A strong central stack of technology begins with the CMO

There has been an explosion in both consumer technology and marketing technology over the past decade. The simultaneity of those growth spurts is far from coincidental as consumers adopt new behaviors through new platforms and devices, brands require new technologies to keep pace.

For the chief marketing officer (CMO), that creates unprecedented opportunity, but it also creates a highly complex landscape. The importance of navigating this landscape successfully has never been higher, either. A Walker study predicts that “by 2020, customer experience will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator.”

Marketing technology now takes up 29 percent of the average CMO’s budget, according to Gartner. That places it top of the list, followed by labor, paid media and agency fees.

As the technology stack grows, so too do the stakes for the CMO as higher spending on technology increases the performance imperative, after all. Increased investment is important, but it does not necessarily address the challenge.

To navigate this martech ecosystem and deliver on the potential of our data-rich age, CMOs must keep a clear view of their central stack of best-in-class, enterprise technologies.

The importance of the central tech stack

The constant addition of new vendors to a technology stack can cause CMOs to lose sight of the core purpose of their data strategy. As a result, it is vital to select one best-in-class enterprise-grade technology for each area of activity across the customer journey.

Typically, these categories will include:

  • Organic search
  • Content marketing;
  • Paid media management;
  • Social media advertising;
  • Decision automation;
  • Business/customer intelligence;
  • Optimization and personalization;
  • Customer data platforms;
  • Project management.

There are too many options within each area to trial and evaluate each through experience, so CMOs need an evaluation process that can narrow the field.

First of all, it is advisable to map these technologies to core business objectives and articulate how they contribute to meeting these goals. This brings with it some benefits, as the CMO can closely monitor the effectiveness of these technologies and prove their worth. The significance of accountability has never been higher, especially with the very sizeable marketing technology investments most brands make today.

Moreover, homing in on these objectives helps marketers to position the customer at the center of their strategy. The concept of experience planning should come to the fore here, by using customer insights to map out the structure required for an optimal central tech stack.

The addition of multiple tools to the marketing ecosystem – has meant CMO’s getting increasingly frustrated with that chaos caused by the data silos, inaccuracy and inoperability of point solutions.

CMO’s are now homing in on platforms that will play host to a number of functions and can form a base upon which other features can be added. Often, marketing technology platforms today will employ machine learning algorithms to derive new insights from customer data. These real-time insights can then be used to inform decisions throughout the customer journey.  As a result, these platforms hold a business-critical role.

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With this in mind, CMOs next require a framework through which to assess the value of each component platform to their overarching marketing strategy.

Durability, utility and delight

There are simple architectural principles that can be applied to the foundations of a martech stack. After all, the purpose is to build a framework that can adapt over time while maintaining its structural integrity, quality of data, security and compliance.

Vitruvius, the Roman architect who rose to prominence in the 1st century BC, wrote that good architecture depends on the following three factors:

  • Durability (Firmatis);
  • Utility (Utilitas);
  • Delight (Venustatis).

The CMO can readily adapt these principles to inform the creation of a martech stack, by posing these questions.


  • Will this technology contribute to our long-term business objectives?
  • Can we imagine building a lasting relationship with this vendor as a business partner? (More tips on addressing these questions are contained in this post.)
  • Will this technology still be useful in two years based on upcoming consumer trends?
  • Does this technology platform have the agility and operativity and is unified to save time, costs and inefficiencies attributed to low-end point solution tools?
  • Does this technology integrate with a range of other vendor partners?

This concept of durability is particularly pivotal when creating the central tech stack. Of course, change is the one reliable constant when it comes to consumer behaviors, making it doubly important to have adaptable platforms at the heart of the martech infrastructure.

By answering these questions, CMOs can arrive at decisions that shape the next few years with a dependable core of platforms, complemented by the ever-changing array of tools that form the outer circles of the ecosystem.


  • Does this platform surface useful real-time insights automatically?
  • Which one purpose does this platform fulfill that we would be worse off without?
  • Will this platform be used by multiple stakeholders across and enterprise?
  • Does it integrate with the other platforms in the central stack?
  • Can a range of departments within the business access and use this technology?
  • What is the measurable impact of using this technology? Can we demonstrate its ROI?

Put simply, the technology must be excellent at what it does, easy to use, and accessible for a range of different teams within the company. These questions will help to define precisely why this platform has been chosen over the many alternatives out there. In a sentence, the CMO should be able to pinpoint its core purpose.


  • Will this platform contribute to a strategy that exceeds customer expectations?
  • Does this technology use machine learning to uncover new insights about our audience?
  • Does the platform automate time-consuming tasks and allow scale?
  • Can marketers spend extended periods on the platform?
  • Will the technology contribute meaningfully to the data architecture we are building?

The notion of delight may not come naturally to most martech stack discussions, especially as we are dealing with the cold currency of data. However, all of these technologies are working towards better consumer understanding by delving into human behaviors. Broad ‘personas’ will no longer cut it when we want to deliver personalized content at scale.

The central platforms should do the heavy/smart lifting, enabling customer experiences that tie the audience to the brand in new ways. This emotional impact may not be as measurable as some other areas of marketing, but it is no less valuable for that.

Bringing it together

Undoubtedly, many entries to the Stackies could meet the “Delight” criterion based on their sheer aesthetic appeal, but this complexity should only arise in the pursuit of a more meaningful objective.

It is in the fusion of durability, usability and delight that a central stack can be defined as fit for purpose.

The image below shows the evolution of the Cisco tech stack from 2017 to 2018:

Here we see the increased prominence of the central data infrastructure, positioned under the customer in this visualization. This central stack can then inform the outer circles of the customer journey, from “I’m aware” through to “I renew.”  By creating a durable suite of platforms to feed the strategy across the customer lifecycle, the CMO earns a clearer view of what is working and what is not. The complementary tools can be rotated while maintaining a consistent core of data-driven insights.

Another approach to this challenge is highlighted below, with the process of decision-making integrated into the stack:

Source: Jason Heller, McKinsey, MarTech conference

This is an effective way to add the dynamism of decision-making into the central tech stack, fed by the core platforms that are responsible for data management across a range of marketing activities.


As with any architecture, the foundations of this structure are essential for future success. The stack will not stand up to the test of time if the CMO does not follow a rigorous selection process to align platforms with business objectives. Equally, the business must know when to jettison technologies when they are up for re-evaluation. This ecosystem is in constant flux, so these assessments should be built into the annual technology roadmap. What works today will not necessarily work in six- or twelve months’ time.

As technology advances at breakneck speed, the importance of human decision-making only increases. CMOs with the technological nous and the strategic foresight to build a durable, effective stack that fulfills customer expectations will hold the keys to the future of this industry.