Wednesday, October 08, 2014

New Frontiers in Data Driven Marketing

I recently gave a talk on New Frontiers in Data Driven Marketing, which managed to incorporate Barbie, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, General Winfield Scott, and The Three Stooges. Let’s just say you had to be there. But even without celebrities, I think the list is worth a quick look as you start planning for next year’s marketing programs.

New Challenges

• Integrate ad tech and martech. We’ve seen this coming for some time but it’s now much more obvious as marketing automation vendors like Oracle and Adobe, display ad targeters like Bizo (now part of LinkedIn) and Demandbase, and even tag managers like Signal (formerly BrightTag) and Tealium come at the challenge from different directions. The core issue is that marketing campaigns in advertising, traditional outbound media, and new social and inbound media all target increasingly-identifiable audiences rather than anonymous cookies, site visitors, viewers, or prospect lists. This makes it more possible to work across all media to improve targeting, to coordinate messages for each individual, and to measure the incremental impact of each promotion. This, in turn, requires integrated systems to gather the necessary data in a single location, track interactions with individuals, send appropriate messages, and monitor results. Look for more integration along those lines from big platform players and for cooperation among specialized solutions as they seek to participate in the consolidated approach.

• Extract meaning from big data. Everybody loves big data but few people talk about the downside: sloshing huge buckets of information into a giant data lake means that everybody has to do their own refining before they can do anything useful. Of course, analysts have always spent a lot of time on data prep and veterans will scoff at the implication that most data warehouses are pristine. But the ease of adding new feeds to big data stores, especially of unstructured data, means that users now face a “do it yourself data quality” challenge that's much greater than before. To make things even harder, direct access to data has expanded to many business users who don’t have the data management skills or sensitivity of expert analysts. This is a problem I haven’t seen discussed very much, but you can be certain it is coming to a desktop near you.

• Translate offers across media and campaigns. All that cross-channel coordination means marketers have more ways to present the right message to each individual, which turn means each message much be available in the format of each touchpoint. “Responsive design” addresses one piece of the problem, making it easy for the same Web content to render effectively on different devices. But there are plenty of other touchpoints that responsive design doesn’t reach, including display ads, call centers, and social media. So far, most of the energy related to this issue has been spent in making it easier for a single system to send messages to multiple channels, not in automatically adjusting messages to account for different amounts of content or user mindset in a given context. This is another area that has received little attention so far, especially in terms of refinements like testing and optimization.

New Technologies

• Predictive everywhere.  Most marketers are now familiar with basic predictive modeling applications like lead scoring and content recommendations. But big data and multiplying channels offer them opportunities to do so much more – and, given the alternative of poor customer treatments, they really have no choice.  Happily, the technology to build predictive models has kept up with marketer needs, so it’s increasingly possible for automated systems to build and deploy dozens or hundreds of models with almost no marketer input. This means programs can be designed to incorporate predictive models in all kinds of treatment decisions, from content recommendations to sales call prioritization to banner ad selection. In fact, the technology in this area is probably ahead of marketers, who need to learn how to identify modeling opportunities, to structure programs to use models effectively, and to monitor model results.

• Natural language processing for unstructured data management. Natural language processing (or NLP, as the cool kids say) and unstructured data are different things and both relatively established. I’m listing them here because unstructured data must become at least semi-structured to be useful, through processes such as tagging and indexing. Doing this efficiently at big data volumes requires automated solutions, which is where NLP comes into play. There are plenty of other NLP applications, such as sentiment analysis, speech processing, data gathering, and even some slick “copy generation” methods (for example, Persado and Captora, which I described briefly last June ). But I think making sense of unstructured data is NLP’s killer app.

New Opportunities

• Mobile/local marketing. Okay, maybe not so new. But still at the frontiers, since marketers are struggling to take advantage of what’s unique about mobile systems rather than just treating them as tiny desktops. Mobile apps are one part of this, since they’re separate from regular Web sites and emails. Location- and context-aware programs are another aspect: the potential is obvious even though it’s not yet clear how to best exploit it. There are some pretty serious privacy concerns to address here, although it’s never clear whether those will be real obstacles or evaporate as customers overcome their initial surprise at how much marketers can tell about them and get back to playing Clash of Clans.

• Advanced attribution. I’m talking here about attribution based on a nearly complete view of all customer interactions with a brand: Web and email messages, of course, but also search, display, broadcast and print advertisements, in-store and near-store* interactions, purchase and service histories, social messages and networks, device telemetry, and only the NSA knows what else. Once you have all that data and have managed to link identities across different sources, you can apply some truly whiz-bang analytics to estimate the incremental impact of different messages on short- and long-term customer behaviors. This goes beyond the simplifying assumptions of first-touch, last-touch and fractional attribution approaches. If it works properly, it promises to revolutionize how marketing budgets are managed and to give a substantial business edge to companies that master it first.

• Journey mapping. Another old concept, but one that’s gaining a lot of new attention. I’ll give a shout-out to my friends at SuiteCX who have built some slick mapping tools that I never quite get around to reviewing. If I had to speculate why journey mapping is suddenly so popular, I’d guess it’s because it’s become so obvious that the traditional purchase funnel has exploded into maze of hopscotch courts, with customers leaping from one spot to the next like crickets on a frying pan. Journey mapping is one way to make sense of it all, or at least apply a bit of order to the natural chaos. It relates closely to multi-channel programs, attribution and mobile/local marketing as well, if you think about it. No wonder it’s climbing to be king of the buzz hill.

* I just made that up.

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