There are thousands of marketing tools you could use — but which marketing software should you use?

Choosing the best marketing software for your business is hard. There are so many options, and it feels like there are a lot of ways to go wrong.

You’re worried that you could end up:

  • Losing time and money
  • Damaging your reputation and career as a marketing professional
  • Choosing the wrong tool for the job
  • Paying for features that you’ll never use
  • Buying software that doesn’t work well together

Let’s be honest: In 2021, marketing software is all over the map.

There are new software categories popping up every day. Conversational marketing? Revenue acceleration platform? Gifting software? Which ones do you need to consider (and which ones can you ignore)?

These are the top 14 marketing software categories to consider: 

  1. Customer relationship management (CRM) software
  2. Social media management (organic and paid) software
  3. Email marketing software
  4. Video conferencing software
  5. Content management software (CMS)
  6. Marketing automation software
  7. Landing page software
  8. Search engine optimization (SEO) software
  9. Website analytics software
  10. Paid marketing (programmatic, retargeting, display) software
  11. Customer service software
  12. Affiliate marketing software
  13. Live chat software
  14. Account-based marketing (ABM) software

Keep reading to see what each type of marketing software is useful for, who can benefit from it, and which pieces of marketing software you actually need to run your business.

This video is a segment from “Growth Decoded”, a show that investigates the relationship between the customer experience and business growth — one topic at a time.
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14 Different types of marketing software used by top marketers

Savvy marketers not only use excellent marketing software, but also orchestrate it together to further increase their results.

If you’re searching for the right marketing software stack for your business, here’s a quick guide to 14 of the most important software categories you can use to improve your marketing.

1. Customer relationship management (CRM) software

Customer relationship management (CRM) software is used to manage and track customer relationships. 

Has anybody followed up with that lead? When? How? Did they get the demo video that we sent them? When’s the next meeting?

66% of consumers say connected experiences—like seamless handoffs between departments and channels—are very important to win their business. 

With so many customer touch points in today’s marketing and sales landscape, keeping track of where your customers are at in their customer lifecycle can be a nightmare.

Long-gone are the days of managing customer relationships in a spreadsheet (or worse, in your head). A CRM (customer relationship management) software is fast becoming essential software for many businesses.

Popular CRM tools: ActiveCampaign, Salesforce, Microsoft Dynamics

ActiveCampaign’s CRM continues to outrank the rest (with over 7,200+ reviews):

Life-changing marketing software. ActiveCampaign is a very user-friendly but at the same time extremely powerful marketing software. The awesome thing about it is that it is not simply an email sender or autoresponder. It goes so much more in depth with a fully customizable CRM and pipeline manager.

Alberto O.

Already using Salesforce for a CRM?

We use Salesforce for our CRM. We wanted to find something that would integrate to that easily in the marketing platform space. ActiveCampaign checked that box like a champ.

Mike M.

Learn more about ActiveCampaign’s top-rated sales CRM software.

2. Social media management (organic and paid) software

Social media management software is used to track paid social marketing campaigns, discover branded conversations on social platforms, post to social media platforms and analyze social reach.

Social media marketing and communication teams use social media management tools to establish workflows, share engaging content, engage in social communities, and improve brand awareness. 

Often, these tools allow a business to:

  • Calendar / plan their social media content
  • Publish / automate social media posts directly to a platform (across multiple platforms and accounts)
  • Reply to social media mentions within the software
  • Store / archive social media posts and brand assets for later us

Popular social media tools: Sprout Social, Buzzsumo, Buffer

3. Email marketing software

Email marketing software is used to build and maintain relationships, as well as to encourage contacts to take action.

Sending emails is easier than ever before, but getting the right emails in front of the right people at the right time is… not.

Top email marketing software tools allow you to segment your email contacts to send highly relevant messages at exactly the right time.

With a 4.6 (out of 5) across 7,200+ reviews on G2, ActiveCampaign continues to be the email service provider of choice for businesses and marketers:

Reporting, segmentation, and automations are great in ActiveCampaign. Our email deliverability has greatly improved as well. The drag and drop editor is very easy to use and even people in my company who don’t have a design background are able to use it. Our site runs on Shopify. Integration was simple and I like how they “talk” to each other.

Dave F.

Learn more about ActiveCampaign’s email marketing software.

