Since the first Stackie competition at the 2016 MarTech® Conference, we (the martech community) have been treated to more than 150 incredible marketing stacks submitted by companies as far ranging as Airstream, Microsoft, Cisco, Black Rock, and so many more. The stacks have served as incredible educational tools, providing insight into how these organizations are run and how they manage and think about marketing technologies.
While many of these companies have generously shared their information, many more have not. I suspect that some marketers feel as if sharing their stacks may inadvertently reveal trade secrets, proprietary info, or some secret sauce about their operations. Or perhaps that management wouldn’t approve of such transparency. I totally get that.
In fact, after serving last year as a judge for the Stackies, I started a conversation internally about presenting Third Door Media’s stack as a way to share and contribute to the community. It felt awkward and uncomfortable for many of us. What would our sponsors think? Would we get inundated with sales calls from the rest of the marketing landscape? Would we look like amateurs?
Ultimately, we agreed that sharing our stack was the price to pay for being a part of this incredible martech community. In this post, I’ll not only reveal our marketing stack, I’ll outline the process we used to document and design it, along with some important lessons we learned along the way.
Some context about our organization may help you understand our stack: Third Door Media was founded in 2007. It’s an all virtual company with about 40 full-time employees and a handful of contractors. We produce two event series (The MarTech Conference and Search Marketing Expo), publish 3 editorial websites (MarketingLand, MarTech Today, and SearchEngineLand) and offer lead-generation services.
Part I: Build a list of technologies
Graphically representing a marketing technology stack is about much more than just flashy graphic design skills and creative thinking. The point of the exercise is to understand what you already have in place and to look ahead at your business goals, developing a roadmap for the future. What works? What doesn’t? Do all the tools connect and support marketing efforts, or are they presenting roadblocks?
The reality for us is that we didn’t deliberately build our stack from the ground up. It happened organically over a number of years. I suspect that’s true for many organizations (and, perhaps, a little embarrassing). As you’ll see, one of the useful outcomes of this exercise has been the realization and recognition of this fact — and the explicit need for better strategic thinking relating to marketing tools and technologies.
In any event, our first step was to catalog all the different tools being used across the organization. We created a shared spreadsheet and started documenting, and documenting, and documenting. Working with my Director of Marketing Operations, we noted for each technology the core use cases, which departments were involved, who owned each tool, and if it was free or paid. Halfway through, we started to realize that a lot of the tools had been retired or were not in use, so we added an active/inactive column.
Part II: Develop a set of categories and organize the list
As our list grew to more than 100 tools (yes, that’s… gulp… 2.5 per employee), it became clear we needed to add some categorization, which initially included amplification, analytics, events, marketing, and productivity tools. We added the final category, infrastructure, because of some recent work we’ve done to speed up all of our sites. It struck me that even tools like our caching plugin and WordPress needed a home in our stack.
But because I hadn’t seen many other stacks include infrastructure, I reached out to Scott Brinker to confirm that he agreed that including it was a good idea. His reply validated my thinking:
“The fact that many haven’t [included infrastructure] is a good example of the kind of ‘take it for granted’ blind spots we have across these stacks that truly have incredible depth and breadth when you start digging into them.”
Our final category list and descriptions looked like this:
- Amplification (tools that help us get our content out to readers, subscribers, customers, etc.)
- Analytics (tools that measure stuff)
- Events (tools that help us run our events like SMX and MarTech, as well as webinars)
- Infrastructure (web hosting, content management systems, and other underlying technologies)
- Marketing (marketing automation, URL shorteners, email optimization tools, etc.)
- Productivity (anything related to project management, QA, contracts, etc).
Part III: Arts and Crafts Time
Once we had the list, it was time to get our design on. We played around with a few different ideas, but given conference heritage, the answer seemed obvious… a convention center floor plan! And I thought… since we’ve run more shows at the San Jose Convention Center than any venue, why not that one?
So, without further ado, here’s the Third Door Media “Marketing Technology Stack” as of February 2019!
While analogies are useful, they are also ultimately limited. Each category here is represented as tracks, panels, or pavilions. The surrounding roads and concourses are our event brands SMX and MarTech, and our publications Search Engine Land, Marketing Land, MarTech Today, and Digital Marketing Depot.
It’s also worth noting (and obvious) that I didn’t include all 108 technologies on the floorplan. I’ll leave the super tiny logos to Scott and his annual marketing technology landscape.
First, it’s clear to me that small business marketing technology stacks are not inherently different than large organization ones. While it’s super fun (and surprisingly time-consuming!) to drop tiny logos onto a graphic, what’s important is that you are delivering a great user experience to your prospects, customers, and clientele. (And yes, we often note that running the MarTech Conference is like painting a bull’s eye on your chest when it comes to CX, design and customer service!)
The second lesson is that our stack (and yours, too!) will change…frequently. While there are a number of “core technologies” that drive the bulk of our marketing activities, it’s important to note and manage the constellation of complementary tools that our teams need to do their jobs. Every day it seems as if there are new tools with new capabilities to try. As an example, just last week we started testing a variety of email deliverability tools and some additional lead gen platforms. The reality is that a marketing technology stack is a living, breathing organism, not a static wall-chart or dry audit or assessment.
Finally, we learned that we need to be much more deliberate in thinking about how to connect the dots inside our organization. This exercise revealed both the strength of our stack and the weaknesses. But now that we have a visual representation, we can continue to discuss how we’ll use marketing technology to achieve our goals.
I hope my description has inspired you to consider creating your own Stackie. And if you do, share it with the marketing technology and operation clan by entering it in this year’s Stackie Awards.
There are no hard and fast rules on how to show your visualization. Illustrate your stack as a value chain, a technical architecture, a customer journey map, a process flow diagram, a market strategy, a capabilities matrix or any original view of how marketing technology is orchestrated in your organization.
Submit your stack before 11:59 pm Friday, Mar. 15 PST. Instead of charging an entry fee, the MarTech conference will donate $100 to non-profit organization Girls Who Code, up to a grand total of $10,000, for every valid Stackies submission.
There will also be a ceremony at MarTech in San Jose in April to celebrate everyone who participated — and award trophies to the five best entries.
So… what are you waiting for? There is still time to design (or update) your marketing tech stack and submit to win a Stackie!
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