MarTech conference highlights digital marketers’ central dilemma
In session after session, it’s clear that marketing technology has reached a turning point.
The central dilemma facing modern marketers can be summed up in two words:
That dilemma percolated throughout presentations and sessions on the opening day of our MarTech Conference, taking place Tuesday and Wednesday at the Hynes Auditorium in Boston.
Marketers now have immediate and affordable access to infinitely powerful cloud-based tools, data and intelligence. The technologies allow anyone with a modest budget to blast out messages to big chunks of the human race, finely tune a precise offer to the needs of one potential buyer or, soon, shower consumers with product offers wherever they go.
As Spiderman’s Uncle Ben pointed out: “With great power comes great responsibility.”
But there’s also the consideration that great marketing power, used badly, is counter-productive. Marketo CEO Steve Lucas laid out the decision that empowered marketers face.
“Just because you can,” he told a lunchtime audience, “doesn’t mean you should.”
Spam, information overload, privacy violations and brand irritation are just some of the possible consequences of too much delivered power, too much volume. He noted that marketers now have “infinite demand drivers,” while customers and potential customers have “finite attention.”
“We’ve reached this moment in marketing,” he said, “where we have this decision — do we drive volume?”
Value > volume
Marketers need to remember, Lucas pointed out, that value trumps volume. Precise engagement at the right time in a non-linear customer journey is more productive than any effort to swamp the user. It’s the marketer’s dilemma: now that the tools, data and reach are becoming hugely powerful — and hugely intelligent — the strategic move is to limit marketing actions to ones that deliver value.
But the temptation to pump the “infinite demand drivers” is growing daily.
Microsoft General Manager of Global Search Ads Steve Sirch, in a session on “How AI Is Changing the Face of Marketing,” showed a video where a blind engineer in his company developed an app that employs machine vision and AI through a pair of glasses to narrate, in real time, the world around him. “There’s a young girl throwing a Frisbee,” it tells him as he walks sightless in a park.
Extrapolated, it’s a vision of a world where a marketing engine is literally recognizing everything that goes on in the real world.
IDC analyst Gerald Murray, in a session on “The Rise of AI in Marketing,” noted that marketers and others are in the process of “sensoring the whole world.”
By 2020, he predicted, half of all companies will use cognitive computing to automate marketing and sales interactions with customers. When you add pervasive marketing and search technologies like Amazon’s Alexa, Google Home and Apple’s Siri, Murray said, it’s clear that AI and its possibilities for marketing are “going into everything.”
But he and Lucas are among those who see the consumer as growing their own technological powers.
In the future, Murray said, “the cognitive consumer is just as smart as you [the marketer],” because the consumer will have access to intelligent bots that work as its agents.
Lucas said that “customer relationship management” is currently a misnomer, because the customer manages the relationship these days, not the marketer.
Reality is catching up
This is a common refrain among tech vendors and analysts, but there’s one factor that argues against this “customer as equal or greater partner.”
The marketer, at least outside the European Union and its coming General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), can know everything about the buyer. Some marketers say they have thousands of data points on each individual or corporate account.
So, the question is: how is the customer in charge if the marketer has all the info?
Of course, there is no Infinite-Marketing-Power-as-a-Service, not yet. Putting all the pieces together is still complex and error-prone. In a session on “The Right Way to Select Marketing Tech,” for instance, Real Story Group CEO Tony Byrne presented some of the ways in which the promise and the hype of marketing tools often don’t match the reality.
But reality has a way of catching up with the tech. In her session on “7 Behavior Hacks,” HBT Marketing’s Chief Creative Officer Nancy Harhut pointed out strategies that marketers can employ to tap into buyers’ subconscious decision-making that behavioral scientists have discovered.
Things like making offers seem like you’ve seen them before, making them available for a limited time, posting prices as $120 not $120.00 and getting small commitments before asking for large ones.
As it turns out, all seven of her behavioral strategies can now be hugely amplified by marketing tech that learns, remembers, compares and strategizes your behavior against the entire market’s.
“With enough time, money and Ibuprofen, I can get anything I want,” Bryne said, only slightly exaggerating the potential in today’s marketing tech.
Now, with all this power at their disposal, marketers just need to figure out what they — and their customers and potential customers — actually want.