Marketing Tools and Software: How to Choose the Best One for You

A hand holding a phone with icons showing the different types of digital touchpoints in a journey. This represents the different marketing software and tools needed.
A hand holding a phone with icons showing the different types of digital touchpoints in a journey. This represents the different marketing software and tools needed.

In an ideal world, marketers would have all the budget they need to invest in marketing software and tools, but in reality, budget restrictions force us to prioritise decision making.

Without having a ‘trade-off checklist’ in mind, you run the risk of putting all your eggs in the wrong basket. So to ensure this doesn’t happen, we’ve put together a list of considerations for marketing pros to bear in mind before deciding on the most appropriate marketing software. But before we discuss what that trade-off checklist looks like, let’s first align on what exactly we mean by marketing software…

What are marketing tools and software?

Marketing software refers to a variety of tools and platforms that help businesses achieve goals or objectives by enabling them to successfully plan, implement, analyze and measure their marketing strategy efforts. The combination of marketing tools is also known as the “marketing technology stack”, or MarTech for short.

Regardless of whether you work for a global brand or a small business, all companies can benefit from marketing tools. In fact, according to Gartner’s 2019 CMO spend survey, on average a quarter of the entire marketing budget is dedicated to this - most likely due to the wide range of benefits software and marketing automation brings, including:

  1. Efficiency
  2. Increased ROI and average deal value
  3. Improved marketing accountability
  4. Less repetition, more creativity
  5. Improved customer experience
  6. Increased customer lifetime value

With advantages like the above, it’s no wonder the marketing software market is valued at a whopping $121.5bn (£96.6bn)! But investing in tools is one thing and having them work for you is another. Read on and find out how marketing leaders can ensure they’re on the right decision-making path.

What are the different types of marketing software out there?

The proliferation of the MarTech category over the past 10 years is astounding. Unsurprisingly, when it comes to purchasing marketing tools, 50% of professionals said their biggest frustration is the volume of solutions in the market. We don’t blame them either, just take a look at the below diagram from Chiefmartec to get an indication of just how many players have entered the space!

Diagram showing the proliferation of the martech category over the past 10 years

CRM

We’ll start with one of the most important marketing tools, the Customer Relationship Management solution (CRM). This cross-departmental, team-agnostic platform is the heartbeat of your company. All customer data, from demographics to transactions, live in the CRM. Every company has one in some form or another. Some use a simple spreadsheet to keep track of their sales and marketing information (although we wouldn’t advise this), others use sophisticated enterprise-level software. Regardless of what system you use, your CRM is the place to go if you have a question about your prospects or customers, or simply want to keep on top of critical marketing information.

Whatever CRM vendor you choose, it’s imperative that you make the choice and stick with it since migrating customer, prospect, sales and marketing information to another system can be a logistical nightmare!

Website & Mobile Analytics

Web & mobile analytics platforms inform the understanding of user behaviour across web pages and mobile apps. Hotjar, Google Analytics, Adobe Analytics, and Wister are examples of web and mobile analytic tools that help companies gather information on the micro-moments that matter to audiences. They do this by analysing audience data and behaviour such as:

  • How many people are coming to your site
  • How they found your site (organic, referral, paid)
  • How often are they coming to your site (single vs multi-session users)
  • Most popular pages (traffic volume, time spent on page)
  • Where your audience moves to as they navigate from page to page
  • Which pages cause your audience to bounce and leave your site
  • How many, and which, brand touchpoints take place before a conversion
  • Which devices, networks, and operating systems are used to access an app 

Content tools

On the content marketing side of things, our top three comparable companies to start with are Contently, Kapost, and NewsCred. Tools like these can help with content marketing curation, workflow and guest blogging, as well as measuring exactly what kind of content your readers prefer and how they like to consume it. By arming yourself with such insights, your content marketing strategy and marketing campaigns are much more likely to perform.

A man sitting at his desk working on his laptop.

SEO

SEO software is a bit more consolidated, with a few majors players in the market including Moz, SEMrush, and Raven Tools. All three tools either have a free trial or a free version to prove the concept before you spend your company’s hard-earned marketing budget. They allow you to track inbound links of blog posts, landing PageRank, domain authority, and analyze other important native and search engine SEO metrics, amongst other things.

Google Alerts can be a great way for small fledgling companies to track media hits, especially if they’re used to the Google Analytics interface. It’s a free tool, so while the price may be right for those working for a small business with limited to no budget, extensibility is limited and analytics would still require a spreadsheet. Once a small marketing department is ready to move on to something more sophisticated, it can try a full media intelligence platform like Meltwater.

With Meltwater, you can track all things PR and marketing related in real-time through interactive graphs and charts that executives love. That means having both your PR and marketing data analysed in the same tool, but more on that in just a second.

As the global use of social media continues to rise, so does its importance for brands. Suddenly, marketing pros can’t afford to miss critical mentions across social networks, and they are turning to social media management tools to help meet this challenge. Social media management tools like Meltwater are used for a diverse range of activities including social listening and community management. There’s plenty of tools out there to choose from, some a free and some are more expensive and geared towards complex enterprises.

Marketing automation

Marketing automation is one of the hottest marketing solutions on the market these days. Built to work seamlessly with the major CRM tools, companies like Marketo, Eloqua, Pardot, Act-On, and HubSpot make it easy to implement real-time personalized programs targeted to customers and prospects. For example, marketing pros can nurture leads and create email marketing drip campaigns to help nudge them further down the funnel.

Moreover, many marketing automation tools have features like lead scoring, which determines the engagement threshold at which warm prospects are sent to sales. They also have landing page creation options, used to convince clicks to become conversions and squeeze the most ROI out of your landing pages as possible. These tools won’t exactly “automate” your marketing efforts, but they will help you scale them, especially when it comes to email marketing.

Image of a hand touching a graph on a tablet

Optimization

Following on from automation, the other half of the digital marketing equation is optimization software. A/B testing tools, like Optimizely, Unbounce, and Visual Website Optimizer are extremely important to the digital marketing mix because they give the leaders the ability to enhance decision making by focusing on conversion rate optimization. You can test different headlines, body copy, and images, as well as your email marketing or blog post call-to-action (CTA), for example.

Here’s how testing works: visitors to your website will be randomly shown one of two (or more) variations of a page, and conversion stats are recorded for each variant. Once the sample size is big enough and the results are statistically significant, the software chooses a winner based on conversion numbers. Tada! You can now optimize the rest of your website based on the statistically proven choice and move on to the next test. Over time, you’ll turn your website and key landing pages into a lead-generating machine.

Data visualization

A marketing information system refers to the use of technology for gathering and analysing relevant internal and external data types related to the market, sales, promotion, price, competition and allocation of goods and service. This information is acquired through data analysis and the understanding of the marketing environment with the aim of ensuring effective decision-making throughout the organisation.

The role of the marketing information system is to gather appropriate internal and external data and withdraw useful information from it. In order to keep tabs on all their marketing information and see the full picture, pros gather and consolidate data from across all of their digital marketing software and store this in one centralised location, commonly known as a command centre. A command centre acts as a marketing information system (MIS), collecting disparate marketing information on areas including market research, internal company data, competitive intelligence and more.

Command centres are created through the use of application programming interfaces (APIs) which feed the scattered marketing information from different tools into one unified place. As such, marketing information systems and command centres bring order to the chaos by consolidating data types and helping professionals understand what’s influencing data sets. By doing so, they can have much better control over their marketing campaigns. Microsoft BI, Tableau and Meltwater Display are all examples of data visualization tools used by marcomms professionals to create command centres.

Image of a hand pointing to a command centre graph on a computer screen

What questions should I be asking to help my marketing platform decision-making process?

Due to the volume of tools on offer, it’s better to work backward and think about your business needs, then rule out the tools that aren’t suited to fulfill them. On that note, here are some pointers and questions to consider before parting ways with cash.

Ease of Use

One often-overlooked factor when deciding on the most appropriate software solution is the ease of use - and that doesn’t just mean how easy it is for you to use it. While you might be a whiz at technology, that doesn’t mean to say everyone in your team is. In most cases, it’s adoption that hinders the implementation of new tools rather than the technology itself.

You need to weigh out whether there is a need for an all singing all dancing solution, or whether your needs aren’t that advanced and you can afford to go for something a little more basic.

Remember, your marketing tool is only as useful as the extent to which people use it. Stakeholder buy-in and change management is critical for marketing tools to be effective. People may naturally be risk-averse and may not adopt new tools unless these changes are demonstrably and substantially positive. If a new process doesn’t fit with your teams’ workflows and objectives, it’s likely to cause more harm than good.  Moreover, data that you cannot decipher is next to useless, not to mention a waste of money. So before choosing digital marketing software, ensure it’s easy to use for the range of experience levels that will be logging in.

