Blog Insight

The Top 5 Martech Lessons from 2018 and What They Mean Now

It was an interesting year in marketing and technology (martech). The transformation buzz kept moving and started to evolve a few new terms over time. But that’s not all of it. While trends come and go, there were some notable lessons in 2018 that speak very pointedly to the future of our industry. Here are my top five lessons, with a few predictions for 2019 thrown in.

1. Here comes the government! No matter which side of the aisle you sit on—red or blue, or whatever—governments have arrived in digital. With the repeal of net neutrality, the attempt to face down Facebook, and numerous postbreach, stop-sign-after-the-accident types of congressional hearings, the United States government is watching what we do in marketing technology. And again, no matter which side of the aisle you sit on, after listening to the declarations on Capitol Hill on any number of topics, you wonder if Congress possesses the competence or basic understanding of what its members are inquiring about. Pundits and politicians here in the US have gotten serious issues seriously wrong during 2018, and they don’t seem to understand privacy, encryption, or appropriate uses of email and social media or the internet in general. Conversely, the European Union set the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) standard for privacy protection, rolled it out, explained it, and got everyone’s attention. Prediction: Look for more episodes of Abbott and Costello Meet Mark Zuckerberg, while across the Pond, the EU will prosecute—without passion or prejudice—anyone who doesn’t toe the line.

2. Vertical integration continues for the big players. Adobe and Salesforce.com continue to add pieces to their portfolios. Adobe acquired Marketo and Magento to shore up its offerings and create an end-to-end experience that extends from marketing automation through experience management and all the way to the cart. The choice of Magento’s open-source technology was a little bit of a head scratcher, but the end-to-end part was an easy read. Salesforce kept busy after its ExactTarget and Pardot plays from the last two years by buying MuleSoft, a key player in connecting systems through services, as Salesforce burrows deeper into the marketing technology stack. But you can see how this is all centering on personalized digital experiences: more data integrated with better, more personalized experiences that drive sales. Let’s save the IBM–Red Hat megadeal for another time (cue Krusty the Clown crying and yelling, “Ahhhhaaaa! They drove a dump truck full of money up to our front door; we’re not made of stone!”), as well as the swirling rumors about Oracle’s potential play on Salesforce.com. Prediction: Look for Salesforce to make an experience management play, like Sitecore, to round its portfolio to an Adobe level (yes, I know the tech stacks don’t match, but Magento, dude. Magento!). And if Oracle buys Salesforce, that’s a hammerlock on marketing automation that will leave smaller players like HubSpot to either dominate the small- and medium-sized business (SMB) market or look for a suitor of their own.

3. Blockchain is rising above the cryptocurrency din. With Bitcoin and crypto-scams dominating the landscape, the technology that makes cryptocurrency possible has been quietly asserting itself with real business value. It has been working behind the scenes in very pragmatic use cases like making food more traceable, it has penetrated the advertising world to prevent click fraud, and now it is being used to develop new forms of use cases every day. The largest consultancies, banks, and retail enterprises are now heads down developing new use cases for Blockchain. Prediction: Blockchain is here to stay and will start to become part of applications in daily life. But you knew that! Cryptocurrency will hang around, in some form, and evolve into a more final form (maybe not this year), but again, that doesn’t even begin to tap the potential for how Blockchain will drive change in the enterprise.

4. Transformation is about people first. This one is less of a trend and more of a lesson. The first step in transformation is always serving your customers and constituents first, and then the business. But the lesson inside the business is that transformation is about people. In working with clients throughout the year and plotting processes, platforms, and technologies impacted by digital transformations, things have gotten personal. I have seen reactions in our workshops as clients grapple with the fundamental changes necessary to achieve progress. I have seen people who are stunned, excited, cathartic, and indignant. People always want to know how transformation impacts their daily jobs and how they can participate. This has meant getting under the hood of why people do what they do. During one session, an analyst was describing her process, and her boss turned to her and said, “I had no idea you were doing that every day!” To be successful, people need to see themselves in the transformation. It always comes around to the same place: the cross-department teams need to see transformation in the same mind’s eye at the end of the day so they are motivated to be part of the movement. The key to getting people on board is to help them feel involved and heard, let them know that their pain is understood, and show them how they can contribute to future success. People remain the linchpin in the success or failure of any transformation effort, whether it be process or platform driven. Without people, it’s just new software, a new flowchart, a new failure. Prediction: Those transformers who pick up on this will be the ones who drive the biggest success. If you have a story where this is not the case, please write in and tell us, “Hey—we didn’t need anybody on our team to give a rip, and it still worked.” We will publish it here, but we will, of course, need to see metrics.

5. Fun with data continues. Between visualizing it, explaining it, analyzing it, automating it, collecting it, displaying it, using it as proof, and providing it to customers, whatever it is, data is not the new oil; it’s the new oxygen—and it’s no longer “big data”; it’s just data. All of the cool stuff you can do with artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, new visualization tools, and, of course, customer experiences is all dependent on being able to collect, process, and automate the transformation of data. For the past two years, the emphasis has been on “it’s too much; how do I find that one thing that tells me what I need to do next?” Shocked but somehow not surprised at the level of things we can do with data, we are finding new ways to pull in giant payloads of data that no one ever thought about before to see if there is value that can be created. The lesson is that there is a scarcity of hypotheses and use cases that are actionable for adding value to a customer or to the bottom line of the business from all this data. Prediction: As companies like Amazon.com start to open up training on their machine learning platform for free, these tools will become more and more ubiquitous with a high new value placed on asking the right questions as a skill set.

Sure, there is a ton more we could include, but these 2018 lessons are driving change in a big way. If you would like to challenge any of these observations, lessons, or predictions, we would love to hear from you! With gratitude to our clients and to the smart people on the GLG team, I hope you crushed all your 2018 goals and are already on your way to a fabulous 2019!