The Race to Unify: Using Marketing Technology to Drive Intelligence into Marketing Decisions

By Matt Mobley, CTO, Merkle

Matt Mobley, CTO, Merkle

The market is swelling with cleverly named platforms that are loaded to the gills with algorithms, like Watson, Cortana, Alexa, Siri, and Einstein. These tools are starting to push the boundaries of how humans make decisions and interact. For businesses, they are laying the ground work for driving intelligence into every business decision, creating efficiency and optimizing outcomes. And for marketing in particular, they are beginning to allow us to have the most relevant and contextual conversations at virtually any point of interaction with a consumer. For marketing, we can imagine a day when a machine whirs in some distant room, exploring and calculating data on every consumer engagement with the goal of aligning, in real-time, a single, relevant, and contextual message to that consumer. And as a result of that message, the consumer is compelled to transact with the brand. The problem with all of this is not the fact that these capabilities will take awhile to mature. The issue lies in the fact that marketing organizations are making decisions today that will limit their ability to capitalize on the intelligence revolution to come.

"The marketing technology community needs to deliver on the unified canvas. A single place to deploy a consumer-centric strategy "

Marketing organizations have started the shift to consumer centricity. In almost every organization, you hear conversations about how to make each unique consumer the focal point of business decisions: which product, which message, or which color to use. The challenge with this consumer-centric strategy is that marketing organizations are not being bold enough or moving fast enough to establish competitive advantage. Legacy alignment to product strategies, lines of business or political issues prevent these organizations from developing a single strategy and organization that revolves around the consumer. They can talk the talk, but are miles away from walking the walk. Furthering the problem, businesses will buy capabilities to support consumer centricity, but in the absence of a strategy and organizational alignment, there will be no return on those investments.

The other side of this coin also presents a problem. The high level of fragmentation in the marketing and advertising technology space limits the promise of centricity, but organizations are buying capabilities with the desire to further their goal. If an organization created a consumer-centric strategy with the goal to determine, at the point of engagement, which product, offer, and content to deliver across any channel or media, that marketing strategy would have to be deployed in every marketing tool being used. How much iteration is that? And how many different integration schemes would have to exist to create a unified experience? The pursuit of answers to these questions is a main reason why marketing technologists have a job. The truth is there is no single unified platform that truly spans all channels and media. I liken the problem to a painter trying to replicate the roof of the Sistine Chapel on one hundred thousand, one-inch squares of canvas. It would take a master to pull this off, and there aren’t enough masters to go around. The marketing technology community needs to deliver on the unified canvas. A single place to deploy a consumer-centric strategy.

But the marketing technology market seems to suffer from the influences of multiple personalities. There is a tool to implement my outbound strategy, there is a tool to implement my inbound strategy, and there is a tool to implement my content strategy. And that’s probably being conservative, considering how many tools are in play. There is most likely additional tool fragmentation across traditional and digital channels. Each tool has a brain, and there is no guarantee that the outcomes of the decisions across tools will be consistent. The result is a consumer experience that can resemble a chat with McAvoy’s character in “Split”. This is another area where the market needs to look for unification. We will need a common brain to interpret the data in a common fashion across all engagement points.

In marketing, we are seeing advancements in this space, which will be needed to deliver on the promise of intelligent systems. Many of these advancements lie in the decision management space. Decision management systems that have historically focused on core business processes have moved well into the forefront. They are now sitting behind some points of consumer engagement. These systems present a possible place of unification. They present a place where all points of engagement, inbound and outbound, could be governed by a singularly implemented strategy evaluating all data to determine the nature of an engagement with a consumer. A single canvas to imagine a single journey with a consumer.

The unified canvas and the unified brain present the next frontier in marketing and advertising technology. The dream of ubiquitous control across all channels and media may be a way off, but large portions of the experience will come together in the near term. In the next year or two, we will see capabilities, like decision management; take on campaign management and next best action. Marketers won’t purchase these platforms independently. Truthfully, marketers could purchase unified capabilities today in this space, though the options are limited. Marketing clouds will have to improve to deliver against this unification. These platforms will also provide the place where artificial intelligence and other cognitive services can be introduced into the process. The journey’s end is not light years away, and we are making decisions today that will affect the outcome. Businesses are trying to unify the consumer experience for an individual. They just need a unified place to be successful.

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