Marketers love buzzwords: creating them, following them, hashtagging them. A “marketing stack” is no exception. This is defined, essentially, as the combination of all your marketing tech (or “martech”, some call it – another buzzword).

Your marketing stack refers to every piece of software you use, either for a subscription or for free, to organize your teams, from internal communication to customer-facing advertising to analytics and display-ad platforms. Hootsuite, Hatchbuck, Unbounce, Slack, Google Analytics; it’s all part of your marketing stack.

Well-oiled marketing teams will organize their stacks deliberately, rather than slap-dashing them together when a new need arises. Key concerns include software integration, update frequency, cost and customer service. Each element requires a fair bit of research and should gel with the rest of your choices.

That said, most marketing stacks don’t do this. Small businesses and self-made marketers in particular will find they start their companies with whatever free tools they have available, then realize the limitations after a year or longer. Scalability – whether your software has the capacity to grow with your company and meet your evolving needs – is a particular challenge in these situations.

That’s when marketing stacks get messy. You might find your chosen tools are hurting you more than they’re helping you – either because you’re paying for more than you need, or they aren’t scalable in the right way.

How should I organize my marketing stack?

The key to any marketing stack is thoughtful coordination, and to that end, we’d argue that integration is the biggest concern.

You need software that gets along with all of the tools you love. If your brand has 10,000 Pinterest followers, for example, and you were looking for a convenient social media management software, you might have avoided Hootsuite because it didn’t offer built-in Pinterest management for years. (They just changed this recently, realizing the missed opportunity.) If your only social platform is Twitter, you might prefer TweetDeck, since Facebook isn’t a concern for you. These are the decisions you’d make when choosing a software to promote your business.

But the question is one of organization. Where do you start?

Start with your business’s most fundamental needs. If you don’t have any emails collected yet, don’t worry about finding the right email-marketing platform. Start with basic elements of web presence building: a content management system (CMS), internal communication apps (email, chats, video conferencing), database management, and analytics software. Build your house before you show it off to the world. Consider where you want to be in five years, and choose core components that will support you in that journey.

Once you’ve found your basic building blocks, grow outward. You’ll need marketing tools – which advertising platforms are you going to focus on? Which social networks are right for you? (Hint: the answer should never be “all of them.”) Where are you going to look for customers? How are you going to nurture them?

Many of the answers to these questions will depend on your product, target audience and business model. No two companies’ marketing stacks will look identical, and even if they are, it’s highly improbable that they would use the same software for the same purposes.

Is a marketing cloud a better option?

You might think to yourself, “Gee, there’s so much to worry about with these stacks – it’d be so much easier to have all this stuff in one place!”

That’s why some folks created what’s called a “marketing cloud” – basically an all-in-one service that offers multiple elements of a marketing stack in one place.

But they’re not necessarily better.

The convenience factor is significant, true, and you may find it a relief (especially if you’re less technologically savvy) to have your customer support and billing all taken care of in one fell swoop.

But there are a few problems with this model. First, many B2B marketing software companies are developing innovative tech at a far greater pace than the marketing cloud folks. Hootsuite isn’t a marketing cloud per se, but the analogy from above holds true: they didn’t offer Pinterest integration for years, and literally in 2018 finally added it. If only Instagram and Pinterest were part of your social marketing strategy, instead of finding a third-party Hootsuite addition to add Pinterest functionality (many of which were a bit flukey anyway), you’d have been better off using two separate specialized social media analytics and management softwares: one for Instagram and one for Pinterest. The all-in-one solution took years to catch up.

The second problem with marketing clouds is that scalability issue. It’s hard to grow with them, because while your needs may be simple at first, businesses often grow out in different directions, finding different priorities along the way. You may learn that email marketing is a far greater demand for your business a few years down the road, but your marketing cloud offers limited email-marketing design options. On top of that, most require long-term commitments from the get-go. You’ll be stuck.

Finding the best of both worlds

There are some softwares that combine elements of a marketing cloud into one, without overstepping their specialties. Yes, BenchmarkONE is one. Not to get too salesy, but we offer an all-in-one solution for just a select few aspects of a traditional marketing stack: email marketing, CRM and marketing automation.

We chose those three elements because there’s no reason to separate them. We believe engaging with your customers, from automated marketing efforts to email nurturing and customer service, makes sense when it’s consolidated.

But we’re not bold enough to launch into CMS hosting, full-suite social media management, payment processing or platform-specific lead capturing. We rely on integration for that. There are limits to what makes sense.

How can you tell if your marketing stack is hurting or helping?

It’s easy: what parts of your marketing job annoy the hell out of you?

Create a master list of all your products, then go through them and ask yourself what isn’t working. Pinpoint what elements of each is causing trouble, and what you need instead. Then start shopping around for solutions, looking specifically at what alternatives integrate with your core components.

By the end, you can reorganize your marketing stack – maybe even combine certain elements – to create a smoother, more efficient stack that makes your life and work easier.