I have worked with CMOs for the last twenty years in the realm of corporate storytelling and meaningful engagement and I can tell you that there has never been a more challenging environment for marketers, or one that demands the highest levels of collaboration as responsibilities in the marketing department continue to grow.
Last week, on behalf of IBM as a member of their Futurist team, I attended MarTech, a conference dedicated to examining how technology will continue to impact the marketing function at organizations around the world. My fellow futurists and I, Joel Comm and Stan Phelps, two globally renowned marketing influencers, were blown away by the many issues and trends emerging around building the best-in-class marketing stacks of the future.
Whether it is personalization, on demand services, authenticity or removal of friction, the heat is on for marketers to figure out how to create the best customer journeys possible with an eye on defining distinction and competitive advantage in the marketplace.
Beyond all the latest and greatest technologies at the event, the other key topic to emerge was the growing need for a seamless partnership between today’s CMO and CTO, and the arrival of tomorrow’s Chief Marketing Technology Officer. In my book We-Commerce I examine how collaboration must move from mere activity to critical driver of day-to-day business strategy, and this notion could not have been more apparent at MarTech.
In the spirit of collaboration, Catrina Boisson, a Worldwide CMO Evangelist for Watson Customer Engagement and I hosted a session at the conference dedicated to exploring these issues and how creativity and technology must collaborate to imagine the future of marketing. We also took a deep dive into why AI must become the partner to today’s CMO. Below is a recap of our conversation:
Q.: I know that you are always out in the field working with clients. What are you seeing marketers focused on? What are the latest trends you are seeing?
A: You said it yourself – there has never been a more challenging time to be a marketer. And as I talk to marketing teams around the globe, there are a couple of themes that emerge. First is the way that marketers are viewed by the organization and view their own roles. I think historically marketing tended to be viewed by a lot of the organization as “arts and crafts” – creative, hard to measure, not necessarily strategic. Today, the practice of marketing is as much about science as it is about art. And that is giving us greater respect from our C-Suite colleagues, but also greater accountability (66% of CMOs say that the primary measure of their effectiveness today is ROMI, but only 33% believe that they are able to consistently measure ROMI). Second is that the rise of the empowered, omnichannel, consumer has made customer experience the new battlefield for brands. Enlightened CMOs are taking that as an opportunity to extend their reach in the organization (according to Gartner, 89% of organizations say believe that in the future they will differentiate primarily on CX ), but that too is a major area of challenge – there’s huge gap between the experience brands think they deliver/want to deliver and what their customers expect/perceive. Third is the sheer deluge of data. The marketers I speak to are struggling not just to get their arms around it, but actually do something with it (some estimate that 90% of the data organizations collect is not being effectively leveraged due to data silos).
Q: So how can Cognitive or AI help marketers overcome these challenges/succeed in this new environment?
A: I should probably start by defining what we mean by Cognitive. Cognitive systems are systems that understand – ingesting huge volumes of structured and unstructured data and making sense of them in the context of a particular industry or business problem (e.g, a segment means something very different to an oncologist versus a marketer), they reason — forming conclusions or hypotheses or recommendations with varying degrees of certainty or prioritization, and they learn – capturing what happens at every interaction and taking that into account for the next situation. It’s really very similar to what we do as humans every day. For example – pretend you are in a new city and have been tasked with choosing a restaurant for a group of colleagues. You’ll learn by asking others for recommendations, reading YELP, talking to the concierge. And you’ll also weigh what you know about your colleagues – who is vegan or hates spicy food — and you might also consider distance from your hotel or the cost against your pre diem. Based on all that data, you come up with a favorite plus a couple of alternative recommendations and present them to the team. If you go for the favorite and it turns out to be a disaster, that’s a learning that you will store for your next visit. Understand – Reason – Learn.
So, connecting that back to the challenges that marketers are facing today, Cognitive is hugely beneficial when you think about data overload because these systems can help marketers generate, not just insight, but timely, actionable insight from data that goes well beyond the traditional sources of transactional and profile data — think behavioral data, and attitudinal data, unstructured and increasingly dark data, like EMOJIs in a social feed or video content.
Q: Do you have any examples?
