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Chasing Unicorns at MarTech 2016

One of the major topics that appeared at this year’s MarTech conference was unicorns. No, not the mythical beast with a horn and flowing mane (although those did make an appearance in some presentations), but those private companies valued at $1 billion or more. Unicorns dominate the imagination of our technology industry, and I’m sure each of the more than 100 companies exhibiting aspires to become the next unicorn.

Not only was the conference Wi-Fi password “unicorn”, it was also the theme of quite a few presentations. One of the most interesting was from Isaac Wyatt, the director of marketing operations at New Relic, who spoke about the people, processes and technology that drive the marketing capabilities platform at unicorn companies.

On the marketing technology front, Wyatt analyzed what kind of systems and solutions these unicorns have in their tech stack. What all the companies had in common was that they built a platform, created content to put on that platform, and then invested in ad-tech and optimization tools to ensure the right people are engaging with that content. This concept makes sense, because marketers love doing things at scale! We figure out our message, and as Scott Brinker said, we then communicate from one to many.

Putting processes around your technology investments is the next step. Wyatt believes unicorns have successfully implemented processes that are agile. In a rapidly growing company, a marketing team needs processes that aren’t so fragile that they break when things change, but also aren’t so robust that they can’t adapt to change. I loved his example of a process that follows this rule: Predictive lead scoring systems. Systems like Lattice constantly bring in new information and instead of breaking a system, we improve the outputs based on new data, or different types of information. This is positive feedback process that improves from complexity in the environment.

However what I most loved about Wyatt’s talk was his focus on people – he called them the true unicorns. He also called them your meat stack, as opposed to your tech stack, which while being kind of gross is pretty funny. They are the fuel that drives everything and any company’s true marketing advantage.

Unicorns – technology doesn’t make them great; it’s the people that make them great, and those companies would disappear without the right mix of employees that they’ve hired. This is critical for any size company; hiring and working with the right people can make or break a company. You realize this when you’re staffing a tradeshow together. In order to spend multiple days together, on your feet on the show floor, you really have to enjoy them!

Engaging with so many smart marketing technologists in one place always inspires me to come back to my office and think about what else my team and I could be doing differently. It’s motivating to see how others are dedicated to making their company the best, and how much everyone really is striving to become the next unicorn

Written by

Caitlin Ridge
March 23, 2016