Where is marketing technology going?

Crystal Ball

At the recent event, I was asked two questions – what’s the future look like for marketing technology, and what’s holding that future back? To look at the future, we should first see where we’ve been.

In the beginning of business, advertising, marketing, PR, sales, and customer service are all one person, one girl or guy doing all of the dances at once. They are the communicators, and their efforts are largely blended together into one indistinguishable role as chief communicator. Communications runs across the spectrum in an undifferentiated manner – yesterday, the founder was talking to a prospect. Today, the founder is talking to the same person, but they’re a sales opportunity. Tomorrow, the founder is still talking to the same person, but they’re now a customer. The relationship is preserved, the communication is consistent, and service is about as good as it can get in business.

The company grows. The founder hires help, and suddenly there’s someone who isn’t the founder doing the marketing. If they are a good hire, the company’s marketing should get better, and the founder can keep working to fulfill the promise of the company. All goes well. The founder hires a sales guy to help the marketer. Now someone else is in the communications mix, and new customers may or may not even talk to the founder on a regular basis.

The company grows some more. Now there’s a PR firm involved. There’s a marketing group. There’s a sales team. There’s a customer service group. Communications splinter. The prospect that deals with the PR and advertising materials talks to a different salesperson who seals the deal with golden words, then hands off the new customer to an account management or customer service team. Eventually, communications can fragment so badly that advertising is only tangentially related to the actual product or service, and customer service becomes the Department of Customer Disappointment as reality sets in – the product as advertised and sold bears no reality to the product delivered. Meanwhile, PR is cleaning up disastrous ads from the ad agencies involved.

This is marketing today, especially at larger companies. This is where we are. This is not where we have to be. Right now, all of the technology focus in marketing is on bigger data, more data, smarter data, data that makes attracting customers easier, preserving data across those handoffs better, creating objective performance measures that marketing and sales teams have to hit, P&Ls that must be met, and service times below a certain benchmark.

What has gone missing from the modern data-driven marketing is the human element, the actual relationship. Honestly, “customer relationship management” software feels like three lies for the price of one these days as sales CRMs are used principally to close sales, relationships are non-existent, and management is only by numbers.

The future of marketing isn’t to make the machines smarter in order to scale. The future of marketing is to make the people who are the human interfaces to our prospects and customers better at delivering what we promise. Instead of making the machines better marketers, the machines need to help us to be better marketers as we deal with the humans on the other end of the phone or keyboard. Who is this person? Why are they calling? What history do they have? What remedies am I allowed to offer without any kind of authorization? Will I keep this relationship going as the prospect or customer moves through their lifecycle?

Ultimately, the future of marketing and of marketing technology is to restore the true relationship that we have with businesses when they’re just starting out, to restore the feeling that you can pick up the phone or send an email to someone consistently and feel like you’re important to them. The first marketing technology that figures out how to do this in an effective manner that scales well is going to own the bank in short order.


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