A: Well, one example of data that I don’t think most marketers are focused is weather. How many of you knew that IBM bought the Weather Company? And how many know why? It’s all about the data…weather impacts so much of our lives – what we wear, what we eat, whether we take a cab to the office or walk — but it is probably not the first source of data that we think about as marketers, but I have an example of a CPG company that did just that. They were advertising soup and wanted optimize the effectiveness of their online advertising. They collaborated with Watson to figure out what soup weather means to different people. What they found is that it did not have to do with absolute temperature; it was about relative temperature. So the best time to advertise soup in Los Angeles was when it was 55 degress, but in New York it was 32 degrees.
Q: How about an example of how Cognitive helps marketers address the customer experience gap?
A: Sure. North Face is a great example there. When you go into a North Face store, you have an opportunity to chat with a very knowledgeable associate who can talk you through the best jacket to buy if you are doing mountain climbing in January in Banff versus skiing in Whistler. But that is not an experience that you can easily replicate on line with a bunch of drop down boxes and filters. So North Face leveraged Watson and its natural language capabilities to help customers get to the right outwear for what they were doing and where they were doing it, when. Customers can actually talk or type their answers to a series of questions, as if they are having an actuall conversation, and get to a recommendation personalized to them and their circumstances. The click through rates on Watson’s recommendations have been impressive.
Q: I like that example, because it feels like you are blending creativity and technology together seamlessly. Would you agree that to achieve not only optimal customer experiences but also desired business outcomes, creativity must be married with technology?
A: Definitely. Data and tech are huge enablers, but at the end of the day, we still need to be able to make an emotional connection to our customer or prospect. Red Bull is a great example of how Watson and cognitive are actually enhancing the storytelling process. Red Bull used Watson’s Personality Insights to analyze the social posts and video interviews of the athletes who act as brand advocates and social influencers to help them understand how they and the Red Bull brand where being perceived by their fans. Their agency partner Havas leveraged Watson in workshops to provide specific recommendations to the athletes on style, attitude, subject, and form which helped them provide more authentic “social voices” that better connect with their fans, building up their personal brands as well as Red Bull’s results.
Q: With all of the complexities of the marketplace why is collaboration between the CMO and CTO more important than ever before?
A: Before I talk specifically about the CTO and CMO, I think it’s important to just underline how important collaboration is, period. If customer experience really is the new battlefield, then collaboration is an indispensable weapon. Many organizations, and specifically marketing organizations, are guilty of doing business the way they are organized – you have the social team, and the mobile team, and the email guys….the bottom line is that if you are doing business the way you are organized, you have no chance of delivering the seamless experience your customers expect.
And back to your original question — CTOs and CMOs — I think that we, as marketers, have a tendency to race off after the latest and greatest shiny object or silver bullet, but if we are not collaborating with our CTO colleagues, then we run the risk of buying a tool that we can’t fully leverage, or creates a new silo of data, or breaks something else that is in place. When I think about the most successful conversations that we are having about martech there are at least three players involved –the visionary who is setting the organization’s strategy for marketing or customer experience, the practitioner who will be hands on keyboard feeling the pain or delight and the technologist who understands how it all fits together in the larger data and tech schema. I firmly believe that marketing should be developing the business requirements, but IT has to be involved in the selection and implementation of the technology.
Q: In the past year, offerings in the marketing stack have grown by something like 83%. Can you explain how IBM and Watson can do more for marketers than other options?
A: The first important differentiator is that our solutions have been purposely developed to play well in that very complicated martech sandbox. We know that for marketers, time to value is huge, so we have made it very easy for them to integrate and share data across systems and partners, without turning it into an IT project.
But while that is hugely beneficial, of course, the really sexy part is Watson. What we have done with our solutions is actually embed the power of cognitive into key marketing processes. Watson is not just a branding gimmick for us. When you adopt Watson Marketing Solutions, tt’s like having Watson as another member of your marketing team. It’s the perfect example of AI as ASSISTED Intelligence, not ARTIFICAL Intelligence. So what does that mean? Here are just a few examples:
1. Cognitive can scan 100s of 1000s of sessions and detect where and why customers are struggling on your website and alert you to take action
2. Cognitive can alert you to high value customers likely to churn and advise you why they may leave so you can engage them proactively in ways that will be most relevant…it can even suggest the best content/offer/communication for that specific customer or segment
3. Cognitive can optimize your programmatic ad buying by factoring in contextual attributes and won-bid placements for a campaign and evaluating thousands of scenarios in in real time
Billee Howard helps brands use storytelling as a competency that informs business strategy, culture development and growth. She also wrote WeCommerce, a book on collaboration in the new economy.