Prioritizing business continuity in martech is a must — here’s why

In the second half of 2019, I made a presentation to Western Governors University’s marketing department. There I discussed a project that involved working with an IT colleague. We were documenting business continuity and disaster recovery (BCDR) plans for the department. 

Business continuity planning means working out how an organization will function after a major blocker to normal operation suddenly occurs. On the other hand, disaster recovery focuses on preparing for catastrophes like major earthquakes or hurricanes.

While explaining business continuity, I asked questions like, “What if one of our major vendors went out of business overnight?” and “What if a staff member critical to a platform or project was hit by a bus?” 

Little did I know at the time that I could’ve asked this question: “What if there’s a major global pandemic that forces all of us — let alone the rest of society — to work remotely for an extended period of time? How will we function?”

Or, for a more recent example, “What if one of our major channels (*cough* Twitter *cough*) crumbles before our eyes?”

The COVID-19 pandemic

I doubt business continuity is a hard sell in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. It truly disrupted global society in a way that dramatically affected everyone. 

Although we now have viable treatments and preventive measures like vaccines, we’re still feeling the effects in our personal and professional lives. While those of us in the marketing technology space were better suited to work remotely full-time than many other professions, we certainly had challenges. 

I’m sure that there were instances of people who were critical to running a campaign or configuring a system but were taken out of commission for several weeks by suffering from COVID-19. 

Further, although our profession is tech-focused and typically pays relatively well, some people may not have had access to quality broadband internet where they live. And who can’t forget how employees suddenly had to work side-by-side with their roommates, romantic partners, school-aged children and/or pets? 

Those all certainly presented challenges. Somehow we largely and collectively made it work. There are pros and cons to working remotely, just as there are to working in an office. I certainly don’t miss my commute, but I miss the impromptu banter. 

While we had collaboration tools like Teams, Zoom and Slack to help us work together from separate spaces, they weren’t perfect for long-term full-time use. Solutions like Roam, Frameable and Party.Space are rolling out to make these working arrangements function better.

Despite surviving this turmoil, most of us know there’s room for improvement.

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On Twitter’s future

I’m not going to predict what will ultimately happen with Twitter. It may die, but it may also move beyond its current period of upheaval to flourish. However, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t some real business continuity issues right now.

There is certainly wisdom in not putting all of one’s eggs in a single basket. The same goes for marketing channels. Organizations that rely too heavily on one or a few channels certainly face risk. We’ve seen this before. 

  • Who remembers Vine, the short-form video platform? 
  • Who has spoken with an SEO after Google significantly rejiggered its search ranking algorithms? 
  • Who remembers how Cambridge Analytica misused Facebook data? That certainly hastened a reckoning (that was likely inevitable, by the way). 
  • Let’s not forget the very real high-level discussions of banning TikTok in the United States due to the social network’s Chinese government connections.

Another important angle is how Twitter has rapidly decreased its content moderation teams. While we should enjoy free speech, that doesn’t mean that a brand feels comfortable placing an ad near someone’s controversial opinion on a hot-button topic. 

We should also consider abrupt and major product changes as well. For example, let’s consider Twitter quickly trying new verification modes. 

  • Did Pepsi really tweet that Coke is better? 
  • How much money did big pharma companies Eli Lilly, Novo Nordisk and Sanofi lose in stock value — let alone a rather unwanted public and political outcry about their business practices — over a fake yet “verified” tweet? 
  • Then there’s the increased prevalence of hate speech. Where do I stop?

Each of these is certainly not as disruptive as a global pandemic, but they can shake things up on a smaller scale.

That’s why it is wise for organizations to account for such disruptions in their marketing technology strategies. Business continuity planning is for far more than just when everyone is sent home to work remotely long-term or if someone is hit by a bus.

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Business continuity should be a priority

Most people understand the importance of BCDR. But in reality, it is hard to prioritize when there are so many other pressing matters for deadlines and gains from “known and shorter-term” goals and milestones than anticipating “hypothetical” events. However, “high-impact, low-probability” events happen. (Remember Eyjafjallajökull?) Ignoring these risks presents dangers. 

Fortunately, accounting for and addressing such risks has benefits even if calamity doesn’t ensue. For instance, enabling people to effectively collaborate from disparate places will help them work better when someone attends a conference, works from home due to a repair person coming or tends to an ill child. In the past, most companies would require people to take entire days off for such things, but now someone can still put a somewhat full day of work in. 

Further, cross-training people to ensure that there’s some redundancy running campaigns and systems is quite simply smart. Even if someone critical isn’t hit by a bus, they may unexpectedly give their two weeks’ notice. In fact, how many of us work under at-will employment laws that allow our employers to fire a colleague or us at any time in exchange for allowing us to quit at any time without either party being required to provide notice? 

When fostering multiple channels, this practice can help the organization gather more data, try different tactics and find new prospects in unexpected ways. Preparing for the hypothetical isn’t a waste of time, effort or resources.

A renewed resolve

We should use the recent past and present to encourage us to recommit to business continuity and disaster recovery planning. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not hoping for the worst, but bad things happen — regardless if it’s a plague or significant turmoil at a prominent social network.

However, while martech practitioners already have a lot on their plates, BCDR should come off the back burner and onto their plates. Fortunately, there are BCDR professionals in IT and other risk management disciplines whom we can team up with to prepare for the worst while hoping for the best. We don’t need to do this alone.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily MarTech. Staff authors are listed here.

About The Author

Steve Petersen

Steve Petersen is a marketing technology manager at Zuora. He spent nearly 8.5 years at Western Governors University, holding many martech related roles with the last being marketing technology manager. Prior to WGU, he worked as a strategist at the Washington, DC digital shop The Brick Factory, where he worked closely with trade associations, non-profits, major brands, and advocacy campaigns. Petersen holds a Master of Information Management from the University of Maryland and a Bachelor of Arts in International Relations from Brigham Young University. He’s also a Certified ScrumMaster. Petersen lives in the Salt Lake City, UT area.

Petersen represents his own views, not those of his current or former employers.

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