Marketing is one of the fundamentals of business, and its goal has always been to help businesses understand and meaningfully communicate with their customers. But the methods used by marketing teams today are virtually unrecognizable compared to just a few years ago.
While many businesses used to pin their hopes on traditional marketing with a ‘throw everything at the wall and see what sticks’ approach, they are now relying much more on a customer-centric, or customer-first, approach, underpinned by a data-driven attitude.
At the heart of this customer-centric approach lies personalization — the practice of tailoring marketing messages to the different audiences or even individuals that interact with a business. Recent research from Eagle Eye found that personalization is now a necessity for marketers, with 81% of 2,000 respondents saying that relevance is a key driver in whether they redeem promotions sent to them by brands. But of course, this is no easy task.
Indeed, separate research from Sitecore and Vanson Bourne found that 98% of UK consumers believe such a thing as ‘bad personalization’ exists, indicating that, in the public’s opinion, personalization alone is not enough — it needs to be done correctly, in real-time, according to individual interests and behaviors.
Although the customer remains at the very heart of all marketing efforts — and will always continue to do so — this shift in the marketing approach has partly come about through the need to optimize media spend and to measure and improve the overall marketing ROI. Previously, when relying primarily on offline marketing, businesses were struggling to achieve reasonable ROI levels due to the inability to filter out those who aren’t interested and focus on those who are. But now we have the tools and technologies to target consumers at a nearly microscopic level using the likes of social media advertisements and push notifications, which makes marketing far more attractive and worthwhile.
Relay42 wanted to find out how marketers really operate in today’s tech and media landscape, and so we decided to engage with industry experts, influencers and prominent bloggers to discuss the current marketing challenges they were struggling with, the solutions they are using to solve these problems, and the upcoming marketing trends they foresee on the horizon.
Ultimately, we wanted to find out just how much of a role technology plays in the wider efforts of marketing.
As marketers adapt to working with a data-driven mindset and adopt various new and emerging technologies to help them meet these changing business objectives, they are naturally faced with a whole new set of marketing challenges.
The crux of these problems seems to revolve around the expanding roles and responsibilities of the marketer. Whereas they used to be responsible for overseeing activities over a handful of channels at most, they are now having to juggle their presence across dozens of different touchpoints, the number of which is only set to increase as new technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) find their way into the marketing lexicon.
Dan Galante (@NYEdTechTeacher), a prominent business writer and blogger in the fields of sales, marketing and social media, tells us that marketers are fully aware of the value in delivering personalized customer journeys, but they’re struggling to work with other departments within the business to deliver an effective customer experience. He also mentions a difficulty in making effective use of customer data to realize this unified marketing vision.
“Marketers realize the importance of delivering customer journeys, but are having a hard time breaking down silos between sales, service and marketing, and bringing customer data together to deliver on this vision.”
This lack of alignment between departments is backed up by industry statistics. In 2017, eConsultancy found that, when asking businesses whether they were adequately supported by other members of the organization in reaching their customer experience aims, 40% of respondents answered ‘no, different departments have their own agenda.’ Furthermore, when asked what is driving their customer experience implementation process, 30% of respondents said they measure their customer experience on a channel-by-channel basis.
This is a major stumbling block when it comes to making effective cross-context personalization and customer loyalty programs a reality, as it prevents businesses from having a clear, defined strategy from the outset — an integral part of any marketing approach. The problem also comes down to a lack of unified data: unless all teams are using the same data to inform their marketing and personalization efforts, customer journeys will end up being fragmented and potentially frustrating for the consumer.
Another challenge identified by SeeThat, a video content agency based in Brighton, UK, is the difficulty marketers have in portraying a strong, consistent tone of voice when there are many channels to think about.
"[Cross-channel personalization] makes showing off their brand identity and also staying relevant big challenges."
This is a challenge that is also closely related to the aforementioned issue of operating in silos. Many marketers are keen to deliver sequential storytelling as part of their campaigns, but this is a real challenge to implement across silos. With a lack of overarching logic or a governing control center, it is practically impossible to create a connection that brings all the content together, let alone tailor that content to specific individuals.
Marketers struggle with the conflicting burden of owning the consistent customer relationship across all channels while having to juggle competing, and siloed, departmental goals, processes, and data pools.
In order to tackle the cross-channel unification challenge, marketers are increasingly reliant on the implementation of various technological solutions. Some of these technologies, use sophisticated algorithms and machine learning to better serve their customers through vast amounts of data, while data platforms — such as CMPs and DMPs — are used to pool data from multiple sources and use it to personalize customer journeys across all channels (thus addressing the data silo and cross-channel problem simultaneously). Whatever their role, these technologies are used to perform marketing-related functions that could not be achieved at the same scale by humans.
Gemma Rubio, founder and CMO of Define the Fine, discussed how the role of technology is only set to become more ubiquitous in turning data into meaningful customer relationships:
"Technology is having a huge impact on marketing and as it is growing, it’s difficult to think about Marketing without technology. It’s really important the info quality and how do you turn it into knowledge, and it’s easier with tech tools. We’ll use it more and more (IoT, RA, RX,etc.)."
