Three big, long-term predictions for the future of martech
Years from now, what will martech look like? Columnist David Booth takes a look at what the future holds for marketers.
From within the whirlwind of working day to day in one of the fastest-moving industries around, it can often be hard to step back and take a good look at where we might be going over the long term.
But catching our breath and thinking about how to navigate a path into the future is exactly what’s needed to guide the most successful organizations forward with respect to data-driven marketing.
For this year’s Advertising Week, my colleague, Alex Langshur, moderated a panel, “Masters of Data,” that asked where data and marketing analytics solutions are headed — specifically when and how we’ll move past the “Wild West” and “Frankenmetrics” of the current state of digital measurement.
In preparation for this, I was fortunate enough to be a part of the discussion that preceded the panel. Those conversations forced a push of the pause button and provided the opportunity to really think through that strategic, long-term view of just where data-driven marketing can take us.
Among the results of this exercise were three big predictions for the long haul. And years from now, we can look back (maybe from the connected mini-fridge in our self-driving hovercrafts) and see just how close we came.
Technology will become ubiquitous and invisible
We’re still in the nascent stages of what history books will look back upon as the Digital Revolution. Society itself is in the midst of some big changes, and this isn’t the first time humanity has been through something like this.
If we think back to the early stages of, say, the Industrial Revolution, there are some parallels we can draw. When James Watt refined the steam engine, if your trade was moving things from one place to another with a horse and cart, some big changes were coming.
Of course, the technology was embraced, and the new engines brought with them steep changes in performance and capabilities. But if you had an early engine, you also had to acquire an enormous amount of knowledge around how that engine worked. You had to know what every little part did, how to replace it, how to fix the issues that came up and how to keep it running smoothly.
That’s pretty similar to what marketers face today.
We’ve got an equivalent steam engine of all kinds of technology — tags to implement, solutions to configure, updates to manage and massive integrations to perform across unprecedented numbers of systems. I’ve often said that these days, you can’t be a marketer without being a technologist.
But when was the last time you disassembled your car’s engine? When was the last time you worried about the engine that drives the train you take into work?
You’re transported from one place to another every day using this technology, and it has improved to a point that you don’t even notice it. It just works and does what it’s supposed to do.
Marketing tech will most certainly evolve in this same way. Eventually, all the complexity of implementing, integrating, maintaining and keeping up with dozens of different tools and platforms across the martech stack will go away.
We’ll rely on a small number of providers, and we’ll trust that the hardware, the software, the algorithms and all the advanced machine learning capabilities that are just hatching now will work.
Marketers won’t need to spend their time writing code or architecting complex systems; they’ll just need to know how to drive the machine. And this will allow them to focus completely on the ways consumers of the future interact with their brand.
Addressable audiences of people will be everything
A popular saying is often attributed to retailer John Wanamaker from the turn of the 20th century: “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.” What he really meant was that in advertising across the available channels and mediums, he was wasting money on putting his message in front of the wrong people.
The days of “spray and pray” advertising are already ending. Cookies, device IDs and sophisticated advertising networks have given rise to some great targeting capabilities. Data management platforms (DMPs) can combine all kinds of data to create and buy audiences that can be activated through all kinds of channels — even programmatically through the demand side platforms (DSPs) that have also evolved.
But we’re still just at the beginning. Think about the half-life of an in-market audience you can buy, or how hard it is right now for us as marketers to track the same user across just their laptop and their phone.
But it’s getting better. For example, earlier this year, Adobe announced its cross-device co-op, and Google recently announced cross-device retargeting.
These are not the first or only solutions to this problem, and there are no doubt more great technical solutions coming from the industry giants.
And all of these very smart people working on very smart solutions are aimed at the root of the issue: Advertising of the future is no longer going to target devices with loose and often inaccurate definitions about who might be using them. It’s going to target people (and their actual, current behaviors, attributes and actions), regardless of the device or the channel.
There’s going to be a broad culture shift and technical solutions to match. The kids of today are already comfortable with living a seamless digital and physical life, and the privacy issues the world is currently struggling with will get sorted out.
In some mix of personally identifiable information (PII) and aggregated anonymous fashion, all the devices — including a wave of coming IoT (Internet of Things) advancements like virtual billboards and things we’ve not yet imagined — people will be able to easily find what they’re looking for whenever they need it. And advertisers will likewise easily find willing, high-probability audiences for their products and services.
The offline world will still exist
“Offline” means a lot of things in a lot of contexts, but it’s not going anywhere. Printing presses need not be scrapped quite yet, and when it comes to advertising channels, offline not only isn’t dead, it’s in its relative youth.
Out of home (OOH), for example, is perhaps a rebellious teenager, rapidly learning and growing. In fact, CMO.com recently ran an article describing the renaissance that OOH is currently experiencing, citing examples like Posterscope’s Chevrolet billboard campaign that actually detected the cars on the road and displayed dynamic messages showing how the Malibu bested whatever car you were currently driving.
More recently, DentsuBos used motion detection technology in Canada’s busiest intersection to “spy” on passersby in support of the “Snowden” movie launch.
But that’s just one aspect of “offline.” In fact, we are arguably at the start of a pendulum swing back toward an offline transactional culture shift.
We’ve gone through the era where buying everything online was the “new and cool” thing to do. And I’m not saying that a significant part of the car or couch markets won’t finish their transactions over the web, but I do believe that this research-online-purchase-offline (ROPO) effect will evolve into some kind of standard transactional model for many goods and services.
Lots of people actually want to drive that car. Sit on that couch. Talk with whomever is performing those accounting services you’re about to contract in good old face-to-face fashion. New startups are already exploring this space, and even Amazon is opening physical stores.
This offline trend will continue until we get back to that equilibrium between entirely digital experiences and those physical encounters consumers may realize they actually missed.
The future of marketing
One thing is certain: We will look back on today’s marketers as the pioneers of advancement in the Digital Revolution.
We’ve created some amazing experiences and opportunities so far, and everyone who plays a part — from those imagining the possibilities or building the technologies and capabilities to those who are leveraging every part of this complex ecosystem they can to innovate — will be responsible for turning the early martech steam engine of today into the well-oiled marketing machines of the future.