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Martech 2017: The four biggest trends so far this year
What's been happening in martech in 2017? Intelligence, Transparency, The Experience and Going Beyond Computers.
The biggest problem with year-end reviews is that, at least in marketing technology, a year can be a lifetime.
So, to give you a head start on digesting this year of turmoil, here’s a half-time review of this year’s biggest trends. As of midsummer, I see four big buckets of trends-in-progress: Intelligence, Transparency, The Experience and Going Beyond Computers.
Not only is every tool and platform getting way smarter, it’s almost at the point where this new level of smartness isn’t news anymore.
Almost every self-respecting vendor is adding artificial intelligence (AI) to its resume these days, largely built around machine learning’s pattern recognition and predictive analytics’ projection of those patterns into the future.
IBM’s Watson is one of the AI implementations that is extending that smartness into advanced cognition in an increasingly wider sphere of implementations for the “Jeopardy” winner. Just in recent months, for instance, he’s tackled such tasks as intelligent ads for cars, bot integration with live agents and tax prep.
AI has become a key layer in major marketing platforms in recent months, such as Salesforce’s Einstein or Adobe’s Sensei. Dozens of smaller companies have similarly launched or enhanced their AI in the first half of this year, including — to mention a few — Absolutdata, ContentSquare, PaveAI, Stackla, Blueshift, Datorama, Pegasystems and Post Intelligence.
Although bots can be as smart as Watson or as basic as rule-based engines, from the customer’s point of view, they join AI as another way to converse with devices.
In recent months, there have been new platforms from Sprout Social and Snaps, bot assistants for businesses like ones from Shopify, Pegasystems, Totango and Knoema, and even bot marketers like the one that introduced Kia Motors’ Super Bowl ad.
In short, the big brother of AI and the smaller sibling of bots are dramatically changing expectations. Marketers are learning to expect that platforms offer important insights pulled from layers of hidden data, make predictions about customers and know how to see a world of images, objects and sounds.
And consumers are quickly learning that their most natural way to communicate with other humans — speaking, gesturing and writing plain English — is the way they will now communicate with visible and invisible machines.
Machine intelligence is largely a complex and hidden process, as have been the rule-based systems that have guided much of digital advertising.
But, in the last year or so, the patience of advertisers to understand what they are buying has essentially run out. So, we’ve seen the boom in efforts to make advertising more direct and transparent, such as the increasingly popular header bidding trend. It’s become so popular that Google — whose practices were the driver behind the rise of header bidding — has basically conceded that it is here to stay, while AOL, IAB and others have been solidifying the way it works.
Especially in the last few months, transparency is being seen as a competitive advantage. Examples include AppsFlyer’s attribution dashboard, Revcontent’s incipient Truth Initiative and Havas’s new transparency platform.
In the past few months, for instance, people-based marketing was extended in a LiveRamp-based consortium, in Time Inc./Viant’s marketing platform, and in a new publisher consortium from Sonobi. And the key tool behind anonymized targeting — anonymous third-party cookies — has been getting stale.
The same transparency urge behind header bidding and people-based marketing — understanding what the deal is and who you’re dealing with, whether marketer or customer — is similarly driving General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), a European Union-based consumer privacy initiative that could have a significant impact in the US and elsewhere.
And that urge is also driving the adoption of blockchain, the shared ledger technology formerly known as bitcoin’s infrastructure. In its new incarnation, it is emerging as a way to build permanent transparency into ad contracts, consumer identity, product sourcing and other parts of the murky ad tech swamp.
“I require omnichannel marketing,” said no customer ever.
Same with omnichannel customer service, 360-degree view of the customer, or any of the other buzz-phrases that have propelled marketing and sales tech over the last few years.
In recent months, vendor after vendor has come to the realization that the real job of their customer-facing tech is to enhance and maintain the customer’s key takeaway: the experience. And, in an age when competing products and services can literally be found and purchased in seconds, the distinguishing factor for many brands and retailers is how the customer felt about buying and using that thing you’re selling.
Sprinklr, for instance, now defines itself beyond social media management as a customer experience cloud, joining Adobe, Salesforce and others in refocusing their key mission. IDC analyst Gerald Murray is urging vendors to adopt the concept of Customer Experience Orchestration Services, while others, like analyst David Raab, push the centrality of a Customer Data Platform to unify experience across touch points.
Whatever the means or language, though, it’s likely that more vendors will jump on the customer experience bandwagon in the coming months.
If so, expect to see new dimensions emerge for what we mean by that term. Online, experience will be dramatically changed by radical interface revolutions offered by such tech as virtual/augmented reality. In the real world, expect to see new kinds of “post-online physical stores” as Amazon redefines Whole Foods and as the Internet of Things (IoT) turns a walk down the street into a walk through a hidden virtual space.
With “online” growing to include both the world inside a screen and the screens popping up everywhere in the world, these last few months have included several milestones in that march.
Over-the-Top (OTT) TV — whose advertising and interactive viewing keeps getting closer and closer to online video — may soon need a new name, particularly if the new ATSC 3.0 standard takes hold and essentially makes all of TV into a kind of OTT service. And video billboards — inching ever closer to becoming a completely programmatic advertising market — are also turning into sensing devices for the real world.
Add in geofencing, IoT, location targeting, Eddystone beacons and smart buildings, and we’re just around the corner from when our real world landscape is fully integrated with virtual environments. In other words, we’re closing in on the time when “online” and “offline” will be considered quaint terms.