In today’s B2B Marketing world, the fear of being left behind is almost palpable. CMOs and Marketing Directors ask me the same questions time and time again: “Are we using the best tools?”; “Is our digital presence what today’s buyers want?”; “What are our competitors doing?”

Their concerns are understandable. Over the last couple of decades, most Marketers have been hit by the opportunity cost of playing it too safe in the digital space. At the same time, many have also been burned by over-investing in “too good to be true” technology (dot-com bubble, anyone?).

Staying on top of digital Marketing trends is an exercise in risk management and well-considered testing. Marketing leaders need to be both savvy with tech but smart with budgets. Often, these can seem like two conflicting goals. The key to balancing innovation with cost-efficiency is to ask the right questions before jumping in: get clear on available budget, analyze how new tactics fit into your overall Marketing funnel, and keep a finger on the ever-changing pulse of digital marketing trends.

Here are the 6 questions you need to ask before spending any cash on “innovative” or “trendy” Marketing technologies

1) Where does this technology sit on the “hype cycle”?

Gartner’s technology hype cycle is a critical point of reference for any Marketer. It ranks new technologies and methodologies on the following scale: Innovation trigger, peak of inflated expectations, trough of disillusionment, slope of enlightenment, and plateau of productivity.

The simple rule of thumb, especially if you have a limited budget, is to stick with innovations that are entering the “slope of enlightenment” stage. These strategies and technologies are more mature than their earlier-stage counterparts, so you’ll know exactly what you’re getting into and have some measurable benchmarks to work with. You’ll also be able to find staff, consultants and solutions with real experience in the field – after all, it’s impossible to find someone who has a wealth of experience in a brand new technology.

Is there any harm in trying something “newer”? Not if you have budget to spare. But you should limit your investment: cut out a small piece of your budget (3-5 percent, for example), put someone in charge of keeping an eye on new technologies, and only try one or two innovative methods at a time. Remember, the earlier something is in the hype cycle, the less likely you are to see strong top or bottom line results from your initial test.

2) Can our budget handle this as a sunk cost?

Reality check: If you don’t have the cash to sink into learning new things, stick to what works. Yes, trying out newer technologies can benefit your company long-term by keeping you ahead of the curve, but don’t expect an immediate bump in your quarterly revenues from trying something in its early stages (we’re looking at you, AI).

In fact, if you’re trying something super new, you should segment the ROI from your “innovation fund” from the rest of your quarterly Marketing results entirely. That means you might have to cut out testing new things for a year or two if budget is limited.

When it comes to trying out new tech, if you can’t afford to do it right you shouldn’t do it at all – and since doing it right involves a lot of trial and error, you must be able to afford both.

3) Do I foresee this new tactic helping me with revenue generation in the future?

Predictive analytics, ABM, Voice of the Customer…there are a lot of shiny, new Marketing technologies out there. When you account for the multitude of applications for each technology, you’re looking at hundreds of options for your innovation budget. And remember, you should only play with one or two at a time.

How do you choose? The best tactic is to take a look at the big picture. Figure out which of the technologies could have the most meaningful impact on your business.

Are you a B2B company going after a super-specific market? Then go after innovations that seek to improve data mining and targeting. Trying to define your value proposition? Predictive analytics with an emphasis on new markets might be a better choice for you. Even the most experimental initiatives should always related back to a core set of central corporate strategies.Trying new things may be a sunk cost at first, but the end goal is to discover something that improves your performance in the years to come. Even if you go in without immediate ROI expectations, your long-term goals should always have a dollar sign attached.

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4) Could this backfire?

You’ve spent a lot of time nurturing your audience and establishing your brand. Trying something new might seem cool at first, but you need to have some serious conversations about whether it could end up sabotaging  your established brand experience.

For example, imagine your “innovation team” signed on with a business that sent AI-powered promotional emails. Meanwhile, your demand generation team was running proven email nurture sequences through your Marketing automation system. If two systems are sending out emails, they’ll likely conflict.

There are many disastrous scenarios here: The new system could send a promo for a product the customer has just purchased at full price. Your database could get messed up from these two conflicting technologies. Your new use of customer data could out you in legal or PR jeopardy. There are lots of things that can go wrong if you test new tactics without considering everything else in play.

Marketing Operations should always be asking serious, detailed questions when new tools and tech are considered. While there can sometimes be a rush to test the new system, you should be very careful to set things up in a way that keeps your other systems fully functional.

5) Do I have an exit strategy if this doesn’t work?

Trying something new is all about calculated risk. If the experiment is a full-out success, great! But, if it falls flat, you’ll want to be able to quietly move on without creating an internal uproar.

This can look different depending on the company, but usually it means making the right human resources and hardware/software investment decisions. For example, hiring a full in-house team for short-term projects can get messy; consultants and contractors are often far less of a strain on HR budgets. Investing in a major hardware overhaul is a big deal; purchasing a year-long license to try out cloud-based software is much less of a commitment. When you get started, you should have a plan in place to expand if the pilot is successful… as well as an understanding of how to pivot or shut down if it is not.

6) Do I have a reasonable timeline and enough variables to do a meaningful test?

If something is worth doing, it is worth doing right. Running a single piece of creative for a couple weeks on a new platform isn’t a real test. You should spend at least a full quarter running the new system, testing different creative, and evaluating results. If fiscal years and seasonal trends influence your sales cycle, be sure to account for that as well. If you do not run a true test, you won’t be able to effectively learn from your “innovation fund” investment.

Keeping on Top of Digital Marketing Trends Doesn’t Always Involve “New Things”

In this article, we have discussed “staying on top of digital marketing trends” from the perspective of bringing in a brand new system or technology. However, those who use Marketing automation and CRM software should first consider how to optimize and keep up-to-date with their existing tools such as Salesforce, Eloqua or Marketo.

If you have one or more of these, you’ve already invested in an increasingly innovative tool – SalesForce alone releases three updates per year! Making the most of your existing MarTech stack can be a much less challenging and more promising way of staying on top of trends. This investment is worth making before dipping your toes into other innovations – though if you have enough budget and clear revenue generation goals, both can be part of a cutting-edge marketing system.