Revolutionary Measures

Marketing by robots?

Technology has disrupted many industries, radically changing the roles of those that work in them. Thirty years ago, every medium or large organisation had a typing pool, with secretaries that took dictation and then typed letters, tippexing over any mistakes. Insurance was primarily sold face to face through brokers, while buying a CD involved a trip to the nearest HMV or Virgin Megastore.

Electronic typewriter - the final stage in typ...

Electronic typewriter – the final stage in typewriter development. A 1989 Canon Typestar 110 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It is now marketing’s turn to feel the impact of technology change. When I started in PR 20 years ago, technology essentially involved a desktop PC, a landline and a fax machine. I remember setting my heart on being promoted in order to ‘earn’ a work mobile phone and the excitement when internet access and email arrived. Things have changed a great deal, but essentially by simply automating existing processes. Rather than physically posting press releases to journalists, PRs now send an email, and marketing campaigns are now integrated and include digital channels. And you could argue that these changes have benefited PR and marketing – the sector is larger than it was, with more senior level practitioners.

However, digital business as usual is no longer enough. Marketing is now being transformed by technology, with those working in it enabled by a whole range of new tools and abilities that completely change how the entire industry operates. This is being driven by three key trends – the rise of Big Data, social media, and improved, end-to-end measurement tools.

1. Big Data – beyond the hype
We live in a world where data is being created an astonishing rate. And much of this data is personal information created on social media and consequently of interest to marketers. You can select target audiences to advertise to using the most narrow of parameters – if you want to reach one armed female ferret fanciers in Altrincham it is easy to do. But to make Big Data work for marketing, you need to learn technical and real-time analytic skills that can be at odds with the traditional annual or six monthly campaign-based approach that many people were brought up on. You also need flexibility, a desire to experiment to see what works, a willingness to learn from mistakes and a focus on constantly adapting and improving what you do.

2. Social Media – the balance has shifted
The relationship between marketers and consumers used to be balanced firmly in favour of corporate suits. Campaigns were launched at their target markets, and while there was some market testing, it was normally late in the process. Social media changes all that – consumers have the chance to have their opinions heard by a global audience instantly, uncontrolled by marketing organisations. The latest example of this is the Comcast case, where a call to cancel an internet connection degenerated into the customer service agent berating the consumer for having the temerity to try and leave. Over 3.5 million people listened to the customer’s recording of the call in just a few days. Marketers have lost control of the conversation.

3. You can measure everything
One of the traditional issues with PR used to be that it was difficult to measure. At a simplistic level you could count clippings, or even assign them a monetary value based on advertising rates, but these were crude and didn’t link to other marketing disciplines. Now you can measure everything, seeing exactly what a prospect has viewed on the way to a purchase and use Big Data algorithms to weight the relative impact of every contact on the eventual sale. Software enables you to link different channels seamlessly, so in terms of PR and social media you could see how individual articles or tweets have moved the customer journey forward.

So, some of the skills that marketing people took for granted as useful – empathy, the ability to schmooze and being good on the phone/in meetings – are no longer enough. You need to be able to use technology as a lever to better understand customers in a scalable, real-time way, and have the strategic skills to create content that will best reach them. For a traditional industry such as marketing this does mean changing how people operate – which can be uncomfortable and even threatening to experienced marketers. However the prize is worth fighting for. Marketers have the chance to not only prove the value of what they do, but increase their own standing within their organisations by taking a more strategic role. All they need is an open mind and a desire to embrace their more analytic and technical sides.

July 23, 2014 Posted by | Marketing | , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Do you really Like that?

Facebook Like stamp

Be careful what you like on Facebook – that’s the warning to take from research carried out by the University of Cambridge. The project used algorithms to predict religion, politics, race and sexual orientation based solely on what people chose to Like on the social network.

By correlating personality tests and the demographic information of 58,000 volunteers, the researchers were able to compare Likes with an astonishing level of accuracy. The algorithm used was 88% accurate in predicting whether someone male was gay or straight and between 65-73% accurate in guessing marital status and substance abuse for example. And it wasn’t based on simple linking – fewer than 5% of gay users clicked obvious likes such as gay marriage. Instead it used information such as likes on TV shows, films and music.

This is music to the ears of marketers (and social networks desperate to sell advertising to them). It could even help Facebook’s depressed share price perk up a little. And if you can accurately predict detailed demographic information from just one part of a person’s online footprint, imagine what you can do if you add in web browsing, search and other social network data. No wonder Google wants you to sign into its multiple services so it can collect the maximum amount of data, whatever device you are using.

From a consumer point of view there’s two ways of looking at this – most people will see it as an intrusion into their privacy and change their settings, but brands may well rationalise it as offering people exactly what they want. And as Mark Earls has pointed out in his book I’ll have what she’s having a large number of people’s decisions are herd led. So offer them an easy option that means they don’t have to think and they’ll jump at it. In many cases consumers may not even realise they are being sold to – which could be very worrying when people start being segmented on sexuality, religion or political affiliation.

So marketers need to treat this data with caution. Yes, it gives unprecedented insight but be too aggressive when using it and you’ll cause a public outcry which could damage your brand – and trigger governmental action to tighten privacy settings on the likes of Facebook.

However my own view is that we’ve been here before. Remember when store loyalty cards came in everyone predicted that we’d be laser targeted with relevant offers that drove us to up our spend? But if I get a mailing from a well-known chemists the vouchers are pretty much identical to my wife’s, with obvious male/female differences. It seems that marketers haven’t got to grips with shopping data in enough granular detail to deliver the killer offers that will drive me to automatically purchase without thinking. We may have the data, and even the technology to analyse it, but until marketers move to a digital mindset we’re unlikely to be brainwashed into buying things we don’t even know we wanted.

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March 13, 2013 Posted by | Cambridge, Marketing, Social Media | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment