Picture: 123RF/WILLYAMBRADBERRY
Picture: 123RF/WILLYAMBRADBERRY

It was 50 years ago that British prime minister Harold Wilson gave a speech on how the “white heat” of technology was changing Britain. It was a clarion call to adapt or be swept away to the fringes of history. For marketers, however, the same white heat of digital technology has been duly noted, but has perhaps blinded many.

In the past few years marketing technology (martech) has grown immensely, promising much but,   in many instances, on closer scrutiny, failing to deliver. This we know: If you ask marketing people to spend money on tech, there are bound to be a number of bad calls.

Promising much

Programmatic advertising was one of the more notorious ones. The pitch was absolutely amazing – the ability to buy digital advertising for a fraction of the price you had been paying. It transpired that a lot of that advertising inventory was what you would find on the stable floor after a day at the races. It eroded value and exposed brands to very dodgy neighbourhoods. It shows that technology, while extremely important, is not the silver bullet we were led to believe.  It is simply an enabler, and often a misunderstood one at that.

What has also happened is that everyone has been looking at the Joneses and buying martech, believing they will lose their competitive edge if they don’t. Meanwhile, they have lost sight of marketing objectives and, certainly one of the key elements of modern consumerism, the customer experience.

As we’ve seen chief marketing officers’ budgets for martech drop (from 27% of the budget in 2016 to 22% in 2017 according to Gartner) it shows marketers have become wise to this fact, looking towards tech that is more “fit for purpose”.

But what then is martech that is “fit for purpose”? A big part is the personalisation that comes from understanding what your customers are interested in. And to figure this out is becoming so much easier these days due to the vast amount of data available to organisations. For example, finding patterns in website purchasing behaviour, matching that to new visitors and providing them with what you know is the exact products they are looking for. 

The big take-out

Rather than being blinded by marketing technology, marketers should focus on the customer experience and only deploy tools that allow for more personalisation.

The right experience

These days, due to the changes that technology brought about, the chief marketing officer could also well be seen as the chief experience officer. The position has become just as much about aligning the company to the needs of the customer as it is about ensuring an effective marketing strategy. And when it comes to looking after customer experience, ensuring that any and all touch points are well thought out and as seamless as possible is incredibly important.

Part of this is also to stop believing in snake oil. Take, for example, Google’s big announcement at its recent I/O developer conference. Duplex is a chatbot that works through their Assistant and can converse with the same “uhms and ahs” as a normal person. It’s amazing to hear it book an appointment at a hairdresser, but is this something for marketers to get excited about? I don’t think so. Rather, attention should be paid to incorporating AI-powered chatbots on your website that can provide users with quick and precise responses to frequently asked questions, and escalate queries that can’t be answered by human responders. Once again it’s about understanding the data you do have available and using it to make the user experience better.

For marketers then, discernment remains key. If “the white heat of technology” is perhaps shining too brightly, the task at hand is to map out the user journey, focus on customer experience and then deploy tools that allow for a much better degree of personalisation in the way the company engages with its customers. Do this and sales will skyrocket.

Charlie Stewart is CEO of Rogerwilco

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