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Call us for a free FastStart Consultation: +1 888 918 2748


by Craig Borowski,
Market Research Associate
Last Updated: October 19, 2016

The marketing technology landscape is growing and diversifying. As more consumers go online to look for information and research products, more marketers are focusing on digital strategies. Over the years, new categories of marketing software have emerged to support this shift.

Today, there are a plethora of software options to help marketers manage and optimize digital campaigns. In fact, some experts estimate the greater marketing technology landscape now has close to 2,000 vendors across nearly 50 categories. If you’re new to marketing software, this breadth of options can feel daunting.

This guide will help you understand your many options and make an informed purchase decision. Here’s what we’ll cover:

What Is Marketing Software?
Common Features of Marketing Software?
What Type of Buyer Are You?
Key Considerations

What Is Marketing Software?

In general, marketing software helps organizations perform the following functions:

  • Attract new customers and visitors 
  • Turn customers into leads that can be nurtured through the sales funnel
  • Deliver marketing and promotional materials (e.g., via email marketing, social media, etc.)
  • Surface insights about customers to improve marketing efforts
  • Automate time-consuming, repetitive manual tasks

While some products are sold as “best-of-breed” systems (i.e., they offer a single marketing application), others are sold as “marketing clouds” or “integrated suites” (they house multiple marketing applications all in one place).

Whether a business should choose a suite or a best-of-breed solution depends on the range of functionality needed. Marketing suites are generally more expensive, but allow users to do more without having to integrate products from multiple vendors.

Best-of-breed solutions tend to be more affordable, and are best for companies that want to focus more heavily on specific applications—or that want to build their own suite of marketing tools.

Common Features of Marketing Software

Below is a list of common types of marketing applications that may be available either on their own, or bundled as part of a marketing suite:

Marketing automation Used for developing, executing and tracking marketing campaigns. Automates workflows, tracks prospect behavior and qualifies leads.
Lead generation Automates the capture, segmentation and assignment of leads to improve targeted marketing communications and shorten sales cycles.
Lead management Automates the movement and tracking of leads through the life cycle from acquisition to conversion.
Email marketing Used to create, send and track email campaigns and autoresponders.
Social media management Provides the means for users to create, launch and administer social campaigns and promotions. Manages creative assets on social media platforms.
Social media monitoring Identifies words used in association with brands, and locates where on social media platforms these conversations are occurring.
Social media analytics Measures campaign performance and impact, and tracks a brand’s share of voice across social channels to determine how effective social media efforts are.
Mobile marketing Handles the routing, management and delivery of SMS messages.
Marketing resource management Manages marketing projects, digital assets, workflows, budgets and approval processes across teams, departments or agencies.
Marketing analytics Measures marketing activities across multiple online and offline channels to get a view of those channels’ return on investment (ROI).
Content marketing Helps manage the distribution of content across the Web. Creates, deploys, manages and stores content on Web pages.
Search marketing Helps businesses generate traffic by providing information or advice to improve marketing content so it’s optimized for search engines.

What Type of Buyer Are You?

Before making a purchase, companies should evaluate their marketing strategies to determine how to choose software that supports overall business objectives.

Outbound marketing.

Outbound marketing is when a marketer contacts prospects, hoping for engagement. Tactics can include advertising on search engines, paying website publishers to post your ads or sending emails to lists of leads. Businesses that primarily want to reach out to customers in these ways should look for applications that offer email and/or mobile marketing functionality. Most marketing automation platforms include outbound email marketing capabilities. You could also consider lead generation and lead management solutions.

Inbound marketing.

Inbound marketing gets buyers to find you. This is done by providing interesting, helpful content on websites, blogs or social media that engages buyers. Businesses using inbound marketing tactics should look for software that helps optimize marketing content for Web search (so that buyers can easily find it) and provides lead nurturing functionality—for example, inbound marketing automation, content marketing or search marketing applications.

Social media marketing.

If you use (or plan to use) social media channels to connect with customers, consider applications that monitor social media conversations, track the results of social media marketing activities and allow you to measure the results of these campaigns. While social media marketing functionality is sometimes included in marketing automation platforms, many vendors also offer this as a best-of-breed solution.

Planning and measurement focus.

Marketers that want to measure the ROI of marketing projects should look for software that provides detailed analytics. While this functionality is often included in other types of marketing software, you may want to consider the in-depth reporting tools offered by best-of-breed marketing analytics and social media analytics software. Additionally, businesses that need help planning and executing marketing campaigns can consider marketing resource management software.

It's important to note that marketing functionality can also be incorporated into suites outside of the typical marketing software industry. For example, leading event management software often includes some element of marketing, such as tools for creating customizable websites, email marketing and push messaging campaigns. These are described in more detail here.

Key Considerations

To further narrow things down, here are two key factors to keep in mind as you evaluate marketing products:

Prioritize the applications you use most often

Avoid purchasing systems with bells and whistles that don’t support your business processes. However, do consider any applications, features and functionality that you will need in the future, even if you’re not quite ready to use them today.

Make sure your new system supports necessary integrations.

When comparing options, you’ll want to know whether—and how well—a given marketing system will synchronize with your existing data and tools. For example, you may want to consider marketing software that offers native CRM integration. If you plan to access the system while on the go (via mobile phones or tablets), consider a system with a native mobile app. If you’re building your own marketing technology stack, be sure to check that the systems you combine will work together seamlessly. You may also want to look for vendors that offer integration support and services.

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