providers. Typically, power in these companies sits with the software engineers: the key resource and knowledge base at the core of any technology company. Anyone that has experience building technology knows that once you start, you never stop. After all, that's the point. If you are a provider of technology and your tool doesn't evolve, improve and innovate, it will be left behind by a competitor's tool that has. As time goes on, your technology product becomes larger, with more parts, requires more hardware, and more people to manage it, to develop it, and so on. This reality mandates (at least if the company wants to be profitable) that all energy is focused on driving revenue through this product. This is where the line begins to blur.

At this point, technology companies (especially in the digital marketing world) realize that most people don't know how to use their technology, at least not to its full potential. So begins the birth of account management teams, and marketing services groups spawned to increase the demand and use of the technology. In and of itself, this is not only smart business strategy, but necessary as it is rare to select a technology for which you won't need support. However, here is where the line not only blurs, but can cease to exist.

Seeing the potential revenue streams from "marketing/agency services," some technology developers latch on to the idea that they can do it all; thinking and promoting that they are capable of providing best-of-breed technology and best-of-breed marketing services. Although their DNA suggests otherwise, some marketers, wowed by the potential of the technology tool, take the leap.

It is important to note that, for a limited set of marketers, this is a great decision. In this group are companies with internally strong marketing leadership, and even more important, internal expertise and experience with that particular marketing/media solution. For marketers that truly know what they want done, and how to get it done, but don't want to have to do it, a technology partner that provides agency-like services is a great solution. This solution provides the control these marketers want and the access to the resources they need.

A word of caution: The majority of marketers, especially in the area of digital marketing and media, don't have the expertise or experience in-house to make this solution highly successful. These companies need detailed assistance in making and setting strategic marketing decisions for which technology tools will, and can only, help execute.

Looking at the other side of the aisle, there are far fewer examples of marketing services companies that also seek to be developers of technology solutions. It's truly rare to find success stories of companies with their DNA in marketing services building technology. They are, however, capable of selecting technology providers, as this does fit within their DNA. Selecting and managing technology partners on behalf of their clients are part of providing the full scope of marketing services. Especially when technology (and, in most cases, multiple technology tools) are needed to add efficiency, create automation, and overall, power, digital marketing solutions. By failing to properly use all technology tools at its disposal, a marketing services firm provides no more of the complete solution than a technology company offering "strategic" marketing direction.

On that note, how many technology companies are willing to admit the holes in their technology and, when necessary, bring a second, or alternative, technology provider to the table? Within marketing services companies, there is no conflict if an additional or a different set of tools are needed. In fact, they have incentive to make that recommendation.

The key, as a marketer, is to know what you really need. Understand the difference in the companies you review. Know that, at its core, each company has its DNA, and that, try as it might, a leopard can't change its spots nor can it become a lion or a tiger. Know that for digital marketing solutions, technology is the great enabler, but that, until artificial intelligence is perfected, technology will not replace the need (or value) in sound and detailed marketing strategy.


Copyright © 2008 Resolution Media, Inc. All rights reserved.