I’m now 60 days into my new role at Kahuna as of this week. In this time, I’ve met with tons of fantastic consumer marketing leaders to understand where their head is at. Before I get jaded and become a complete marketing automation insider, I wanted to size up the space as I see it. The terrific Cindy Zhou and I are going to discuss this in a few hours at Constellation Research’s Connected Enterprise Summit and I thought I’d throw my talking points into a blog post.
This is how I size up the state of consumer marketing:
- All inventory is either expensive or perishable. There is no other kind. Both my parents were entrepreneurs and of the many lessons I learned from them, the ability to move inventory fast was a big one and comes back into sharp focus as I enter the world of B2C marketing automation. Regardless of what you sell, inventory either becomes worth nothing at a certain point or it becomes worth close to nothing when you have to sell it to a discount overstock seller at low margins, to free up working capital. In spite of large-scale data management innovation, marketing automation is inwardly focused on process automation and workflow, and not on improving the speed and accuracy of conversion. Advancements in data science enables CEOs and CMOs to demand an exponentially faster flow of product across demand and supply chains as part of any digital transformation initiative. As a result, smart marketing automation that can convert fast is now unequivocally the tip of the spear for modern marketing leaders.
- However, the consumer’s attention is far more perishable then your inventory. As consumers, we are becoming increasingly comfortable with sharing our digital breadcrumbs in exchange for a personalized experience. But it cuts both ways. The willingness to expose more of our preferences has also made us extremely intolerant about receiving offers from brands that are untimely or irrelevant. That bulls-eye recommendation from Amazon or Netflix, or the immediate availability of an Uber even before you expressed your interest, or Google Now telling you how long it will take to get home even before you ask for it – the whole process of awareness to consideration and on to action can now be an informed, split-second decision. The state of real-time technology and the application of artificial intelligence to get very personal is finally here. As a result, every brand is now expected to also use smarter marketing automation to ascertain interest and to engage with consumers at the right time, on the right device and with the right message.
- Oh, on the topic of Artificial Intelligence, no, you can’t fake AI, you can’t sugar coat AI, you can’t peanut butter AI. Personalizing how you engage with *every* single consumer will not scale manually. You have to use machine learning and artificial intelligence to make a meaningful impact. The thing about AI is that it’s not going to be effective if you have it working selectively on elements of the consumer experience. The DNA of your marketing automation software must be real-time and must have artificial intelligence and smart data science at its core to make every consumer interaction personal and every campaign relevant. Traditional marketing automation technology that powers the majority of traditional web or mobile businesses was invented before MySpace and was never designed to inject our preferences or process events in near real-time, or engage with consumers on the right device.Smart marketers have strong in-house technical and data science skills today, and if you phone it in, they will spot it from a mile away. AI at the core, or bust.
- And no matter how swanky your buzzword-laden AI technology, you still have to respect the pace at which the consumer wants to embrace and move across channels. There’s a lot of vendor hyperbole about how it’s all mobile and that email is dead. Whilst that makes for riveting media fodder, my experience working with CXOs at the most well-known organizations in my last role makes me convinced that it couldn’t be further from the truth. Every single brand is working with wildly different consumer demographics, and each consumer wants to traverse digital channels at a different pace. Email is not so yesterday, mobile won’t be all the rage forever, and beacons and chatbots will become mainstream faster than you think. Some demographic of your consumer expects that you employ one of these channels, today. If your marketing automation software cannot let you move levers to respect the pace at which the consumer wants to embrace these channels, the consumer will flex her muscle by closing her wallet.
- Traditional Marketing automation caters to a very static data set. Every day, we create 2.5 quintillion bytes of data. Most marketing automation takes weeks and an army of people to update consumer preferences. This latency works perfectly well if you need to engage with consumers once a week or month. But it’s unacceptable for more and more consumers who expect you to preempt them with useful offers based on actions they took today or even minutes or seconds ago. If Uber employed such technology, you would have to order a cab two weeks in advance. And applying AI on outdated consumer preferences that took days and weeks to update isn’t going to get you far, either. The state of technology today enables you to inject new consumer preferences, update a consumer record and improve engagement within seconds. This is the new bar that the consumer is setting for every brand.
- And finally,“Omnichannel consumer experience” is unadulterated hogwash. Here is a quick primer on definitions. Look, I get it – Omnichannel, a state where every single consumer touch point across sales, service and marketing is fluidly connected and aware of every consumer interaction. I can’t wait for this future state to show up and every brand marketer I’ve spoken with feels the same way. But it doesn’t reflect the current state of integrated technology experiences, nor the needed organization design to exploit such seamless connectivity. As an industry, we will have to earn our way to an omni-channel consumer experience and we’re only getting started. For starters, we need to update how marketing engages with the consumer- specifically, to move from siloed multi-channel marketing to smart cross-channel world where every digital breadcrumb you leave in email or mobile, bot or beacon, can be leveraged to improve engagement in every marketing channel.
I do have a seventh lesson I learned in these 60 days, or maybe it’s just confirming something I know: working with an amazingly competent team that sets a high bar is a wonderful thing. The heart that our team puts into delighting customers is infectious.
It’s been an exhilarating few weeks, to say the least. And I can’t be more fired up.