An ‘ease of use’ question checklist:

  • How diverse is the skillset within my team? I.e. are the majority advanced or beginners?
  • Is the tool user-friendly for individuals, the team structure and processes of my business?
  • Can you test drive potential vendors with a free trial?
  • What is the onboarding process?
  • Are there further training sessions we can join?

Account management

Quite shockingly, Gartner reports that marketing professionals only use 58% of their MarTech stack’s potential. There’s a number of reasons for this, but in general, it comes down to product enablement. If you don’t have a dedicated account manager that works with you as an extension of your team, guiding you on how to get the most value from the tool, then it’s likely the solution will remain sitting on your desktop collecting digital dust. Having said that, if the ease of use is strong, the need to an account manager is less, so again, you need to weigh up what’s more important to you.

An ‘account management’ question checklist:

  • Do we have an account manager to support us?
  • Where are Account Managers located around the world?
  • What is the role of the account manager? 
Two men in deep thought

Future-Proofing

The main question that marketers ask themselves when shopping for marketing platforms is often “What can this tool do for me?” While this is a real consideration, a question that is often overlooked is “Can this tool fulfill the needs that I already have and the needs that I am going to have in the future?”

Depending on the marketing tools in question, changing vendors can be very difficult, especially if they’re used globally. With this in mind, it’s important to think strategically about your future as well as current needs.

A ‘future proof’ question checklist:

  • Does this tool meet my current goals?
  • Will this tool help me meet the goals I want to set in the future?
  • Does this vendor operate and offer support in a range of countries and languages?
  • Does this vendor offer bespoke solutions, just in case what I need in the future can’t be achieved with an ‘off the shelf’ product
  • Will I need to integrate this tool with additional applications in the future, if so, what applications will they like to be and does the vendor support them?

Data integration

We briefly mentioned the need for data integration above, but considering the importance of the topic, it warrants its own section. You see, data shouldn’t exist in a vacuum, except unfortunately it does. That’s why the majority of transformation efforts today are focused on breaking down silos. If your marketing data hasn’t already been scrutinised by your CIO about how siloed it is, it’s only a matter of time. With this in mind, it’s vital that you invest in tools that work together efficiently. While some marketing tools are built to play nicely with technology you may already have, other tools can be a problem to integrate.

A ‘data integration’ question checklist:

  • Is there an API available?
  • What external APIs does the vendor support?

All-in-one options

Lots of marketing tools offer integrated solutions that incorporate many aspects of digital marketing. If you already utilise one of these capabilities, it can be both convenient and constructive to explore other solutions that your software provider offers. For example, social media marketers may use a social media management tool to plan and publish their content. If they also conduct influencer marketing campaigns, then it’s worthwhile to check if their software provider offers a related tool.  

While all in one marketing platforms offer a vast array of solutions, that’s not to say they’re experts in all of them. The fact is, it’s difficult to excel in every niche. Before deciding on whether to invest in an all in one tool, research whether the vendors you’re considering are specialists in the software categories important to you; you don’t need every component in your tech stack to be the ‘best of breed’. To help guide their marketing decision, companies often send Request for Information (RFI) documents to the vendors they’re evaluating to understand where they score in their business-critical areas. Check out our downloadable RFI document here.

An ‘all in one options’ question checklist:

  • What other solutions does the vendor offer?
  • Is there a discount for product bundling?
  • Do the vendors score high in the business-critical areas important to me?

 If you’re considering an all in one marketing platform, you might also find our previous blog “Deciding on a Multiple VS Single Vendor Approach” useful.

Most important features

Marketing tool features that are deemed critical change from company to company since they’re so closely linked to goals. However, research by Ascend2 found the following features to be the most important when selecting a marketing platform. Before parting ways with cash, have a think about what features you need to achieve your objectives.

Diagram showing the most important marketing platform features, rated by marketers.

A ‘critical marketing platform features’ question checklist:

  • What are my goals?
  • What tactics do I need to implement to meet my goals?
  • What are the critical marketing platform features needed in order for me to successfully roll out my tactical marketing plan and achieve my goals? 

Hopefully, this blog post has helped inform your marketing research for software investment, making sure that your business is enhanced and not encumbered by your choice of tool/s.  One final piece of advice is to ensure that you’re not adjusting a lot of your own practices to suit a newly acquired marketing tool – that tool should be enhancing your capabilities and adding value for your clients. 

We’re by no means experts in all types of marketing tools, but if you’re interested in learning more about how media intelligence solutions can guide your marketing decisions – that’s something we’re pros in! Simply complete the form below and we’ll be in touch to answer any of your further questions.