Aug

Marketers: You Need to Keep Evolving

It’s clear that marketing has drastically changed in the last decade. The rise of digital, accompanied by its ever-evolving technologies in mobile and advertising will build a perpetual environment of test and learn. As well, continuous emergence of audience platforms will create a nomadic culture that follows the fickle consumer paths. Ultimately, this will dictate the sustainability of platforms.

Marketing has been one organizational function that has succumb to tremendous pressure to evolve in the last decade. It’s turned both ad agencies and companies on their ears, furiously attempting to learn and adapt, while desperately hanging on to what they already know.

Perhaps it’s time to let go. If there ever was a time to accept change it’s now. In my personal experience, and from what you’ll read,

- I’ve witnessed an incredible evolution in the digital space by way of technology and targeting,

- I’ve also witnessed rapid changes in consumer consumption and the increasing fragmentation of media,

- Adapting and learning has been integral in helping me evolve with the market demand.

Consumers have changed the game for marketers.

No longer do we have only a few mediums for content consumption. In as little as 2 decades we’ve moved beyond just TV, radio, print, billboards. We’ve also raced beyond the standard network channels, the key national newspapers.

As consumers our attention has moved to sites that speak to our own areas of interest. They may not necessarily be as popular or as known. Our peers greatly influence what we do and where we go. But, our ever trusted smart phones gives us access to inform us about the things we want, when we want them and where we want them.

This always-on economy is not about to die down. The growing consumer expectations will mandate companies to have greater visibility into where their customers are, what they’re saying, their preferences, their preferred channels and modes of communication. The growing pressure to keep the “owned” and “earned” channels “on” will challenge the business to become much more responsive than ever before.

Marketers are slowly becoming obsolete.

As marketers, our roles have been forced to evolve. It hasn’t been easy. Coupled with this consumer evolution we’re witnessing, the economic times have changed the way we operate. No longer is marketing a cost centre. We are now more accountable than ever. The old performance measures which we were accustomed to need to change. We need to evolve beyond the mindset of traditional mediums, and embrace the inherent benefits of digital and where it’s going.

Becoming obsolete is a reality in today’s fast-moving environment. Yes, today’s marketer needs to leave their comfort zone and venture into an environment that does not seems to want to sit still. Luckily, it doesn’t necessarily mean abandoning the principles they’ve learned along the way. It just means evolving their thinking and applying these same principles to the new mediums.

1. Data is the new norm: The promise of big data brings with it enormous benefits that can now inform customer preferences, propensities; identify relevant prospects in real-time; distill meaning from reams of information where it impacts competitive or brand reputation. The opportunities to target more granularly beyond just “company”-collected transactions provides profound instances to find the right customer, at the right time, in the right channels, with the right message. The need for strong data analysts to compile this information across multiple platforms and mediums will be an essential component to effectively target for acquisition; improve retention rates and optimize for real-time performance.

2. Agility is imperative: Gone are the days of relying on historical data. These days, any data point longer than 30 days is too old and therefore, irrelevant. Gone are the days when media plans or strategies are “baked”. No longer are we required (or should we be required) to sit and wait for results. With data becoming more embedded in our daily work, marketers must work towards a more agile environment: This means becoming more data responsive to an increasingly  fragmented and splintered market,  having the structures and processes to change tactics on the fly.

3. Value is the new currency: One of the hardest lessons for marketers to have learned was to refrain from leading with overt company or product messages. “Leading with value” has become a difficult principle to adopt, after years of “me-me-me” communications. Declining performance of digital ad units means marketers must rethink content from the position of the customer. The rise of editorial as an essential function within marketing will be necessary to instil this new discipline.

4. Customer convergence has arrived: All mediums are converging. Appointment TV is dead. The customer dictates the content they want to consume, across multiple mediums, the times they want it.  On-demand mediums will challenge the marketer as consumers move swiftly between tablets to smartphone to television. The new ways of targeting customers across multiple-platforms now allows the marketer more long-tail opportunities that will augment and support traditional mass targeting.

5. Customer experience mandates an always-on presence: A more informed customer expects consumers today an optimal experience that “allows them to shop and receive their purchases where they want, when they want and how they want.” This means providing the ‘continuous experience’ across brands, devices and format: mobile internet devices, computers, brick-and-mortar, television, radio, direct mail, catalog etc. Today’s marketer is channel-agnostic and is aware of sites, platforms and channels the customer is researching, eliciting recommendations, price-comparing and ultimately, buying.

6. Sustainability, not campaigns: The value of social media as an open channel two-way conversations now provides brands with the ability to not only build relationships, but benefit from the effort and commitment to nurture customer relationships through these channels. Word of Mouth and Advocacy are strong indicators of brands doing it right. The value of organic traffic that results from content value, social consistency and customer-commitment, will surpass the more costly campaign-driven ad-buys and promotions.

