The small business owner has got to be the ultimate Jack (or Jill!) of all trades, managing everything from inventory to staffing to payroll to marketing.
As a business grows, though, it becomes less and less feasible to do it all yourself. And since cloning isn’t a viable option yet, this means offloading these important tasks to staff, contractors, technology, or some combination of all three.
When it comes to marketing, whether you choose to continue doing it yourself or hire someone to do it for you, you’ll absolutely need to invest in marketing technology, otherwise known as a marketing stack. The reason why (which we’ll dig into later) is that marketing tech can help you grow exponentially, without having to hire a huge team. That’s the magic sauce: turbo boosting revenue while keeping costs down.
Just know that “invest” doesn’t necessarily translate to “spend a boatload of money.” And in fact, there are a ton of free, nearly free, and pay-as-you-grow tools out there that—when pieced together with a little forethought—do a pretty bang-up job of streamlining your marketing.
In this piece, you’ll learn everything you need to know about implementing a small business marketing stack including:
- What even is a marketing stack?
- Why is a marketing stack important?
- How to build a marketing stack in 5 steps
- 10 essential tools in a marketing stack (plus bonus recommended tools)
What is a marketing or “MarTech” stack?
A marketing stack (aka marketing tech stack, aka digital marketing stack, aka MarTech stack) is the collection of tools that you use to implement, track, and improve your marketing.
You might be thinking, why do I need a whole “stack” though? Aren’t there tools out there that can do it all? Well, there are, but they’re far from cheap (think $10K+ per month). Plus, even those tools might not satisfy your unique needs.
Just like no two businesses are completely alike, neither are two marketing stacks. Sure, it’s possible two businesses will use the same tools, but even then it’s highly unlikely they’d have the same setup and configuration.
Why bother with marketing technology?
The old adage “Many hands make light work” should be rejigged for the modern world. Yes, many hands make light work, but so can the right technology.
To be more specific, marketing technology allows you to reach and convert more leads into customers with less human intervention and greater predictability by automating previously manual tasks.
Here are a few examples of automations that can be achieved with marketing technology—remember, this is all done automatically for you, without you having to go in and manually add this information:
- Marketing automation can trigger a cart abandonment email for folks who make it to the checkout page but don’t complete the transaction
- Email software can help you create email templates and personalize welcome emails with key details such as customer name and nearest retail location
- Facebook’s ad platform can optimize your Facebook audiences and even ads based on how well the headlines do
- Social media scheduling can post pre-loaded content on Instagram during peak engagement times
Plus a few additional ways marketing tech can help save you time and resources while helping you get more leads or sell more:
- Create branded templates for common marketing materials such as emails, landing pages, and newsletters so you never have to start from scratch.
- Build materials using intuitive drag-and-drop tools rather than hiring someone to hard-code for you.
- Identify areas of your website and sales pages that cause visitors to drop off so you can work on improving them.
- Pull detailed reports based on near-infinite parameters with a few clicks. (Here’s a marketing report template you can use.)
More details on which tools can help you with tasks like these later…
How to build a digital marketing technology stack in 5 steps
1. Look at your customer’s journey
Your business is unique, and so is your customer journey. By mapping the path they take to become a customer and beyond, you can make sure your marketing tech stack aligns with their—and your—needs.
To get you thinking about your customer journey map, ask yourself these questions:
- How do customers become aware of my brand? Do they follow you on Instagram? Do they read your blog? Do they discover you organically on Google?
- How do your customers find my business? Do they physically walk by the storefront, which is on a main drag? Do they see my bus station ads? Do they get referred by past customers? Do they meet you at industry events?
- What path do they typically take to become customers? Do they need weeks of personal follow-up or do they make on-the-fly purchase decisions after seeing an Instagram ad?
- After an initial purchase, do they make follow-up purchases? Have we built upselling into the customer experience? And if so, how does this happen? Who initiates it?
By asking yourself these questions, you’ll start to better understand how each marketing tool will need to connect to the other in order to create a seamless experience from lead to customer and beyond.
