The worlds of marketing and advertising are being turned upside down by digital – and in many ways, particularly for the consumer, it’s producing change for the better, says Rod Banner.
Last week, I was listening to another startup explain their business. They were rightly proud of a series of customer metrics: engagements, sales, repeats, referrals, reviews etc.
Then they spoke of the future. “When we raise the next round, we’re going to turn on the afterburners,” they said, referring to ‘paid’ marketing activity.
Their story is fairly typical. They’re a white-hot retail fashion app. They make no fashion products. They don’t design the stuff they sell. To be honest, they don’t warehouse or pack or ship anything either. The business’s key purpose is to curate nice things, present them beautifully and bring their story to the attention of a discerning audience.
A few years ago, that activity was called marketing. Today it’s an app. Marketing is changing. Welcome to madtech – a fresh combination of marketing, advertising and technology. It’s about selling to an increasingly savvy and intolerant audience, using new tools and new strategies.
Advertising used to drive sales but today less and less of it does. The reasons are blindingly obvious. There’s been an exponential growth in media and ways to advertise. As a result we’re all being overmessaged. The number of brands, products, choices and variables have also multiplied at an unprecedented rate. Even if you want something, the task of choosing it can be so daunting, your decision can simply stall before you buy it.
To make matters worse, people have become programmed to ignore and distrust advertising.
Programmatic ad serving was designed to help agencies and media owners fight back. As the opportunities to advertise proliferated, it became impossible to manually book enough online media to move the needle. So the task was delegated to a collection of algorithms.
Maybe you’ve booked programmatic ads on LinkedIn or Facebook yourself. It’s easy. Define a target profile and timeframe, set a budget and boom you are a programmatic advertiser. In reality, all you are doing is messaging a well-defined audience.
The madtech marketer isn’t interested in just messaging. Being messaged too much or retargeted after you’ve already bought a product actually damages brand reputations. Apps carrying too many in-app ads are now getting deleted. The madtech strategy is to spark and stoke relevant conversations. People prefer to engage with a brand that knows something about our life and what we’re struggling to get done.
Madtech thinking in enterprise selling turns the traditional sales funnel upside down. Rather than filling the hopper with leads, hoping for a few highly qualified opportunities to drip out of the bottom, the upturned funnel requires you to drop a small number of curated, catalytic conversations into the small aperture at the top and nurture them into user generated discussions that feature your brand. So long as the customer experience is flawless and the product or service is good, social referral and peer group recommendation can build a reliable sales pipeline for you.
We’re ‘searching’ all the time but the new darling of marketing is fast becoming hard work. Searches reveal vast numbers of matches, making prime results more crucial yet more elusive than ever. And every Google algorithm update puts the fear of God into CMOs the world over.
Big players, who follow all Google’s guidance, can still lose the top spots in paid and organic at the drop of a hat and wind up on page five or worse. The rising tide of paid search dollars is drowning organic, and the science of discovery is being manipulated to serve Google and its shareholders. Why wouldn’t it be so?
Meanwhile, thanks to madtech we’re willingly giving up our demographic and geographic information, our search data, purchase intent, order history and buying preferences. A slew of proximity and geolocation technologies embedded in modern smartphones (BLE, NFC, RFID) are making it increasingly easy to track our activities in the physical world, too. Where we go, what we do, who we do it with. By combining all this rich data with insights sucked from our social feeds, it’s possible to discern behavioural profiles with remarkable accuracy.
These rich profiles allows madtech marketers to target individuals with timely, super-relevant offers using an optimised combination of marketing tactics. One such example is predictive analytics. Given enough empirical data on a given market, it is possible to predict the next car someone will drive before they’re even looking to buy one. Or, in an enterprise environment, perhaps determining when a massive outsourcing opportunity should be proposed and pursued.
Madtech is transforming traditional media. Online has eaten television. Netflix is now used by more than 42% of American households. YouTube now has over 1 billion active users. BuzzFeed brings the ‘listicle’ to almost 200 million unique monthly visitors. Last month the Financial Times was sold for less than the price of Instagram – and analysts thought it fetched too much.
Machine learning and artificial intelligence are already helping successful brands to go further. In time expect to ‘converse’ with marketing ‘bots’ in real time, using a rich repertoire of human language and emotions.
These considerate, charming, engaged brands will belong to their customers, not the other way around. And behind the scenes it will be madtech crafting, nurturing and maintaining the precious relationships that we all hanker after.