An avalanche of online marketing products

The number of SaaS marketing products seems to be growing exponentially, increasing 2233% from 2011 to 2016.

Blog / by Steven Clark

The number of SaaS marketing products seems to be growing exponentially. It’s easy to see why, as investors can be convinced that a reasonably affordable subscription payment paid by a certain number of users per month can provide an easy return. But thanks to this soft sell, creating a new marketing product means entering one of the fastest growing and most competitive markets available.

Fundamentally, most of these types of product are management dashboards which pull from various APIs, claiming to condense data from the activity surrounding your digital collateral into something easy to understand and actionable.

Speaking as a non-marketer, I’m not sure I understand this train of thought. Many people who it seems have spent the better part of the last decade obfuscating their services behind jargon and buzzwords to justify overcharging are now trying to simplify them to the point where they’re managed by a basic front end. Or worse, in an effort to kill two birds with one stone, they’re developing a platform that will help them manage their clients specifically then attempting to sell it to you and make their money back.

I’ve recently been repeatedly invited to an “Agency Networking” breakfast for a product called Sharpspring with an irresponsibly huge agency client list on their website. If at least half of those agencies are still in business I’d be surprised. If the other half weren’t just ripped from failed 99designs logo submissions I’d be even more surprised. But hey, they’re “as little as cost 1/10th the cost of competing solutions”, whatever that means.

How to computer
The Sharpspring copywriting team

In 2011, when the clever folks are started their series of “Marketing Technology Landscapes” detailing the various versions of these products available, they probably didn’t expect the number to increase 2233% in just 5 short years, resulting in far larger and more time consuming graphics. Much like a difficult genital wart, this is an uncontrollable growth, with around 3500 new products available on the market this year, up from 2000 last year. It’s worth mentioning that this graphic only includes well-known, established products with VC backing, and there are probably far far more that aren’t even on their radar.

While bitching about this with some colleagues, designer and diagonal line enthusiast Bobby Anderson noted that this attitude to developing bespoke marketing dashboards is similar to the past attitude towards custom content management systems. In the early 2000s, agencies got into the habit of selling proprietary CMS to clients, something many developers nowadays find to be at best difficult to support and at worst a complete waste of time, money and energy. Just short of coming to their senses, many of these agencies have now adopted various open source CMS – like Umbraco, Django or Joomla – as suitable replacements for their bespoke solutions.

Looking at this builtwith graph, there are now only around 10 or so CMS in common usage across the majority of the (presumably indexed) internet. A deluge of unique but similar products for a single purpose – in this case managing content – wasn’t a manageable or sustainable way of developing for the web so we changed approach en masse. Despite there being an obvious example of this approach failing, a bunch of venture capitalists and marketing professionals with developer friends are happy to chuck money at thousands of knockoff analytics dashboards and shoddy social tools and presumably somehow still expect a return.

Venture Capitalists
A venture capitalist

This is not a condemnation of all online digital marketing tools, the best of which provide the ability to do something you can’t already do without considerable effort e.g. make simultaneous posts to multiple networks or monitor several conversations at once. The worst of them brag that they can automate your marketing, as if slapping your logo on some email templates and sending automated follow up emails and newsletters to your potential customer base is a legitimate sales tactic that converts. These things are also notoriously difficult to develop for, often relying on a number of APIs that can be changed, updated or restricted at a moments notice by the third party organisations that manage them.

So digital marketers, next report week when you’re sitting at your desk covered in notes and dried tears and have so many browser tabs open that you can’t even read the titles, don’t start making grand plans. Just get up from your desk, grab yourself a coffee and head to the nearest pub.

We don’t need any more online marketing tools.