How the martech industry is evolving and where email marketing fits into it all: A conversation with martech expert Anita Brearton [Part One]

Martech industry veteran and CabinetM CEO Anita Brearton shares her insights on all the ways marketing technology platforms are evolving, where email solutions fit into the martech stack and what she's learned during the past year.

Anita Brearton has been part of the martech community since its start. In addition to being the co-founder and CEO of  the marketing technology management platform CabinetM, she is a highly sought after speaker, columnist for CMS Wire, and member of the Boston angel investor group Golden Seeds.

When people want the inside scoop on what’s happening in the martech industry, they ask Anita. That’s why we couldn’t be more excited that she took the time to answer our questions about the industry in an interview conducted over email by our SVP of Marketing Geoff Smith.

The conversation was so insightful that we had to split it into two parts. In today’s installment, Anita shares what she’s learned during the past year, how the martech industry is changing and where email solutions fit into it all.

Geoff Smith: Before we dig into current martech trends, how have you and your team managed all the challenges presented during the past year? Any lessons learned you can share? 

Anita Brearton: All in all, we’ve done really well as a team over the last year. We were used to working in a hybrid office/remote way so the transition to fully remote was painless. The two big challenges for us were team members contracting Covid which was really scary, and having our sales pipeline disappear at the beginning of the pandemic.

With regard to Covid impacting team members, we quickly adopted a “health first” approach to managing the company and made it clear that recovery was more important than any task on the to do list. Fortunately, everyone affected on our team eventually recovered – we count ourselves lucky.  This experience made us doubly cautious in lockdown and reinforced for us the importance of putting health first. It also showed us that we could do that without the company falling apart.

The second challenge took a lot longer to work through. Our business ended up essentially on hold for six months.  We understood that our prospects were struggling to adjust to working remotely, managing remotely while at the same time dealing with their children’s needs and educational requirements.  In recognition of this we made a conscious decision to not worry about revenue and to just offer whatever help we could to make their lives a little easier.

Our customers and prospects called on us for all sorts of things, but mostly to help them find the information and resources they needed to support their arguments for new technology or a change in strategy.  We used to joke that we were becoming the “Siri for martech”.  After six months, our pipeline came back to life and we realized that the work we’d done for our customers would have value to the industry as a whole.

In Q4 last year we launched a portal to “all things martech”, LibraryM, to make it easy to find information, data, and resources related to marketing technology.

Lessons learned: 1) We have a very engaged industry with a lot of people contributing their time to share their insights and data.  2) Ours is a collaborative industry, we are happy to have anyone work with us on LibraryM, but beyond that there are podcasts, panels, and community organizations working to help everyone be more successful. I can’t imagine being in any other industry!

GS: How did you come to be part of the martech industry? 

AB: I’ve been in marketing my entire career (long before there was a martech industry).  Prior to founding CabinetM, I was the interim CEO of an eCommerce startup. While there, I received a crash course on how martech impacts revenue growth and cost of customer acquisition.  As I left that job, the martech industry was exploding and I thought that there would be value in helping companies find the technology they need.

We spent nine months doing market validation and heard from companies big and small that though finding technology was hard, managing the technology they had was virtually impossible. Solving that problem became the genesis of the CabinetM platform.  Today, the CabinetM platform makes it easy for companies to manage all the details related to the technology they use to acquire, engage, and retain customers.  Our customers are typically managing 50 – 250 products and need to report on utilization, performance, ROI, and spend.  For small businesses using 25 or fewer products we offer a free less-featured version of the platform.

GS: CabinetM’s directory includes six different email marketing technology categories. I’m curious what you’ve seen as far as how marketing operations teams are leveraging these technologies and where they fit into the overall martech stack. 

AB: I’m actually surprised that we don’t have more for email marketing categories — it amazes me all the purpose-built technology available to help users create, optimize, send, and assess email marketing programs.  It’s not unusual to see products from each of these categories included in martech stacks, though you may be surprised to know that it is also not unusual for companies to be using more than one product within each category.  We’ve seen stacks with as many as six email marketing platforms.

As we look across stacks, we see that virtually everyone has Google Analytics in their stack along with a collection of social media channels and supporting products.  They also have some sort of marketing automation platform (small companies often use their email platform in this capacity) and a CRM.

Large companies almost always have a Digital Asset Management system, and increasingly some variant of a Customer Data Platform (CDP).  Once you get past that, stacks quickly turn into snowflakes — each one different than the next.  We have a database of 15,000 products that our users can drag and drop into their stacks but invariably, every time we sign a new customer, they ask us to add 10-20 products to the database that we don’t have.

GS: What are your thoughts on how martech will evolve over the coming years? What are the biggest trends you see taking shape right now?

AB: The martech landscape will continue to grow in number of products, not because of new additions but rather due to the fact that we haven’t yet uncovered all the products that currently exist.  At CabinetM we track new product announcements, and to maintain our database, the number of companies that close in any given year.  Off the top of my head, I’d say those numbers are currently about equal.

Companies that tend to close are those in crowded spaces or whose functionality is more a feature than worthy of purchasing a full product. The big players in this industry: Adobe, Oracle, IBM for example, are all acquisitive — we’ll continue to see them build out their product portfolios through acquisition.  One of the things that’s really exciting about being in the martech industry is that as long as human behavior keeps changing (driven by new ways to communicate or our general environment), there will always be fuel for innovation.

Be sure to read the part two of our interview with Anita where she digs into the challenges of managing and implementing your full martech stack, which teams own martech versus the ones managing it and what she’s most looking forward to in a post-COVID world.