Across the UK, automation is taking over. Five years ago, for example, real-time bidding accounted for just 12 percent of online display advertising, according to the International Data Corporation. Last month, the Internet Advertising Bureau UK reported that almost three-quarters of UK digital display advertising is now bought programmatically.
That push is all about relevance. The ultimate goal of advertising is delivering the right message to someone at the right time. In many sectors, that’s already happening. Sephora tracks how much money customers spend on its site and automatically enrolls them into a VIP club once they hit a certain amount. Car companies like Nissan can now send drivers automated reminders of when they should get their car serviced based on the date you bought your car.
Based on my conversations with agencies, tech companies, and consultancies, this level of technological innovation is only going to increase. Here are three trends that marketers working in Europe should be thinking about for the future.
Seeing the consumer, not the devices
Part of the promise of online marketing has always been to understand the customer journey better. The rise of attribution modelling has given marketers more insight into how different types of content lead to conversions. But as smartphones and tablets become the primary means of accessing the internet, understanding how users move from device to device during the purchase process is a significant issue right now.
For marketers, cross-device marketing a matter of efficacy, making sure consumers see content in sequence, no matter how many devices they use. Meanwhile, consumers are annoyed by ads that feel irrelevant or from seeing the same ad too many times.
To improve the efficacy without frustrating users, marketers are turning to two solutions: identity resolution and device graphing. Identity resolution is the process of linking fragments of personal data from different sources to gather a complete picture of a customer. A device graph looks at an individual’s digital habits holistically, based on all the devices he or she uses.
Device graphs are already a common part of digital advertising in the U.S., but the tactic is only now starting to pick up across Europe as advertisers put more emphasis on managing attribution throughout the customer journey.
“The elephant in the room is that the CRM world and the digital world need to come together,” Jed Mole, European marketing director at Acxiom, told me. “We know customers happily live in both the physical and digital worlds. Linking those data sets completely is not possible, but it can be done to a worthwhile degree.”
Think of it this way: If you’ve just purchased a TV in a store, the last thing the retailer wants is to advertise the same TV to you online. When a publisher’s ad exchange offers them the chance to advertise to you, brands want to be able to say no or advertise a complementary product. A data on-boarding company will take the retailer’s data, anonymise it, and use it to let publishers know that if you come to their website, they shouldn’t bid on TV ads. This approach should lead to a better experience for customers and more effective advertising for marketers.
Are the robots coming?
The need for increased automation means marketing departments will have to evolve, quickly, to adapt to new demands. For some companies, that means turning to artificial intelligence and machine learning, topics the media loves to hype up.
Artificial intelligence may present incredible possibilities, but there’s still a lot of uncertainty about what skills are needed and how viable such technology really is. A 2016 report published by Weber Shandwick and KRC Research revealed that 55 percent of CMOs worldwide expect AI to have a greater impact on marketing than social media. When that happens is still anyone’s guess.
Jason Warnes, digital marketing partner at Deloitte Digital, thinks AI will be great for efficiency. He sees it as a key resource for optimisation, perhaps by making marketing spend more effective. But he also cautioned that it will replicate human experience, for example, by refining the process a car salesperson goes through with a customer to serve up the right product.
“A big concern is marketers committing to the technology but not getting the return because the business isn’t ready.”
Beyond that, AI could help marketers corral its vast pools of data, some of which may be quantitative and unstructured. When people make comments about a brand on social media, technology could gather that data and make inferences about what the users want. “Search trends can be used as the basis for assumptions, for example, so that you’re not starting from a blank piece of paper if you don’t have structured data about a customer,” he added.
At Mindshare, a media agency, global head of programmatic Adam Ray sees machine learning as the third corner of a triangle with planning and creativity. It’s the missing element that will let marketers target the right customer with relevant content, at a time when programmatic is making media buys more complicated.
“Machine learning is the critical factor,” Ray said. “Typically a brand will look to have twenty or thirty different buying strategies at any one point in time, but what we’re moving to is having hundreds of thousands. This changes how we think about media, operate it, and learn from it.”
The shift to service
Perhaps the most significant trend in marketing automation this year isn’t about new technology. Rather it’s the growing recognition that technology isn’t enough on its own.
“A big concern is marketers committing to the technology but not getting the return because the business isn’t ready, or because they haven’t done the required due diligence, or because they don’t have the skills required,” said Zuzanna Gierlinska Oracle’s director of data management platform EMEA. “I think the idea of service will be big this year.”
The situation is further complicated by the sheer numbers of suppliers and products available. Per Netskope, a cloud security company, the average marketing team uses 91 cloud services. While some businesses are happy to mix and match technology from different vendors and add to their stacks, today’s marketers are daunted by the overwhelming choice and complexity of all available options.
Gierlinska believes the effectiveness of all this software is as much about finding someone to run the platform as it is about the platform itself. For now, media agencies, consultancies, and an emerging wave of solutions experts have the skills to manage the technology.
All of these developments ultimately suggest that martech is only going to get more complex. “For marketers, it’s data and it’s creativity; giving the customers the best experience and getting the best return,” Gierlinska said. “All the current innovation is around those two spaces.”