4. Video conferencing software

Video conferencing software is used for client meetings, to team meetings, interviews and collaboration, video is a powerful part of your marketing software stack.

With many businesses (that were able to) going remote during the pandemic, video conferencing became must-have marketing software.

Popular video tools: Zoom, Google Hangout, Skype, Microsoft Teams

5. Content management software (CMS)

Content management software (CMS) increases the ease of publishing and editing content online.

Most modern marketers use some sort of content management software (CMS). WordPress, the most popular CMS, powers nearly 40% of all websites and owns 64% of the CMS market share.

Popular content management tools: WordPress, Drupal, Ghost, Wix, Squarespace

6. Marketing automation software

Marketing automation software is used to make every customer feel like they have a personal marketer working at your company.

Marketing automation is one of the most powerful categories of marketing software as it allows you to scale your efforts (almost) indefinitely.

You got into business to do what you love, not send emails and spend your entire day in a spreadsheet.  The best marketing automation software helps you automate all of the tasks that you don’t have time for.

Before coming on board at HSD Metrics, they had no idea how marketing worked, let alone marketing automation and the best practices associated. With ActiveCampaign I’ve been able to clearly articulate both the importance of these best practices as well as how to best implement them no matter the skill level of the individual that will be performing the execution.

Jacob B.

Active Campaign has powerful features, like many other marketing automation platforms, but my favorite thing about it is how user friendly it is.

Todd T.

Learn more about ActiveCampaign’s marketing automation software.

7. Landing page software

Landing page software tests, analyzes and increases conversion rates on landing pages.

Running a targeted marketing campaign and wish you could figure out what of your pages are performing the best? 

Landing page software allows marketers to create, a/b test, analyze and optimize the pages they’re sending traffic to.

Popular landing page tools: Visual Website Optimizer (VWO), Optimizely, Unbounce

8. Search engine optimization (SEO) software

SEO software improves the discoverability of your business in search engines.

Once considered to be “free” traffic made by tweaking a few small things on your website, search engine optimization (SEO) has become immensely competitive over the last decade.  This software category has become an essential part of most marketers’ tech stack to help them spy on competitors, build backlinks and optimize their content for search engine visitors.

Popular SEO tools: SEMrush, Ahrefs, Moz, Frase, Pitchbox, Seobility

9. Website analytics software

Website analytics software is used to analyze and attribute marketing efforts.

Want to know who’s visiting your website and what they’re doing there? Wish you knew which marketing channels and campaigns were having the biggest impact for your customers and your business?

In the end, every marketing technology stack has a foundation in website analytics. The better your analytics help you assess what’s working (and what isn’t) the faster you can make improvements in your marketing and customer experience.

Popular website analytics tools: Google Analytics, Fathom Analytics, Crazy Egg, Hotjar, Kissmetrics

10. Paid marketing (programmatic, retargeting, display) software

Paid marketing software is used to serve ads on websites across the internet, including specifically retargeting users who have visited their site previously.

To achieve a larger reach for their brand, marketers (and the third party ad agencies they contract with) drive brand awareness and direct response marketing campaigns by buying display advertisements on other websites. While seemingly the most common form of online advertising, display advertising is commonly offered as a cross-channel platform allowing businesses to market across mobile, social media, web, and search engines.

These tools also can use cookies to retarget website visitors via pixels. Once the user leaves the website, the pixel interacts with paid retargeting software to serve certain ads based on the pages the user visited or interacted with on the original website.

Often, paid marketing tools allow a business to:

  • Attach pixels and identify website visitors
  • Use cookies to advertise to website visitors on other websites
  • Track success metrics such as ROAS, reach and conversions
  • Buy and serve display ads via ad networks and exchanges
  • Create display advertisements such as rich media and banners

Popular paid marketing tools: Zeta, Adroll, Google Adwords

11. Customer service software

Customer service software allows businesses to support users and customers without the need for live chat or customer support agents.

Businesses are able to offer support around-the-clock by allowing customers to troubleshoot issues and find information without the support of a customer service representative. These self-service tools allow service agents to focus (improving productivity) and have a secondary effect of improving customer satisfaction.

With a branded knowledge base (KB), customer service software tools allow customers to view contextually guided tutorials and walkthroughs, as well as interaction with automated digital chatbots.

