Marketing technology is growing up fast.

From its infancy in direct mail to email and desktop web-based adolescence, all the way through to an adulthood of mobile, social, and programmatic ad buying, the first three decades of marketing tech’s life have passed in a blur.

But we all know life begins at 30, so one thing we can be certain about as we look to the future is that the development of marketing technology doesn’t stop here.

The methods and channels customers use to interact with brands are continually evolving and the rapid development of systems and technologies means new possibilities open up virtually overnight. 

The traditional waterfall approach to technology planning – where business requirements and technical capabilities were understood in advance – is no longer effective in this highly dynamic situation.

Marketers now need a future-proof system that can adapt to the next generation of marketing tech and ride the wave of innovation, whichever direction it takes them. 

So what does a future-proof system look like and what do marketers need to know now to prepare for the next stage in the marketing technology lifecycle? 

1. Make flexibility the number one priority 

The key to a future-proof marketing system is the flexibility to accommodate unanticipated new technologies and requirements.

This requires an extensible modular framework where components can be replaced or added without restructuring the entire system. 

By creating this type of flexible architecture, marketers benefit from greater marketing agility as they can quickly adopt new techniques.

They also enjoy better integration with data shared between systems providing a seamless customer experience, and reduced costs as new technologies can be deployed without expensive changes to the existing system. 

2. Centralise all sources of consumer data 

While the technologies that make up a future-proof marketing system will be upgraded and supplemented, the core functionalities that it must support will remain constant.

The most important of these is the unification of customer data from disparate sources, enabling any type of query or extraction to access that data. 

This includes connection with customer-facing systems that aren’t owned by the organisation such as social networks, which can provide valuable user information.

Selecting the right tools to aggregate and analyse customer data is a vital part of building a future-proof marketing system. 

3. Employ enhanced connectivity for instant data transfer 

Other functionalities a flexible system must be able to support include marketing management tasks such as planning, budgeting, content creation and access, and results analysis.

These individual tasks may all be performed by different technologies. 

The system must be capable of analysing data from multiple systems to select the best customer treatments.  

Furthermore it must allow instant transfer of data to enable real-time actions to be triggered using information about the customer’s immediate situation.             

4. View technology acquisition as an on-going process 

A future-proof marketing technology system is distinct from a more traditional system in a number of ways. 

Its architecture is built on the goal of flexibility rather than specific marketing programs, and all components of the system meet general compatibility criteria including integration standards.

The system is created with the assumption that components will be continually changed in line with technological developments and evolving marketing needs. 

This means technology acquisition is an on-going process rather than a project with a start and end date.  

Because future-proof systems use standard interfaces, marketers have a far wider choice of individual solutions and can select the best technology for each task, including independent minor components to complement major components. 

5. Align the organisation around a flexible philosophy

While a flexible system is crucial to future-proof marketing, it can only be effective if the organisation itself is equally flexible.

A change-oriented mind-set – where continuous reinvention is expected and welcomed – is essential, as is an approach where every technological component is evaluated based on its ability to integrate. 

Organisations must develop a consistent measurement framework for assessing business outcomes if they want to interchange individual components without disrupting the whole system. 

Businesses need to focus less on hiring experts in specific systems and more on developing general analytical and technical skills.

They also need to promote inter-department co-operation as systems of the future will be centred on the customer rather than the department.    

Six steps to future-proof marketing tech 

So to recap, organisations must take the following steps to make the most of evolving technologies: 

  • Adopt a modular system with standard interfaces where components can be swapped or added with minimal disruption. 
  • Integrate a customer data platform (CDP) to centralise all sources of consumer data. 
  • Accept technology procurement will be continual process.  
  • Promote a company mind-set that views change as positive and beneficial. 
  • Focus on analytical and technical skills in marketer recruitment and training. 
  • Ensure a feedback loop is in place; analyse and quantify financial impact of investment.

We may feel marketing technology has already come of age but it is only just beginning to mature – and there are endless unpredictable life changes ahead. 

To take full advantage of the technological developments in store, marketers must build future-proof systems with interchangeable components that allow the aggregation, analysis, and transmission of customer data, as well as aligning their organisations around this flexible philosophy.