Just a year ago, there was wide industry debate regarding whether all-inclusive marketing clouds (such as those offered by Adobe, Oracle, IBM and Salesforce) or best-of-breed marketing technology stacks would become the marketing organization norm.

In fact, the discourse was so rampant in 2014 that it provided me with enough fodder to write a three-part series on the topic, which I somewhat regrettably titled “The Platform Wars.”

What I didn’t realize at the time was that this debate wasn’t only about marketing tech strategy or vendor prowess in the martech space. No, it was about something much more significant: Would marketers and their organizations own new tech responsibilities, embrace innovation and learn new skills, or would the shy away from the challenge and leave the innovation to the tech vendors?

Marketers are clearly owning the opportunity to innovate with technology.

The Industry Isn’t Buying Into Out-of-Box Solutions

If the ChiefMartech.com Stackie Awards weren’t enough to show this, numerous “tweet chat” sessions and industry articles on martech stack integrations are.

Two weeks ago, CMSWire hosted a “Tweet Jam” that focused on the current and future state of marketing technology. While the event’s topic, “MarTech Convergence,” implied a rise of the holistic “marketing cloud,” the Jam’s discussion did everything short of refuting the idea of martech consolidation.

Just a few tweets that drove this point home:

“I have a challenge w/ letting one co. own my all my MKTG Cloud. One point of failure, less innovation & and could hold data hostage.” –Travis Wright

“If the qualifier is that they’re large vendors than no. Elephants are not nimble, and they can fit only into elephant size spaces. –Karo Kilfeather

“Consumer needs are changing so fast, consolidation far slower than diversification. Focus on open standards, integration.” –Mayur Gupta

Such sentiments aren’t the opinions of just tech-industry influencers either. While attending a local Arizona MarTech Meetup hosted by Infusionsoft last week, I was somewhat surprised to see that the multi-vendor, best-of-breed tech stack approach was widely advocated by everyday practitioners.

Attendees weren’t looking for easy, all-inclusive tools to simplify their jobs – they were looking for insightful ways to leverage multiple systems to their advantage.

Now, I’m in no way disparaging the big marketing cloud vendors – they have great products and typically act as the hubs of complex stacks. All I’m saying is that the industry doesn’t want the out-of-box solutions these vendors WERE promising a year or two ago.

And that’s fine – all the big cloud vendors have taken notice and have made great strides to open their systems for easier integration with independent tech solutions. This is key, because customization has become pivotal in the marketing space.

Customized Configuration Stokes Innovation

As the marketing tech vendor space has proliferated over the past few years, marketers have had to take it upon themselves to ensure working integrations between systems and tools. Such DIY efforts and the resulting expertise spurred innovative solutions that unlikely would’ve occurred otherwise.

This has given marketers – especially those in marketing ops roles – a taste for control and customization. And they’re less willing to give it up lest they lose the innovative edge they’ve been enjoying.

Why is control and customization so important?

The “one size fits all” mindset doesn’t fit a customer-centric strategy – customer needs, demographics, behaviors, etc., are often ephemeral. Marketers must be able to quickly adapt to these changes, rather than rely on vendors to do it for them. That’s why we’ve been seeing a growing trend of teams bringing tech (including adtech) in house.

MarTech Stack Complexity Will Continue to Grow

There will surely be more consolidation in the industry. But as Scott Brinker convincingly argued a year ago (and has since proven), the growth of startups will outpace the number of acquisitions.

Marketers have tasted freedom and they like the innovation it has afforded. Moreover, they’re very proud of their martech creations (see the Stackie Awards).

Customized stacks based on innovative integrations is becoming a large part of marketing culture. That’s not going anywhere. And the big cloud vendors aren’t fighting against the current – they’re embracing it, as should all marketers.

Steps to Developing a Competitive MarTech Stack

1. Take inventory of the marketing systems and tools you’re currently using. Creating a table such as this one helps.

2. Research what other marketing teams in your space are doing regarding tech, process automation and data acquisition. One of the best ways to do this is to go to the MarTech Conference.

3. Outline your marketing processes to identify roadblocks and areas for improvement. Again, we like to use tables for this.

4. Gather the information you obtained during the previous three steps and construct two blueprints: a current stack blueprint and a roadmap stack blueprint. Here’s a link to a workbook that can help you create your own.

5. Once you’ve identified the tech investments that make sense for your organization, it’s time to research vendors. Here’s a blog post that outlines how I approach this process.

6. Start building.