Commonly known as “help desk software,” customer service software allows a business to:

  • Provide 24-hour support (even when support agents are offline)
  • Create a database of frequently asked questions
  • Assist customers with common task completion

Popular customer service tools: Zoho Desk, Zendesk, Freshdesk

12. Affiliate marketing software

Affiliate marketing software is used by businesses to allow affiliates to promote the business’s products and services on their own site. The affiliates then receive a percentage of the total sale as a commission based on conversions, sales and (sometimes) traffic.

Often in the form of an affiliate “network,” this software allows marketers to track, manage, and scale an affiliate marketing program. Campaign tracking, and even payouts, are all done within the software platform.

The major advantage of affiliate marketing for businesses is that payments are often only made when sales occur, allowing a brand to work with content creators and influencers to increase brand awareness while only paying for conversions.

Affiliate marketing software allows a business to:

  • Allow potential affiliates to apply for the program
  • Manage affiliate campaigns
  • Track affiliate campaigns and payments

Popular affiliate marketing tools: Impact, PartnerStack

Interested in affiliate marketing and want to make $1,350 per referral? Click here to join the ActiveCampaign affiliate program.

13. Live chat software

Live chat software is used by businesses to communicate in real time with website visitors.

There are multiple use cases within a business, including:

  • Customer service agents can provide support you users with product-related questions and website navigation problems
  • Marketers can interact with website visitors and help them to the next best step in the customer lifecycle
  • Sales team and business development professionals can interact with new and returning leads

Live chat software allows a business to:

  • Instantly reply to messages across multiple platforms
  • Prompt users to use the chat feature, or live natively on the website
  • Provide a unified inbox for support teams
  • Searchable conversation archives
  • Report and analyze the effectiveness of their team members using live chat
  • Automate chatbots to support marketing

Want to engage with your customers in real-time? Click here to try ActiveCampaign Conversations for free.

14. Account-based marketing (ABM) software

In lieu of a traditional “marketing funnel” approach, account based marketing (ABM) software focuses on a narrower approach of account intelligence and account management: aligning marketing and sales goals together in a single effort.

Account based marketing (ABM) software has grown in popularity as the traditional “top of funnel” approach has saturated certain industries.

A strong account based marketing strategy requires strong communication between sales and marketing, as well as intelligence-gathering on key accounts. Because the effort is so focused, marketers and salespeople need to know, up to the minute, where an account is in the customer lifecycle.

Popular ABM tools: Terminus, DemandBase, ZoomInfo

As you can see, within each category, there are anywhere from two to over a dozen different options to choose from. 

With so much to lose, how do you make a smart decision for your business?

How to choose a marketing software

But it feels like there’s more choices than ever and every single one of them is vying for attention.

How do you choose? What makes some marketing software better than others?

  1. Use case — Understand exactly what you’re going to be using the marketing software for. If your website only gets 750 views per month, you may not need that new chatbot software. Choose software that enhances your team with actionable insights.
  2. Goals — What will this software help you achieve and how long will it take to achieve that goal? Once you know what numbers you want to hit, you can better align with a software provider that meets your needs.
  3. Reviews — G2 was linked to multiple times above because it’s fantastic site to research reviews of software. Once you’ve established why you want a new marketing tool and how it can help you, search for reviews based on that use case and goals (ex: ActiveCampaign has 7,200+ reviews but you can filter it down to specific categories like CRM, email automation or email marketing).
  4. Case study — Every software vendor worth considering will have case studies or customer stories published on their website. Check to see if one of those aligns with your business, use case, and goals.
  5. Demo / review — Asking a representative from the vendor to demonstrate the software for you is a great way to see if it can do everything you need it to for your business.
  6. Trial — Finally, don’t just settle for the demo. Ideally, you want the person that will actually be using the product to be able to use it ahead of committing to payment or a long-term agreement.

Regardless of their size, every business could benefit from using marketing software allowing a small team (sometimes even a single employee) to do the work of many.

Many things separate the top marketers from their less successful counterparts, but one aspect that stands out is their ability to use technology to their advantage. 

Now that you’ve chosen the best tools for the job, which means our tools need to talk to each other and work together.

When tools need to talk, businesses turn to marketing orchestration.

Click here to read our ultimate guide to marketing orchestration.