Martech culture clash – why cultural attitudes may determine success or failure of your tech stack

Ever noticed that martech gets adopted quicker in the US than the UK? Ever wondered why? And what the implications might be? If so, read on...

Is marketing technology cultural? Or at least, is the adoption of it cultural? And are there different propensities to embrace or deploy it in different cultural and geographical locations? These questions, or variations on them, are ones that I’ve asked myself with increasing frequency over the past few years. And I’m beginning to believe that it is.

This whole line of thinking started a few years back at the B2B Marketing Awards, which (for the uninitiated) is a late night involving lots of networking, celebrations and alcohol. Not necessarily in that order. I was speaking to the marketing director/CMO of a global tech company who was on a high having won a couple of very hard-fought categories. He was celebrating with his team and agency, and I came over to congratulate them.

He told me that he had recently switched from running the EMEA team to a global role, based out of New York. “So how’s that going?” I asked. “It’s great,” he said, “but they are addicted to tech, and that makes the whole thing more difficult than it might be, because you become more focused on getting the best out of the tech, rather than getting the job done.”

I asked him if that was really very different to how he worked in EMEA for the same organisation? He said that it was, and this was both cause and consequence of the US marketing team having more martech at their disposal: because they have (or had) a bigger or more sophisticated tech stack, they spent more time trying to integrate it and get it to work. At the same time, because the EMEA team had less at its disposal, they made the best use of what they had, using a combination of manual processes and outsourcing to agencies. The result probably wasn’t pretty (from a process and operations point of view) and most likely quite clunky in many areas… but it worked. Not only that, but (it in this case at least) it won a couple of awards. I have subsequently heard this story, or variations thereof, validated by a number of other marketers in different organisations, which makes me believe that there must be some truth in it.

Martech vendors converge on the US

The question which naturally follows is ‘why’? Why are US B2B marketers more likely to invest faster in martech, and become more quickly reliant on it? Short of making sweeping generalisations about the propensity to be sold to in different cultures, or access to marketing budgets, the most logical explanation for this conundrum was simply due to the focus of the martech vendors. Most of them are based out of the US, therefore they are more likely to be focusing more of their efforts to sell within their own national borders first and foremost. “America first,” as someone recently put it.

Only once they have sufficient scale and penetration do they begin to focus outside the US in any meaningful way. This is an extremely logical approach, and we’ve seen it in the UK with all the leading martech vendors – Eloqua, LinkedIn, Marketo, DemandBase. And this was clarified to me by Jon Miller of Engagio, who explained this company’s expected expansion trajectory from their base in West Coast USA, which went first to the East Coast after being established, and EMEA further down the line.

How marketing silos impact on martech adoption

So that seems pretty straightforward – adoption is simply driven by the evolutionary journey of the martech firms in terms of their expansion. But this explanation masks many nuances, and some of these were highlighted to me in a conversation with Chris Bagnall and Ricky Abbott at specialist ABM agency Pulse recently. Their perspective was the faster and (apparently) more enthusiastic rate of adoption of martech is often due to how the marketing function is set up – particularly for large firms in the tech sector. Given the scale of the US as a territory, the marketing teams in such organisations are often large and siloed, with different units operating on specific remits and often (to different degrees) in isolation. This is quite different to UK or EMEA teams, which are typically smaller, with a less specific remit, and consequently a need to be more pragmatic in how they operate. They don’t have the option not to be.

In the context of martech adoption, there are pluses and minus to both set ups. For the smaller teams with a more discrete geographical or territorial remit (or large but undeveloped market) it can be more difficult to build a case to invest in technology due to lack of scale – hence the ‘just-muddle-through-with-what-we’ve-got’ approach, outlined at the top of this blog. In short, adoption is just slower.

Meanwhile, for the larger but more siloed teams, it can be easier to build a case to implement a platform for a particular function or activity, because there is greater scale to these activities and potentially greater benefits. However, the different marketing sub-teams are less likely to share experiences or thinking, and what emerges are islands of best practice with little or no alignment across the wider team. Ironically, tools which become isolated in this way are potentially more likely to be superseded by something else in due course, given the rapid turnover of martech, than to become fully embedded.

(On a more positive note, where it applies, this scenario suggests that the smaller and more integrated UK or EMEA team might be great ‘hothouse’ or testbed for martech applications, prior to rolling them out in within a larger marketing function – or across the entire department.)

Whilst Chris and Ricky at Pulse made no claims that this was anything other than an anecdotal example of a scenario that they had witnessed, it rings very true with me, and adds another layer of my understanding about how martech is being deployed in B2B organisations – successfully or otherwise.

To be clear, I’m not seeking to be judgemental in this blog! Just to understand how culture impacts on technology adoption. I’m not suggesting that either the US or UK ‘model’ (if you can call it that) is better or worse – only that it’s relevant to circumstances and typically driven by them. Neither am I suggesting that there is any problem acquiring or implementing multiple platforms providing the rationale for adoption is sound.

As surely most of us accept, simply ignoring the opportunities presented by technology is not an option for B2B marketers any more – if it ever was. Whether you’re in the UK, USA, EMEA or Timbuktu, the challenge is to make sensible investment decisions which deliver genuine benefits to both your marketing and wider business. But it does highlight the benefits of marketing teams (particularly those in different continents) working collaboratively to evaluate and understand technology, before proceeding with a full rollout, and this should save time, money and everyone’s patience!