For many marketing professionals, the opportunity to get to grips with new technology is like being a child in a candy store.
So many choices, so much opportunity. Yet there is always a caveat. The need for speed may be important, but so is getting things right. Experimentation is fruitful, but do not work with technology for technology’s sake.
Luckily, help may be at hand. R3 is a global consultancy which focuses purely on marketers’ needs, and the company recently issued a report that takes a look at 40 marketing technology companies making change from their clients across the globe.
Principal Greg Paull notes the company’s unique position among consultancies – one which has been going strong for the better part of two decades. “We started the company about 17 years ago, and I think we started very much in a sense of being there to help marketers – quite frankly, we’re still doing that 17 years later,” Paull tells MarketingTech. “I think all that’s changed is the environment that marketers are in.
“Someone like a McKinsey or Bain or BCG [Boston Consulting Group] can serve the CEO, KPMG and Ernst & Young can serve the CFO, but [there isn’t] a voice for the CMO,” adds Paull. “It’s very much the foundation we started the company on, and we’ve gone from there.”
It could be argued that now is a better time than ever to be in the business of offering advice. As the Future40 report muses, marketing has changed more in the past two years than in the previous five thanks to 2.5 quintillion bytes of data being generated and acted upon every day; the building out of virtual worlds and omnichannel strategies; and the different roles brands can inhabit as a result. Again, it is a world of opportunity – but one where it is more difficult to stand out at the same time.
“Consumers have become far more ad-averse than they were 15 years ago,” explains Paull. “There are still millions of consumers blocking ads on their phones, [and that’s] only going to increase. As strong as data is, there’s just as much of a need to have relevant and appropriate messaging – and that’s become more critical than ever.”
This is an important facet to note; the technology always remains a conduit to the data, and the data ultimately always remains a conduit to the customer experience. “I think that’s very important,” says Paull. “I think there’s a danger in being caught up with shiny new objects.
“We took quite a bit of time in the report to say ‘look, is your brand really going to benefit from this type of technology?’ It’s kind of a checklist for marketers, for each of the 12 different technologies that we profiled,” he adds. “I think those are really crucial. Without that there is the sense of [asking] ‘do I need to play catch up just to get involved in these sectors?’
“Not all sectors are going to be right at all stages of a consumer journey, so I think it’s really about finding the right ones at the right time.”
Some brands cropped up more than others in the report. Coca-Cola, for instance, made no fewer than five appearances as customers of startups focusing on augmented reality, data intelligence, ad tech, and more. Yet Paull argues you don’t have to be a big brand to make the most of these initiatives. “I think the whole role of chatbots and artificial intelligence can play a role for almost any marketer,” he says. “You can learn a lot from the larger marketers, but these are things that aren’t exclusive to those with the [big] budgets.
“There’s a need for all marketers to embrace technology in an engaging way.”
Artificial intelligence and automation are areas Paull expects will open up a myriad of possibilities. They will eventually create the standard, which is data-driven personalisation. Netflix for instance runs millions of different messages each day. While Paull notes the need to be cautious for now, it is an example of what he calls ‘dynamic creative’ at play. No longer are we advertising ‘at’ people, but ‘with’ people. “There’s a dialogue going on,” he explains. “In the future, we will advertise ‘for’ people.”
The issue of engagement can be seen in another context as well. The CMO’s position in the boardroom is one which continues to be scrutinised, although things do appear to be getting better. Why? It all comes down to return on investment. Writing for this publication in January, James Fletcher, CEO and principal consultant at European marketing automation consultancy JTF Marketing, put it in somewhat antagonistic terms.
“Sometimes even the CMO and the marketing team can struggle to truly see and act upon the correlation between leads generated and revenue generated,” Fletcher wrote. “Their goal is revenue growth and customer retention, and it’s time for the CMO to prove that marketing can support this, both opening the doors for sales and pushing them over the line.”
Paull sees it similarly. “One of the key things is the role of internal stakeholders,” he says. “Marketing in the 21st century is more of a collaborative experience, engaging your technology team and your sales team. If you look at eCommerce, that’s a marketing-led function that involves parts of the whole company, as well as the C-suite.
“We’re increasingly seeing CTOs and CMOs working in a much more collaborative way than they were four, five years ago,” Paull adds. “That’s going to be crucial to the future as well.”
R3 will be sharing its views on a panel at DMWF North America next month – and the message given to attendees will be one of cautious optimism.
“I think the key thing is to look at lessons learned,” says Paull. “Don’t sit back on the sidelines and wait; start an incubator, start something internally, get some reverse mentoring.
“This is not something you can put on the back burner for six months and then revisit – these are technologies that are being actively used today by leading marketers. It just doesn’t make sense for you to not be playing an active role in this whole process.”
Find out more about Digital Marketing World Forum (#DMWF) Europe, London, North America, and Singapore.