IMV15 Panel: Master Marketing Technology in Service to Customers

Technology should empower the marketing organization to better serve customers, but many times, we find that the organization is mastered by the technology. Decisions are made not because they are good for the customer, but because they are possible in the existing tools.

Technology should empower the marketing organization to better serve customers, but many times, we find that the organization is mastered by the technology. Decisions are made not because they are good for the customer, but because they are possible in the existing tools.

Getting out in front of this potential rut was the focus of a great discussion I was humbled to join for the closing session of IMV 2015, a virtual conference put on by Target Marketing earlier this month. (Free access to the archive is available with registration through September 2015.)

The key, I said in the session, is to think of technology as being less about pure systems and more about PEOPLE. Technology is about utility and purpose — and that has to factor in the needs and abilities of the people who use it, the people who are reached by it, the people who are interacting with it. Really, technology is only there to enable marketing at a personal level.

Most marketers do not have a technology problem. They have more technology than they can use well. Instead, most of us have a training, integration, process, poorly aligned strategy, competing goals problem. Automation of a bad strategy only gets you to the FAIL faster, and does nothing to improve your customer experience or level of connection.

Moderator Thorin McGee, editor-in-chief of Target Marketing, said it well in his intro, “Technology is essential to modern marketing, but gaining control of it is something many marketers have not yet mastered. The question is how to take advantage of technology without having it take over your marketing world?”

In evaluating a new technology, it’s important to consider both the utility of the existing stack and investments, in addition to the future objectives, said fellow panelist Adam Bravo, executive director of loyalty marketing for MGM International. “Ask if your business has the capacity to adopt a new technology, and if your organization has the capacity to change what you are doing,” he recommends.

“Some new things sound great and are sold well, but if you don’t have the infrastructure from IT or a team who is willing to adapt to new processes and adopt the tools, the investment will not pay off,” he said. Truly, I’ve seen marketing organizations invest in technologies because they have a person on staff now who has the experience to manage it well, but then that person leaves or gets promoted and the rest of the organization is stuck with something that is outside the company’s capacity to master.

It can be daunting. The number of technologies available for marketing are impressive. Panelist Mitch Rose, SVP of marketing for BillTrust says: “You have to be nimble, because what you envision now could be obsolete in a year. Our planning and technology investment is fluid. I recommend everyone try to get approval for some ‘skunk works’ fund, so you can test some things in a pilot. Plan for that – set aside a modest budget and team.”

This is especially good advice in a world where a five-year vision is not unusual for an enterprise marketing organization, but a five-month go-to-market roadmap is life or death for a mid-tier organization. Technology investments must be strategic and should never be taken lightly, but you can be nimble at the tactical level by doing pilots with point solutions, porting data manually from one system to another in a proof of concept, or working with key vendors to test their new functionality in a hosted solution. It takes a level of creativity and curiosity to be a successful marketing technologist.

“The traditional marketing role is dying,” Adam said. “Today, those of us who embrace technology and customer experience, and who aim to understand the customer through analytics, can drive a lot of optimization. It forces the need for a marketing leader who can be close to IT and embrace data analytics.”

This requires marketers to think outside of the traditional functional box. “We have 40,000 hotel rooms, just about as many gaming stations,” Adam said. “Those things are in the budget of hotel operations. However, as a marketing person, I want to capture all the data on our guests’ experience, what type of machine they play, where they eat, how they check in, what sort of room do they upgrade to, etc.

“I’m not the owner of that data, but I want to use it in my marketing operations to improve the customer experience and drive loyalty.”

Collaboration with other departments is essential to success today. It’s sometimes more important for marketers to partner with other departments – sales, IT, customer service, product, operations – than to OWN everything directly. Customer touchpoints and insights are found throughout the organization, and smart marketers focus on empowering consistent and aligned experiences across the entire branded landscape. Marketers have to get used to not owning every media channel, not owning every database, not controlling every message. However, marketers must do the work of setting clear, aligned and actionable messaging, tools and analytics across the entire organization. Technology can be a big part of that, but not all the technology needs to be in the marketing department.

However, marketing organizations can be first movers in technology investments. “Marketing is increasingly approved to invest in technology because we generate revenue from it,” Mitch said. “By our nature we are curious beasts, we are trained to be strategic, and so we are interested in new technologies and want to test them toward a strategic goal.”

Take a minute to listen to the entire panel discussion for richer commentary on these points. Thanks to Adam, Mitch and Thorin for including me!

Meanwhile, how are you setting up your marketing technology to serve the needs of your customers? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.