It may also help you to visualize the marketing funnel. The image below is a “new and improved” funnel, which historically would have cut off at the conversion stage. We know now that we can continue marketing to customers, whether by selling them additional products and services or by helping them get the most from your offerings so that they can continue buying from you and refer you to their friends and colleagues:
2. Make a list of all your marketing-related tasks
Everything you’re already doing with respect to marketing can probably be automated with the right combination of tools, so make a complete list of tasks you’re already doing, like:
- “Build out a monthly newsletter calendar to send regular emails to subscribers.”
- “Add leads to master spreadsheet.”
- “Reply to prospect emails.”
Then, make a list of other marketing tasks you might anticipate doing as you become bigger and have more resources, like:
- “Post to Instagram daily.”
- “Create email sequence to convert leads to customers.”
Think of this list as your wish list, which will come in handy when you’re comparing marketing tech tools later. Ideally, you want to choose tools that’ll make these tasks easier to do on a recurring basis, or even eliminate the need to do them altogether after the initial setup.
3. Don’t forget about analysis
One of the greatest benefits of building an interconnected marketing technology stack is that you have access to so much data.
This data can provide you with valuable insights, like which types of leads are most likely to turn into customers or how many people in your email list are actually reading your emails.
Think about all the marketing actions you do, and then consider how you can best track and analyze the effectiveness of these actions. Many tools will have analysis tools built in, but if you really want to dig deep, you may need to invest in additional tools specifically for tracking and analysis, like Google Analytics.
4. Allocate your budget
Now that you’ve visualized your customer journey and developed a thorough wish list, it’s time to nail down your budget.
As we mentioned earlier, there are a ton of free tools out there, with plenty of opportunity to upgrade as you scale, but a budget of zero is—realistically—not going to cut the mustard.
Identify the must-have tools (which we’ll get into below) for your business and consider spending the bulk of your budget there. As your business grows, you can continue adding to your stack when the budget allows. But don’t underestimate the power of (and the results you see from) a few intelligent marketing tools.
5. Narrow down your list of tools
Remember, you’re not looking for the best marketing tool, you’re looking for the best marketing tool for you. Make sure you look beyond just price, features, and benefits and ask yourself the following questions:
- Do the tools I’m looking at “speak” to each other? Check out the integrations pages, and if you don’t find an integration between two tools you want to use—like a landing page building tool and a marketing data analytics tool—Zapier has over 2,000 integrations just waiting to be connected (more on Zapier later).
- Are we likely to outgrow the tool? Tempting as it may be to default to the free tool, if it won’t scale as your business grows, it’s the wrong tool for you.
- Is it plug-and-play, drag-and-drop, easy-peasy setup? In other words, does it seem like something you can implement, or will you need to hire a developer? Either is fine, just as long as you’re prepared for the time or monetary investment involved.
- What’s the support like? This is key if you’re implementing and operating your marketing stack yourself. Some tools offer round the clock phone, email, and chat support, while others only offer support to their highest-paying customers.
10 essential elements of a low-budget marketing stack (plus recommended tools)
In 2019, there were a reported 7,040 marketing technology tools on the market, which is enough to overwhelm even the most composed business owner:
We’ve narrowed it down to an even 10 to get you started. Notice we’ve separated them into “Need to have,” “Nice to have,” and “Niche-specific,” so wherever you are on your small business journey, you can build the MarTech stack that’s best for you.
Need-to-have marketing tech tools
1. Content management system (CMS): WordPress
Your CMS is where your website, blog, and occasionally other web properties (like landing pages) live.
There are a few notable CMS options on the market, but an estimated 455 million websites are using WordPress right now, so you’d be in good company adopting it as your CMS.
On top of being the tried-and-true option, WordPress has the benefit of being an open-source marketing tool—meaning anyone can contribute to its impressive library of plugins that allow you to do everything from adding contact forms to supporting e-commerce.
