What if your ideas didn't matter?
For senior marketers, it is a very humbling thought. What if your ideas, your thoughts and even your experience as a trained marketing professional didn't amount to a hill of beans in terms of the actual brand's advertising performance? What if everything you have been bringing to the table could be debunked with a simple multivariate testing regiment? There is a very real threat to the marketing profession, and it's one that has been present for quite some time, but it's gaining more and more momentum. The net outcome of this movement could prove that machines are better advertisers than humans.
Let's take a step back.
Mad Men's lead character, Don Draper, has an acutely profound skill in being able to turn a brand insight into an emotion that can bring you to tears. If you doubt that, watch him spin and weave a tale about the profound power that Kodak's slide carousel could have on the world. It's not just the emotional resonance of his message, his pitch and delivery, but the core insight that he is able to both uncover and demonstrate back to the consumer that touches us. Don Draper is, obviously, a fictitious character but he's the perfect composite of hundreds (if not thousands) of advertising legends who have roamed our earth. Great advertising is magic. It does more than sell... it tells a story that captivates our imaginations and connects us to a brand - and to others who share in the brand sentiment. It's a unique art form in that its sole purpose is to generate income and increase the engine of capitalism on behalf of corporations. It is art for money's sake. It's hard to argue that any computer or technology can create that kind of emotional connection or weave that kind of story.
Where we're at today.
Traditional advertisers will tell you that not much has changed. The job - day in and day out - remains the same: create a compelling enough message that your customers can't ignore you, generate advertising that creates attention and interest and closes the sale. Rinse and repeat. What we can't deny is that technology is now penetrating the marketing industry like never before. You could practically hear the Chief Marketing Officer's bodies hitting the floor in March of last year when the research firm Gartner reported that by 2017, a Chief Marketing Office will be spending more on IT than the Chief Information Officer. It seems almost unfathomable that the marketers will need more technology that the actual technology department in corporations, but when you scratch beneath the surface, it all starts to crystallize.
Data + Testing + Web + Mobile + Social + Local + Personalization = gold.
This past week, has seen some fascinating - albeit divergent - moves in advertising that - when combined - paint a powerful and proactive picture as to just how much advertising has changed... and how much more change is about to occur. The first interesting tidbit is that younger, digital natives, are becoming increasingly comfortable sharing their personal data online so long as they are deriving a value from the exchange (Millennials More Comfortable Than Their Elders Sharing Personal Data Online). So, in a world where consumers are screaming about their privacy being breached by every website that tracks their clicks, young people seem more-than-fine in giving up personal information so long as they get something out it. Next up, we're seeing an exponential growth in the amount of programmatic buying in media that is taking place (Despite Reservations, Programmatic Buying Gains Steam). The numbers don't lie, according to this eMarketer news item. 70% of media buyers and publishers are doing some kind of programmatic buying and 77% of those doing it plan on increasing their spend in the next year. What makes this even more profound is that the survey cited also states that a good chunk of these media entities are thinking about moving entirely to programmatic trading and stopping their direct relationships with publishers. Lastly, the challenges of retargeting (the ability to serve advertising that is related to a user's past online experience - like showing them an ad for a specific shoe that they were looking at on Zappos but never bought) is coming to light (Web Ads That Know Too Much). As exciting as that nascent advertising technology is, many agencies and publishers are not able to fully harness the potential of it to make it work effectively... yet. Still, millions of dollars is being poured into this quickly-maturing advertising opportunity, and nobody doubts the future potential that is upon us in terms of delivering measurable advertising without much human (or creative) intervention.
Should advertisers remove the ego?
As the great philosopher, Uncle Ben, from Spider-Man so eloquently stated: "with great power comes great responsibility." While it may be fun for marketing professionals to have a five martini lunch while ensuring that the baseball stadium still sports their logo and that the ads are running on every TV show that will impress their friends and family members, it's somewhat disheartening to see the lack of enthusiasm that senior marketers have for all of this evolution (or revolution - depending on who you ask). At the Monetate Agility Summit 2013 in Philadelphia at the beginning of April, I shared the stage with famed marketing optimization expert (and friend), Bryan Eisenberg (co-author of bestselling books like Waiting For Your Cat To Bark? and Always Be Testing). He concludes that too many marketers let their ego get in the way. It's a sobering indictment. In a world where testing creative, landing pages and more can be done in a simple and measurable way, Eisenberg asserts that the number one reason senior marketers don't buy into the data and technology is because they are worried that the results will prove their intuition wrong. And, that more often than not, those intuitions are wrong. It weaves a complex story. We have consumers increasingly willing to share personal data, the technology to create hundreds of fast and easy to execute tests, and additional technology to manage the complexity of the media buy behind it and yet, we're all still acting like Don Draper.
From Mad Men to Math Men.
This doesn't mean that creative, insights and storytelling dies. It does mean that we can leverage that aspect of insights while pushing technology to make us better at how that message connects and converts to more sales at a much higher level of efficiency and efficacy. Marketers let our egos get in the way for too long because we had little else to go by. Now, the excuses are getting thinner and hold less value. It turns out that big data, programmatic buying, retargeting and more could well usher in a world where advertising delivers on it's original promise: to drive more sales and get less expensive as it learns. Now, if only us marketers can let our egos get out of the way.
The above posting is my twice-monthly column for the Harvard Business Review. I cross-post it here with all the links and tags for your reading pleasure, but you can check out the original version online here: