Last week I spent a couple of days at Econsultancy’s Festival of Marketing event in London. Spread over two days, the 12 different ‘stages’ covered subjects from digital transformation to brand to the customer experience (and even one on B2B).
Here are my key takeaways…
The customer experience (CX) will be front of mind for B2B marketers in 2017
The event reinforced my view that CX will be top of the agenda next year. Adobe are claiming we are entering the ‘Experience Wave’ – the third major ‘wave’ of business transformation in the last 10–15 years. First was back-office efficiency, second was CRM and loyalty, and this third is experience and customer journey.
It’s not a new issue, of course – we ran an event on CX Maturity in 2007. But with tech vendors and publishers pushing the agenda, including at the B2B conference in November, it feels like 2017 will be the year when B2B marketers are pressured to do something about it. I can almost imagine the planning sessions going on right now, Post-it notes clustering around ‘Improve our customer journey’ and bosses demanding, “What’s our Customer Experience Strategy?”
In practice, we’re already seeing more programmes with an emphasis on ‘brand expression’ – does our experience make the audience feel the right way about our brand? – and projects to review the customer journey and identify ways it can be improved.
Integration and exploitation of data will be a growing focus
Consensus is well established: marketers have plenty of data but struggle to make use of it.
But to achieve your burgeoning CX ambitions, you need to integrate the various sources of data (eg search, web analytics, social analytics, marketing data, CRM data, third-party data). More importantly, you need to manipulate it in such a way that you get useful insights to help improve customer journeys, creative impact, content performance, channel selection, advertising placement and cadence, messaging, email… the list is a long one.
I think this will mean B2B organisations get more serious about the ‘data layer’, analytics and smarter in the way they apply their martech. It may well come under the banner of digital transformation.
Cognitive is coming to marketing
Cognitive will be the next big martech trend and has some pretty far-reaching implications in and outside of marketing. The most impressive/interesting sessions I saw were IBM Watson for marketing and a panel discussion on how AI is influencing the customer experience.
Cognitive technology is the description for a range of capabilities that allow computers to think and learn like (or more like) humans, from visual recognition to natural language processing and machine learning.
Watson is arguably the leading cognitive tech ‘brand’ (thanks to both an enlightened business strategy and great marketing). It’s making use of massively more data than either we humans or traditional analytics tools can; 80% of data is unstructured. Watson can read 800 million pages of text a second (faster even than Short Cuts?), interpret pictures, understand complex metaphors, idioms and emojis. It can also learn as it goes.
Use cases range from predictive analytics to reduce customer churn, to personalisation of advertising and promotions to improve sales, to segmentation, product and proposition development. It’s already being used in a few experimental B2C cases – North Face’s jacket-choosing assistant may seem a little OTT but gives a good idea of the sort of interactions we’ll be seeing more of.
Still early days, and I think it’ll be a while before we see it in B2B outside of brand activation-type stuff, although Salesforce recently made Einstein, their AI platform, the star of Dreamforce.
Caveats with cognitive are that it relies on a fair bit of data and it needs experts to teach it. But imagine if you could plug it into your CRM data and all the data, say, LinkedIn has about networks, connections and behaviours and give that to Watson. Interesting times ahead.
The next few years will see less new martech and consolidation in the martech space
This is the view of Econsultancy VP of Research, Stefan Tornquist. VC funding for martech is down 50% on last year, itself down 33% from the previous year. Stefan’s view is that this ‘plateau’ will allow B2B organisations to catch up on themselves and get much better at making the most of digital technology. Sounds like a good challenge!