Oh, and did we mention it’s free? All you need is a domain name and web hosting, and you can hit the ground running. Just be careful you’re signing up for WordPress.org and not WordPress.com (which does cost money and can’t support plugins—think of it as the “lite” version of WordPress.org).
2. Real-time communication: RingCentral
Successful companies all have one thing in common: good communication. And good communication is only possible with the right technology.
Let’s say, for example, your company relies on phone calls to process orders and close deals. Setting up a few landlines might do the trick in the very early days of business, but it’s not an ideal long-term approach—especially when you start getting a lot of inbound calls.
Or maybe your team is distributed across multiple locations and you need to help the team work effectively together and give them the tools they need to reliably meet and collaborate on upcoming campaigns and projects.
RingCentral’s small business phone system is the perfect scalable solution for both internal and external communication.
We know, we’re biased, but hear us out. In addition to a dependable cloud phone system (perfect for following up with leads and maintaining customer relationships), RingCentral gives you:
- Team messaging: Ask quick questions, get quick answers, and make quick decisions using the Glip® messaging, file sharing, and task management app.
- Online meetings: Video chat with team members and prospects alike from anywhere, using any device.
- Online fax: Manage your incoming and outgoing faxes online without the outdated hardware.
As for pricing, it’s fairly reasonable, starting at $19.99 monthly per user, with the ability to add on more users and features as your business grows.
3. Email + marketing automation: Mailchimp
Email is one of the—if not the—most important marketing channels at your disposal, for many reasons. Firstly, it’s cheap (you own your email list, and it costs nothing to reach out to them). Secondly, it actually works. A 2015 report says, “Email has an average ROI of $38 for each $1 spent.” Thirdly, it’s a preferred channel for your customers and prospects. According to a 2016 Adestra report, 73 percent of millennials prefer to hear from businesses via email.
Mailchimp has also branded itself as the go-to email builder for small business owners. It features an intuitive drag-and-drop builder, beautifully designed templates, and 24/7 email and chat support for all paid plans.
Here are just a few of many automations you can set up in the Mailchimp platform.
And for ambitious business owners with plans to scale, Mailchimp can help there too. What started out as just an email platform has evolved into an all-in-one marketing automation platform (featuring a website, landing page, and ad builder; customer relationship management; and more) meaning you can track the performance of full-scale marketing campaigns.
If you’re just getting started, Mailchimp offers a totally free plan to do just that. Paid plans are available, though, if you need them—but even those are affordable considering the sheer number of tools you get access to.
4. Web analytics: Google Analytics
Understanding how your web properties are performing (or not performing) is the first step in improving your visitors’ on-site experience.
Google Analytics will not only provide you with these insights, it’ll also help you gather the evidence and data you need to make improvements that translate to real results (including revenue).
Best of all, Google Analytics is a reliable and totally free tool. And although you won’t have access to 1-to-1 support (as is the case with most free tools), you can access their Help Center at any time—and, let’s be honest, if you have a question, you can probably just Google it.
Nice-to-have marketing tech tools
5. Search engine optimization (SEO): Moz
Paid traffic aside, visitors will land on your website for one of two reasons: (1) they actually typed your website address into the search bar or (2) they found you by Googling something and then clicking on the link (aka an organic web search).
While you may not be able to affect the former, you can absolutely impact the latter with search engine optimization (SEO). According to Moz, SEO is the “practice of increasing the quantity and quality of traffic to your website through organic search engine results.” You do this by creating and optimizing the content on your site so it best reflects the keywords and search terms people are searching for on Google. But how?
Well there’s a reason we quoted a Moz piece—they’re also makers of one of the most powerful SEO tools out there.
Not ready for their Pro account at $179 per month (although they do offer a 30-day trial so you can definitely give it a try)? No worries—they offer a ton of free tools to support you in your SEO endeavors, including the Keyword Explorer, which helps you discover high-ranking keywords your site can rank for.
6. Data sharing: Zapier
As your business grows, so will your digital marketing tech stack, and you may come across a tool you really need, but it doesn’t natively integrate with your tools. What do you do?