Exactly how marketers use technology to tackle the issues they’re facing, however, differs from business to business, and it was interesting to observe the range of responses we received from marketing influencers and industry experts.
Searching for clarity
Peter Lavers, an influencer and IBM futurist in customer experience, believes the overarching solution to improving the marketing customer experience is to use technology that makes data easier to manage.
"Top tip for a marketer looking to improve #custexp? Bring your #segmentation & #personalization up to date. This requires sorting your basic #data problems! #marketing"
In particular, Lavers cites how AI and machine learning could be used to combine two specific varieties of customer data — attitudinal and behavioral — to be able to better predict their behaviors, needs and interests.
"In my view, this is one of the great opportunities of the Big Data/Machine Learning/ AI/Cognitive revolution — that attitudinal data can be systematically captured and/or inferred. This enables attitudinal and behavioral data to be combined."
Tech for customer-centricity
However, while the potential of technologies in solving these kinds of marketing issues is not in doubt, how much trust should we be placing in the hands of technology to help us deliver personalized marketing journeys that will improve the overall customer experience?
Blake Morgan, customer experience futurist, author and keynote speaker, believes that marketers should take a much more considered approach regarding the role technology plays in their wider marketing efforts, recommending taking a step back and evaluating its true value beforehand.
"They should walk through the customer’s shoes. If the tech doesn’t make the customer’s life easier or better, what’s the point?"
Technology has huge potential to help marketers solve the cross-channel and data silo problem while scaling their effectiveness, but it needs to be a strategic decision balancing current and long-term needs, always keeping the end customer in mind.
So given that marketers are spending so much of their time thinking about how their chosen technology will serve them in the long-term, what do they think of the future of MarTech?
We have already touched upon the impact that AI is having on marketing — particularly in being able to deliver true personalization and relevance across multiple channels through its ability to recognize patterns, understand behaviors and execute actions based on this information — and its adoption
shows no sign of slowing down. According to a PwC study, 72% of business leaders in the UK and the US believe the use of AI is now a ‘business advantage.’
Although slightly earlier in its adoption phase than AI, marketers are also beginning to realize the potential that IoT has in targeting consumers with communications and messages around the home in creative and dynamic ways. With the worldwide IoT market set to reach $772.5 billion by the end of 2018, and the number of connected devices to reach 75 billion by 2025, this presents marketers with an unprecedented level of opportunity in terms of enhancing and expanding their personalization and cross-channel efforts.
Tessa Wegert, a Freelance Digital Writer who has had work published regularly in the likes of AdWeek and The Drum, reaffirmed the importance of AI in marketing — both now and in the future — and in delivering successful cross-channel communications.
"I’d say that AI and machine learning will be pretty key. Marketers should focus on personalization and creating a more customized, omnichannel experience."
New use of old channels
Although not a marketing technology per se, we also found that the rise of cross-channel marketing has led to an increase in video consumption, which some expect to continue as we move further into 2018 and beyond. According to SeeThat, this video boom has been particularly noticeable across social media platforms.
“In some respects, [cross-channel marketing] is also one of the key drivers for video consumption. Video has grown massively on Instagram, Facebook, now coming to LinkedIn as well. The consumers’ appetite has grown and brands are following."
The changing nature of customers’ preferred means of consuming content means marketers will need to lean on technologies that help them to create personalized communications not only across channels, but also across new, changing, and proliferating types of content. It seems that dynamic content will be the future of marketing, used to support and spearhead the stand-out creative through technology to smarten and personalize the overall approach.
Technologies that help customers get exactly the kind of content they need, tailored precisely to their specific needs, in the format and channel needed in the moment, are already starting to take center stage on the marketer’s agenda.
The role of technology in digital marketing is enormous. There are many technologies around today that can solve common marketing problems and help to deliver increasingly sophisticated, intelligent and personalized customer journeys, which in turn boost engagement and loyalty. The likes of AI and machine learning to unify and activate huge amounts of data is already being realized by marketers across the globe, and as time goes on the sophistication of these technologies is only going to increase.
Ultimately, however, each business will rely on technology in different ways. While some might find it hugely beneficial to adopt as many technologies as possible as part of their marketing efforts, others might notice that the same technologies aren’t satisfying customer needs, or they’re delivering a low ROI. As Blake Morgan implies above, marketers need to ask themselves a simple question: Will this technology help us as a business to reach the right person, with the right message, at the right time and in the right place?
As for upcoming trends, the future of digital marketing undoubtedly lies in the huge potential of AI technology. Numerous influencers that we spoke to for this article referred to AI for its marketing advantages, and while it has already proved hugely effective for orchestrating engaging and contextually relevant communications based around huge amounts of data, we will surely see it serve even more advanced purposes in the near future and beyond.