This week, I was on site doing a digital marketing workshop for a global brand. The workshop was and facilitated by me and co-developed in part with Butler University and the amazing educator that's full-time within the organization.
When we arrived at the Martech Stack section of the platform to educate employees on the technology resources within the organization, I was struck at the combination of platforms. It didn't appear like your normal Martech Stack of top-right quadrant, enterprise platforms. It was a combination of world-class, open-source platforms, small apps, and even outsourced agency partners.
The company built their Martech Stack purposefully to ensure it could deliver the right message to the right prospect or customer at the right time. All the pieces are there and in place… some seamlessly integrated and others requiring manual processes… but each carefully selected to ensure compliance issues, security concerns, and maximum impact to overall marketing needs.
Within the workshop, the Martech Stack was presented last to employees. And, strategically, not a lot of information was presented about what each platform's capabilities were or how they were used.
Because the company's marketing leadership wanted its sales, advertising, marketing, and customer experience teams to focus on the customer experience, and then to leverage the technology to deliver that experience. It was essential not to focus on what could be done with technology… but to focus on what should be done whether or not the technology existed. They even admit that there are pieces to the stack that aren't even utilized for the features that they're commonly known for.
The company utilized an acronym, POST, for its digital marketing process:
- People – Identify the target audience of the effort.
- Objectives – Define what the objectives or outcomes they're looking to achieve with the marketing effort.
- Strategy – Define the channels, mediums, media, and journey to deploy to the target to reach those objectives.
- Technology – Identify that technology that can help research the people, measure the objectives, and deploy the strategy.
Is Technology Hurting Your Brand?
Technology is not hurting this client's brand because they have prioritized it appropriately. Processes, problems, budgets, resources, training, security, and compliance are all carefully reviewed before technology is chosen. Technology isn't seen as the solution, it's seen as the tools necessary to efficiently and effectively deliver the solution.
But that's not what I see with every company. Here are some ways that I'm seeing technology severely impact the health of some brands.
- Apps – Consumers don't want to interact with businesses any more. One example is the financial industry. Consumers don't want to speak to a financial advisor, bank, or insurance broker… they just want a great application that's easy to use and has all the features they need. While apps are an absolute necessity, it's important to realize that this has broken any human relationship with your brand. Your company must work twice as hard to build a relationship with these customers through the mediums they demand. Companies using apps to replace relationships for cost efficiency are also just leaving their brand at risk for when the competitor launches a better, easier app. Apps are a necessity, but companies have to ensure they are deploying other efforts around it to educate, assist, and effectively communicate with their app's users. The app isn't enough!
- Bots – If you're trying to disguise an automated response system as a human interaction, you're putting your brand at great risk. As bots skyrocketed in popularity, I implemented them for several clients… and quickly retreated or significantly modified their use. The problem was the users first thought they were speaking with a human. When they found out through an error or mis-step that it was a bot, they weren't just frustrated, they were downright angry. They felt duped. Now, when I assist clients in deploying bots, we make sure that customers absolutely know they're speaking to an automated attendant… and we provide a path to pass them immediately to a real human.
- Email – Another client I was working on had designed and developed an intricate system where they purchased lists and delivered thousands of highly targeted emails to prospective customers. It routed intelligently around reputation systems to ensure the messages made it to their prospect's inbox. When they told me the tens of thousands of messages they'd been sending every week, I couldn't keep my mouth shut. I asked how their SPAM efforts were performing. They were a bit offended at the accusation as they were proud of the efforts… but they admitted it hadn't resulted in a single lead. I pushed them to shut it down immediately and we moved the strategy to a highly targeted inbound process that is now producing qualified leads that are successfully being moved through the customer journey. To this day, we have no way to know how many prospective clients they may have lost by spamming the heck out of them. Messaging is cheap, so brands are always tempted to send more and more messages. The consequences aren't often realized in dollars and cents, though. I've stopped doing business with several brands that simply spammed the heck out of me.
- Artificial Intelligence – The new silver bullet of every Martech Stack is the ability to deploy machine learning to self-optimize marketing efforts. It's sold as easy, but it's far from simple. Deploying AI requires data scientists that understand how to analyze the data, built and test models, classify variables and outcomes, deploy effectively across networks, set up dynamic decision patterns, and assess causal interference. Poorly deployed, AI can severely limit your messaging capabilities… or worse… make automated choices based on flawed models and decision trees.
- Privacy – Data is plentiful. Companies are buying and capturing more of it to segment, personalize, and push customers to make a purchase. At issue is that consumers aren't seeing the value in their data being captured, sold, and shared. It's being abused by bad players… and the result is legislation that's going to severely hamper marketers' ability to communicate effectively with prospects and clients. The responsibility is on brands to carefully use data, communicate to customers and prospects how it's being used, where it was acquired, and how it can be deleted. If we don't work on making our efforts transparent, government will (and already is) destroying our ability to use data effectively. If you think bad advertising is rampant now… just wait until companies can no longer have access to data.
- Security – Data provides another issue… security. I'm astounded at the number of companies storing personal data without encrypting it and securing it appropriately. I'm not sure there are too many companies out there taking this risk seriously, and I have a feeling that we're going to see brands collapse under regulatory fines and lawsuits in the very near future. We recently saw Equifax settle their breach for $700 million. What are you doing to safeguard your customer and client data today? If you're not investing in third-party security experts and audits, you're putting your brand reputation and future profits at risk. And if you’re storing passwords in a spreadsheet and sharing them via email, you’re going to get in trouble. Password management platforms and dual authentication is a must.
- Stack – I cringe sometimes when I hear of the hundreds of thousands, or sometimes millions of dollars, that enterprise marketing professionals spend on a Martech stack investment. It's often done because a widely accepted solution is seen as a safe investment. After all, third-party analyst reports carefully evaluated and selected these companies… placing them in the top-right quadrant. Why wouldn't a company make an investment in a technology that could transform their digital marketing efforts? Well, there are a ton of reasons. You may not have the resources to migrate and implement the solution. You may not have processes in place to fully leverage the solution. You may not have the budget to integrate and automate the solution. The analogy that I use is this…
Buying a world-class enterprise Martech Stack is like buying a mansion. You buy the mansion, but what's delivered is truckloads of lumber, pipes, concrete, paint, doors, windows, and everything else you need. You technically received the mansion… it's just now your job to figure out how to build it.
Douglas Karr, DK New Media
At our root as digital marketers, we are trying to grow our brand's reputation, grow our authority within our industry, and build trust between our brand and our prospects and customers. Marketing is about relationships. As of today, technology can't replace the human relationships between our brand and our customers. That could change in the future… but I don't believe we'll see that in my lifetime.
This isn't a post about evil technology… it's a post about how marketers' misuse, abuse, or exaggerated expectations of technology can hurt their brand. We're the problem, not technology. Technology is the glue and the bridge that we need to scale our efforts – it's an absolute necessity for every modern marketer. But we must be cautious in use of technology to ensure we don't destroy everything we've worked so hard to build.