Zapier is the automations and integrations tool of your dreams. Its entire value proposition is built on the idea that you should be able to seamlessly connect your tools to eliminate busy-work. They boast a library of more than 2,000 apps—including every single tool featured in this piece.
Again, Zapier offers a free plan that includes five Zaps (integrations) and up to 100 data transfers. When you max this plan out, you can upgrade to their Starter plan for just $19.99 per month.
7. Paid advertising: Google Ads
Unfortunately, most small businesses can’t afford a coveted Super Bowl commercial slot, let alone hire Jon Hamm to ham it up for the camera.
But paid advertising doesn’t have to be completely out of reach for small businesses. In fact, Google Ads is an affordable and totally scalable way to get people to see your offers.
If you’re new to Google Ads, it’s a pay-per-click (PPC) advertising platform—meaning you only pay if visitors click on your ad.
It costs nothing to get started with Google Ads, although obviously you need to spend money to make money. According to calculations from Google’s chief economist, Hal Varian, most businesses see an average of $2 for every $1 spent on Google Ads.
Again, support will be limited, but Google has an extensive Help Center, including an in-depth guide that details all the basics from setup to best practices to optimizing your campaigns.
8. Landing pages: Unbounce
Here’s the thing: you can’t (correction, you shouldn’t) invest in pay-per-click (PPC) advertising if you’re not also prepared to invest in landing pages.
Landing pages are standalone pages with a single conversion goal (like getting someone’s email address in exchange for an eBook download or selling a ticket for an upcoming event). They’re used in combination with PPC ads because when a visitor clicks an ad for a specific offer, they’re more likely to convert (that is become a lead or customer) if the message from the ad to page matches—you shouldn’t just be linking to your homepage from all those paid ads you’re running online.
Again, if you’re already using Mailchimp for email and marketing automation, you can also use it for landing pages, but if not, Unbounce is a great choice. Unbounce features over 100 stunning templates for a variety of major industries and campaign types.
Pricing is a bit more of an investment (their most affordable plan is $79 per month), but it’s worth it for the support alone. They offer un-tiered support—meaning no matter what plan you’re on, you can reach them via phone, email, and chat.
Niche-specific marketing tech tools
9. Social media scheduler: Later
Not everyone’s business benefits from an active social media presence, but some would find it challenging to do business without it (think apparel companies, restaurants, and handcrafted goods).
We get it, staying active on social can be tedious. But it’s a best practice, and if social media campaigns are an important part of your business’s marketing efforts, a social media scheduling tool will change your life. Later allows you to plan, schedule, and analyze posts across Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter—all from a single platform.
In addition to their easy-to-use visual calendar—which makes planning a breeze—Later offers a resource library bursting with tutorials, courses, eBooks, and in-depth guides to guide your social strategy.
And again—like many of the tools recommended—Later offers a forever free plan, which includes up to 30 posts per social platform. If that doesn’t cut it for your super social business, their small business plan is a reasonable $16 per month.
10. Customer relationship management (CRM): Copper
Business-to-business (B2B) sales often require more relationship management and nurturing than your standard business-to-customer (B2C) sale. A CRM can help you manage and track your leads, prompt you to follow up with them, and give you insight into where you’re at with your sales goals. (If you use it right, you can even boost your customer retention rate.)
Mailchimp is a great CRM option if you’re looking for one tool to do it all, but if you’re already using G Suite, Copper might be your best bet since it lives directly within Gmail.
As far as cost goes, you can get started with Copper for as little as $19 per month, with a free, no-credit-card-required, 14-day trial to get a feel for the software.
How does your marketing stack up?
It’s important to remember that marketing technology doesn’t inherently make you a good marketer—just like having the fanciest, most expensive camera doesn’t make you a photographer.
A marketing stack isn’t a replacement for having a marketing strategy, but it will multiply your efforts, allowing you to execute and analyze your strategy faster—and to a significantly wider audience.
In that sense, it kind of is like cloning yourself (just without all the ethical considerations).