Marketing technology. You’ve heard the term in presentations. You’ve seen it in industry news. It’s changing marketing forever. But you still may be left wondering, “What IS marketing technology?” In short: Marketing met IT and marketing technology is their offspring.

Let’s examine the corporate strategic landscape to understand what marketing technology is.


In the chart above, companies can divide departments and organization units into roughly two kinds: internally-facing and externally-facing/customer-facing. This is the visibility spectrum on the vertical axis. Companies can also divide departments and organization units into how they manage risk: reduction of risk (low risk) or pursuit of risk (high risk). This is the risk spectrum on the horizontal axis. Companies generally seek to reduce risk over time and provide services to customers that generate revenue.

Information technology (IT) began its life in the bottom left quadrant. IT is a cost center for most companies. IT costs companies money, and its function is to provide capabilities internally to users, from desktop computers to cloud services to security. IT’s mandate is to keep things from going wrong: secure, reliable computing.

Marketing began its life in the bottom right quadrant. Marketing helped to make products appealing; marketing communicated with the outside world only infrequently and usually through advertising and public relations. Marketing’s mandate is to help the sales team sell more stuff.

As the digital, mobile, and social age marched on, savvy marketers realized that IT held the keys to more effective communication. Technology could help marketing scale, reach more people than ever before, and perhaps even reduce costs. The most clever marketers and IT professionals teamed up and, with executive buy-in, took risk. They moved IT from a cost center to an investment center by pairing it with marketing, and by moving marketing and IT from internally-facing roles to an externally-facing role.

What is marketing technology? It’s a fundamental shift in how marketers and technology professionals do their work. Instead of focusing solely on reducing risk inside the company, marketing technology professionals focus on taking strategic risks. Marketing technologists build customer-facing platforms, innovate technologies for customers, and communicate directly with customers over social, mobile, and digital channels.

While marketing technology is still in its infancy, savvy marketing technologists are already planning the next phase of the profession. In the above chart, note the second arrow moving from an investment center to a service center. Marketing technology will eventually build and codify standards, best practices, and “fully baked” recipes that focus on scale rather than risk-taking. This is what marketing technology thought leader Scott Brinker first outlined in 2015, the marketing technology paradox:


We are making this transition today, as a profession. When we answer “what is marketing technology?” in a year, two years, or five years, we may have very different answers than today as our profession matures. For today, marketing technology is about helping companies innovate and build new, more effective, more profitable ways of communicating with customers and leveraging the massive investments already made in IT.

Want to know more? Start by finding out where PR fits in the Marketing Technology stack. Afterwards, head on over to Scott Brinker’s to see a comprehensive infographic showing the key areas of marketing tech practice.

Keep in Touch

Want fresh perspective on communications trends & strategy? Sign up for the SHIFT/ahead newsletter.

Ready to shift ahead?

Let's talk