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Will Marketing Automation lead to Marketing Termination?

Anyone scanning what’s new and cool in the marketing landscape would find that there is a massive amount of noise being made by vendors or “marketing automation” campaign management systems, CRM systems and web analytics platforms.

Now,  I love technology when it is cleverly applied to marketing problems and there is no doubt in my mind that many of the leading marketing automation platforms are excellent tools for bring together customer data with eDM campaigns and promotions.  In today’s digital world they are likely to be essential tools for any business wishing to efficiently execute direct marketing campaigns and measure their impact in real time.  In addition, web analytic platforms, including Google Analytics, have given marketers new ways of understanding customer behaviour on-line, new methods for measuring the impact of SEO, SEM, Social, display and eDM campaigns as they are executed and new insights about what offers generate the most sales.

The messages coming from vendors of marketing automation, CRM and web analytic technologies are pretty heady stuff.  They promise a kind of “marketing uptopia” where all a Marketing Director needs to do is plug into these platforms, run some campaigns, observe what happens using the vast array of fancy new metrics and then continually tweak your campaigns until the brand dominates its market and everyone is rolling in money.

If the promise of these technologies is true, then marketers would be facing extinction in the very near future, replaced by servers, databases and smart code that intelligently optimises promotional offers until an identified customer or prospect presses the buy buy button.  While such a scenario might have the making for a good sci-fi flick, I cannot see the automation of marketing leading to the “termination” of marketers, particularly when it comes to defining marketing strategy.

Marketing is an increasingly sophisticated discipline, one that is responsible for the determination of strategies to generate cash-flow by creating value for customers in more useful and meaningful ways than competing brands.  To do this, successful, strategic  marketers understand the needs and wants of people in their market-place, develop products and services around compelling price-value propositions and distribute them via channels that enable customers to access what they want, when they want it.  Successful strategic marketers also position all of this good work under brands that are effectively differentiated from competitors on things that matter most to customers.

However, deciding when, where and how to compete has never been more fraught with more risk.  In most markets, the past is no longer a useful predictor of the future and in many cases, change seems like the only constant. In today’s environment, strategic marketing decisions require careful framing, comprehensive and thorough analysis of many sources of data and the careful formation of judgement among internal and external stakeholders in the business.

For example, a decision of whether or not to enter a new market will, at a minimum, require a clear understanding of the dynamics of that market – the size of the market, rates of growth, intensity of competition, the existence of valuable customer segments, areas of unmet need and opportunity to clearly differentiate.  In many cases this understanding will need to be gleaned from various sources of market intelligence, most of which will not be readily observable through a CRM data warehouse, marketing automation platform or web analytics platform.  Sources such as market sizing data, competitor intelligence data, customer usage and attitude data, channel sales data and macro-economic data will be fundamental to making a decision to enter a new market.

The process of forming judgement will also usually require engagement among internal stakeholders such as those representing the views and interests of the finance community, supply chain and customer support.  It may also require engagement with communities such as marketing suppliers, communication partners, distribution partners and customers themselves.

The sheer complexity of the information required and how judgement is to be exercised across many stakeholders, means that marketers will still be required to generate new ideas, assess their potential, lobby and engage stakeholders for their support and carefully consider the complex arrangement of how to allocate finite resources and schedule activity across an array of marketing initiatives.

Technology is and will continue to be a critical enabler of strategy.  Tools such as marketing automation, CRM and web analytics will ensure well thought-out strategy can be efficiently executed and managed with precision.  However a poorly thought-out strategy will not be saved by technology.  No matter how smart the automation, how precise the segmentation or how comprehensive the tracking of customer behaviour in the digital world, a weak strategy will fail to deliver against business objectives.

If you are playing in the wrong market, have an inferior product, weak distribution or ill-defined brand proposition, supported by insufficient budgets, people or resources, then neither the best marketing technology in the world, nor the Terminator, will save you.

Posted by Dean Harris.

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