Zheng Zhang explores the evolution of the ad tech ecosystem and outlines key features of this programmatic era. He highlights the challenges many advertisers currently face when aiming to achieve secure and efficient ‘easy advertising’ and advises that specific, emerging technologies can be leveraged, to advance solutions and diversify the user experience in a highly saturated market.
Marketing technology, Q&A
“The place to start is actually not with the tech. That’s what I think is the biggest mistake marketers make. Tools are just tools. I always recommend that you start with your audiences and then map as best you can their customer journeys. Then the question becomes: ‘What are the capabilities we need to meet our customer’s expectations?’
“Capabilities + Expectations = Clarity.
“I also advise marketers to think of technology in two categories. Firstly, get your spine. These are the co-ordinating platforms that are vital for business as usual. CMS, CRM, Analytics all fit into this.
“Then, and only then, look for your edge tech. Tech that literally gives you the edge on your competitors. These tools allow you to test new things, optimise more effectively etc. These are likely to be more fluid and based on test and learn (so culture is important here). Some might make it through and be adopted long term, others won’t prove their business case and will be dropped but you must keep testing and be flexible.”
“There are a couple of takes on this. Firstly, as mentioned before, the tools are by and large not the problem. Marketers – as with the businesses they work for – live in a complex world. It’s hard. We still have this quaint idea of a funnel circulating around which is the opposite of how the real world works today. Customers today engage with companies whenever and wherever they choose to. Customers unfortunately are not linear.
“Channels are in permanent flux, too. New channels emerge, old ones enter decline, etc. In this landscape, annual planning and waterfall marketing just won’t cut it.
“Agile marketing is taking some of the principles developed by software companies and applying them to marketing. Reviewing progress more often, having retrospectives, planning in sprints, all help marketing perform better in today’s environment.
“Recently, I’ve seen this in action close up. Hubspot is very agile as an organisation and it works.
“Having said that, it wasn’t all about the tools – it is important that you apply agile principles to how you work with your techstack. Nothing is permanent. In a world where sustainable competitive advantage is tough to find, being agile in selecting and using tech (test and learn, etc.) can give organisations a transient competitive advantage.”
“I agree. It is a rapidly growing market, defined by ambition and maturity not company size. We’re seeing relatively small teams creating businesses at scale because they are harnessing tech well and they understand how to deliver value for customers. We’re also seeing a growing number of established businesses accelerating in digital and becoming really smart. When you get smart, you start to question the advantages traditionally associated with expensive proprietary tech stacks. That’s not to say there is one right answer. It needs to be case-driven and, for most companies, that means flexibility.
“At Hubspot, we take a platform approach. Those mid-enterprise businesses are important to us, but we also understand that they want to use range of marketing technologies and that they are looking for partners that will play nicely together.
“Effectively, there will be tiers of tech. There will be an ecosystem of innovative startups/tech companies that plug in their tech via APIs, etc, and offer an ecosystem to customers that want it. Scale and niche/innovation in one ecosystem, if you like. Clearly, the platforms that facilitate this get big, but the customer also gets the innovation and flexibility they need, but built on a core platform that encourages open source and collaborative thinking.”
“I agree. Tech has outstripped most organisations’ ability to apply it. One of the biggest issues I see is culture. Technology is a tool that needs a business operating model to use properly. Without a culture of agility, without a culture of test and learn, without a commitment to talent, most tech will fail to deliver its full potential.
“A culture of measurement is also key. Most companies still deliver ‘random acts of marketing’, hoping to get a positive outcome. When it works, they repeat it relentlessly, without an understanding of why. Success can just be down to dumb luck. Repeatable, scalable success never is.”
“It’s a complex question, but essentially companies need to organise differently and think differently about how they frame success. In our fast-moving world, a command and control way of organising resources no longer works. We need to organise ourselves to respond to changes in our competitive environment. Examples would be smaller teams as advocated by the likes of Amazon or Netflix, organised into Squads (that look after a specific customer need or interaction), Tribes (that usually look after a service/product line) and Guilds (who advocate and share best practice around a discipline, say analytics). These flexible models have been proven to outperform traditional models and fit well with the technology landscape and choices we have at our disposal.
“Similarly, if we are to drive constant improvements in performance, we have to have a culture of test and learn, which sometimes means living with failure. Not failure in isolation, as that is clearly not good, but failure as part of a systematic journey towards better. We also have to think more broadly about how we measure success. Yes, we need short-term metrics to understand the optimisation opportunities and, of course, we need financial metrics to make sure we are creating value, but we also need to think longer term. Life Time Value, Net Promoter Scores, etc.”
“Voice interfaces and chatbots. It’s the natural progression of the technology journey we’ve been on. As we have had more processing power available we have created better and better interfaces. Voice is the human default interface and it is inevitably the default for how we interact with technology. Not for everything, but for most things. It just makes sense. As the information available grows and our questions become more complex it’s much easier to ask a question than search through a large website looking for the information you want.
“If you take a step back and really think about it, our current interfaces don’t make much sense. We only like them because searching a website is so much better than the previous options we had, but in the future our grandchildren will laugh in class about early 21st century humans having to type and click to find things out. It will seem as strange to them as going to a library to search microfilm is to us, yet that was revolutionary in its time.”
Scott Brinker is speaking at the MarTech Festival on November 16 (in London), so if you want to hear more from him – as well as other great speakers – sign up: www.martechalliance.com/festival and get 2 for 1 tickets using the code GMAFAM
Hopefully, we will see you there!
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