Piers Newton Smith, Head of Brand Strategy, Direct Line Group
MarTech is rapidly becoming the foundation of brands’ relationships with their customers. So the biggest implication on business has got to be the need for ever deeper relationships between CIO and Marketing teams.
In his brilliant book titled “Digital Darwinism”, Tom Goodwin talks about how hard it is for legacy businesses to imagine how to be adept at new technologies. He uses the example of the electrical revolution, showing how owners of steam-powered factories couldn’t see past simply replacing the rotating ‘drive shaft’ that powered highly inefficient (and dangerous) manufacturing processes with an electricity-powered version. It took 80 or so years for companies to figure out how electricity could be used to redefine manufacturing. When that happened, modern factories generated incredible improvements for customers, staff and businesses alike.
This is marketing’s side of the relationship. All great marketing starts with understanding customers’ needs and making sure that a brand delivers against them at every touchpoint. This pivotal activity goes far beyond advertising and is the sum of every single customer perception. That’s everything that it communicates to people, every service experience it gives them and every product that it makes.
As marketers, we need every tool in the box to stay ahead. However, we are experiencing ever-increasing and accelerating change. There’s a constant barrage of issues fighting for our attention now. What is the future of TV and how will we mass market broadcast in five years’ time? Should we adapt to the challenges thrown down by marketing science that are challenging our understanding of how brands grow? What is the role of behavioral economics and psychology? And, of course, how do we adapt to the ever-changing MarTech (and AdTech) landscape?
It’s mind-bogglingly difficult to keep up with this ever-shifting landscape. But it’s also vital. A brand can’t do the best job of delivering for its customers without a deep knowledge of what’s possible.
This is at the heart of why the Marketing/ IT relationship is so vital. It should be symbiotic. Marketers should have a clear vision of what customers need. IT should share a clear vision of what MarTech can deliver now and tomorrow. And together, they should avoid the electrical driveshaft trap and imagine a sustainable future for customers and brands.
I think that there are three themes that can help.
Firstly, it’s important to be clear about each other’s expertise. Good marketers know how to brief different forms of consumer insight or how to write a great ad campaign brief inside out. Pinpointing the sweet spot between customer insight and business need is what creates magical advertising or customer experience briefs. Good marketers normally have a sound grasp of MarTech, but there’s much they can learn from IT experts.
Secondly, we need to be brilliant at challenging each other. Just because something is possible, doesn’t mean we should do it. For example, there’s a lot written about just quite how accurately we can personalize messages and talk to individuals. And to an extent, this can be brilliant, giving customers truly relevant CRM.
But behavioral psychology warns that there’s a limit. A little personalization is a good thing. Knowing too much about people is just creepy. A brilliant relationship that uses the strengths of Marketing and IT experts will get it right. If one side brings the customer knowledge and the other brings the technical possibility, that’s all the ingredients needed to design the perfect solution.
Third and finally, we need a shared big picture to keep each other focused on what really matters in MarTech. Marketers hate nothing more than being called ‘the coloring in the department’. It belittles a discipline that is facing up to incredible change, whilst staying true to its role as the voice of customers.
However, it’s easy to get distracted. Anyone who reads marketing commentary is barraged with opinions about what technology we should jump on next. While MarTech allures a few, AdTech and SpuriousTech are favourites among others. If we listened to what we’ve been told over the last few years, we’d have optimized our entire media spend into VR experiences, run endless hackathons on Blockchain until we found some way to use it, and forced countless AI experiences on our customers whether they wanted them or not.
The very existence of the Gartner Hype Cycle warns us about this. For those not in the know, it tracks new technologies from the “Innovation Trigger”, via the “Peak of Inflated Expectations” to the “Trough of Disillusionment”, before seeing a tiny handful reach the “Slope of Enlightenment” and barely any reach the “Plateau of Productivity”.
Successful brands get the foundations right. They understand their customers and their needs. And then creatively work on how to address them. When IT and Marketing departments share a vision, they can focus on the important question of “what can I build that will help build the brand”.
The aforementioned thoughts are from a marketer’s perspective. And from that viewpoint, there’s a clear out-take about what MarTech means for the business environment. Good brand management is about understanding and delivering against customer insight. That should be our core capability. Likewise, we might have some knowledge, but there will always be people who know more about MarTech than us. So like most Marketing challenges, the key issue is how we work in partnership with specialists in other fields with a shared vision of delivering value for both our customers and our brands alike.