7. Social cannot be outsourced: Agencies will never be able to truly be able to build effective community management services. This function needs to live within the organization. Customer relationships with brands cannot be fostered via surrogate means, and then adopted into the organization. Only employees within the organization, with the proper knowledge and solutions, can effectively troubleshoot customer complaints and provide the right responses in the expected timeframe. An emerging discipline in community /customer relationship management will be critical to gauge the pulse of the community and to bridge the gap with the organization.

8. Context is key: Google has gone beyond just keyword and now tries to extract real meaning from what people search or speak about. Semantic algorithms go this one step further and now give marketers the tools to truly understand what people need and want. It’s here that will help predict and define areas the brand can connect and provide value to customers.

9. Customer-centric needs to be the standard: As digital grows up, the areas mentioned above will move companies to start to shift in ways that puts the needs of the customers at the centre of the organization. One-to-one marketing will a reality as data allows us to truly customize experiences for each customer. Retention will get increasingly harder as mediums and platforms rise and fall with the nomadic consumer and Facebook and Twitter become less standard platforms. Where pundits have prophesied the death of marketing, a more responsive, dynamic and collaborative organization will take its place.

10. A dynamic organization is a social organization: The result of these changes will inevitably move away from marketing and become embedded in all parts of the organization. A responsive, dynamic organization means that PR, HR, Product development, Inventory Management, Operations will need seamless communication channels to properly receive and disseminate information intra and outside the company to stakeholders and customers. The future CMO, in my opinion, will become more operations-minded but will rely on the collective organization to function effectively.

Marketing is no longer a discipline with best practices and tried and true techniques. As long as technology exists, and media evolves, consumers will continue to find new ways to connect and consume information. What’s clear is that these days our traditional definition of longevity is short-lived. Not only does the marketer need to morph with the times, the organization does as well.

Interested in reading more? Check out our other blogs:

Reality of Bootstrapping

Going after investors? Do you know that less than 1 percent of startups actually raise VC (or angel) capital, which means that the vast majority are self-funded. Yet the main reason for it simply lies in the inability of most companies to find investors.

Bootstrapping, however, has several strategic advantages for your company's future growth. Perhaps the biggest is retaining the majority of shares and control over the strategy and direction your company is moving towards.

It also teaches financial discipline. Bootstrapping at the start helps to understand the importance of  revenue and cash flow, as opposed to unabridged product development, and keeps you connected to your company's financial reality. Only when profitability increase do you then green-light new opportunities, increased risk-taking, and growth acceleration.

In reality, the founders are expected to be flexible.  While entrepreneurs have certain intentions and philosophies when they are starting out, a hallmark trait for successful founders is the ability to adapt to changing environments and opportunities.

Sometimes, that means waiting a long time to generate the financial metrics that really matter, revenue and profit. By challenging your leadership team to focus on building the business organically and figuring out how to make the company consistently profitable on a model that can scale without VC capital, you make your company more valuable to future investors.

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The Curious Case of AI Technology

                                                         

                                                                 

The notion of Artificial Intelligence has been around for a while.

Yet, unlike other prominent technological innovations such as electric cars or the processor speed, its progress has not been linear.

In fact, as far as industrial impact is concerned, there were times when allegedly there was no progress at all.

The widespread fascination with AI started several generations ago, in 80-s of the last century. This is when a pioneering work of Noam Chomsky on computational grammar led to a belief that human language capabilities in particular, and human intelligence in general, can be straightforwardly algorithmized. The expectation was that the AI-based programs will have a significant and lasting industrial impact.

But despite unabridged enthusiasm and significant amount of effort the practical results were minuscule. The main outcome was disappointment and AI become somewhat of a dirty word for the next 20 years. The research became mostly confined to scientific labs, and although some notable results have been achieved, such as development of neural networks and Deep Blue machine beating acting world champion in chess, the general community was largely unaffected.

The situation started to change about 5-10 years ago with a new wave of industrial research and development.

We now experience somewhat of a renaissance of AI with bots, semantic search, self-service systems, intelligent assistant programs like Siri are taking over. In addition, optimists of science are bragging confidently about reaching singularity during our lifetime.

The progress this time seems to be genuine indeed. There are indisputable breakthroughs, but even more impressive is the width of industries adopting AI solutions, from social networks to government services to robotics to consumer apps.

For the first time AI is expected to have a huge impact on the community in general.

There is this vibe around AI which hasn’t been felt in years. And with power comes responsibility, as they say, - prominent thinkers such as Stephen Hawking raised their voice against the dangers of powerful AI for humanity. Still, as far as current topic is concerned, this is all part of the vibe.

Despite all the plethora of upcoming opportunities, it is important to observe that we are yet to advance from anticipation stage. AI has not became a major industrial asset, an AI firm has not reached a unicorn status, and despite the fact that major industrial players such as IBM are pivoting towards  fully-fledged AI-based model it has not manifested itself in business results.

We are still waiting for AI-based technology to disrupt the global community.

The overall expectation is that it is about to happen. But it hasn’t happened yet.

 

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