A buyer’s guide to marketing technology

The wide assortment of marketing technologies available can create confusion in a fast-moving world, and buying the wrong one is a costly mistake, so keeping outcomes and objectives in mind is the first step towards making sense of the options.

Technology now rules marketers’ lives. It’s not only the fast pace of change in consumer devices that means their day jobs mutate on a regular basis, but also the bewildering array of marketing platforms. All marketers use technology of some kind and many now also have the responsibility of choosing which their company should buy, but how do you know where to start?

“The way that marketers should be using technology is as an enabler,” says Phil Miles, director of media buying solutions at Google UK. “This is to help them organise their data to get insights and use technology to action those insights in real time.”

The ability to understand consumers through this process has put a greater emphasis on data, which is the spine that runs through many of the technologies that marketers should be using – so sourcing, managing and using this data effectively is vital. Here are a few ways marketers can harness its potential.

Data management platforms (DMPs)

Data-driven digital advertising techniques deliver major improvements in both consumer engagement and campaign performance, with advertisers who use them seeing an average improvement of 32% in cost per action (CPA) – the key metric for most digital campaigns – and improvement by more than 50% in some cases, according to a Boston Consulting Group study commissioned by Google last year.

However, marketers often need to combine data sources, so one issue that marketing technology looks to solve is the siloed nature of the data available to marketers. Getting a single customer view in an ever-expanding digital ecosystem is firmly on the agenda.

In a campaign titled ‘There’s a beer for that’ by Britain’s Beer Alliance, which aims to showcase the variety of beer available to consumers, a strong data strategy was required to bring together multiple agencies and accelerate paid and earned media performance in real-time.

Using media agency Mindshare’s ‘Loop Rooms’ – physical rooms that display data-driven campaign dashboards – Britain’s Beer Alliance monitored, moderated and engaged with consumers reacting to its digital and social activity anchored around TV spot programming. For example during an episode of Downton Abbey it created bespoke, responsive content, which was drafted in response to events as they unfolded within the programme.

David Cunningham, programme director at Britain’s Beer Alliance, says: “Mindshare’s Loop Rooms were appealing for our launch as they act as campaign command centres that can display all of our relevant campaign data on a bank of screens. This data covers individual content performance and digital media spend, through to campaign sentiment and key influencers discussing the campaign.”

Having access to this type of platform gave marketers and creatives working on the campaign the ability to react accordingly in real time, an important factor in the marketing mix today.

DMPs are also useful for filtering purposes according to marketers’ needs, in addition to ensuring reliability. An example of this is the way Time magazine in the UK combines various sources of data but aligns them to its marketing objectives.

Time UK collects data from an array of sources and uses a DMP to assemble and make sense of that data across sites, working with data management company Krux. It’s seen a shift towards understanding audiences using its own first-party data on these consumers, rather than third-party data, which is gathered from audiences’ relationships with other organisations.

Dom Perkins, digital commercial development director at Time UK, says: “Third-party data is notoriously unreliable, particularly when defining demographics. We’ve noticed a significant discrepancy between third-party data sources we’ve trialled and Time Inc. UK first-party data. In order to provide more reliable demographic data we are starting to bring our offline data into play, as having this hard data to work with delivers a far stronger proposition.”

Time-poor marketers can make use of data that has been filtered for specific uses rather than tackling heaps of data from multiple sources themselves.

Jewellery brand Alex and Ani uses tools that serve automation and personalisation in order to create long-term customer engagement

Social media platforms

The effectiveness of social media is often called into question, no more so than by Marketing Week’s own columnist Mark Ritson. In a presentation at the World Marketing Sales Forum in Australia, he concluded that social ultimately has limited uses for brands.

But social media technology platforms or ‘listening’ tools are increasingly popular, and for those brands who are convinced of the channel’s impact they are a way of bringing rigorous measurement to a social media strategy.

The need to keep its internal team informed was the reason James Villa Holidays sought out a social media platform, using the technology to help the brand achieve its key performance indicators and objectives. It also allows marketing staff to identify the status of any campaign or sales enquiry and communicate about it with agency partners.

“This was important for our team as we run a rota system to monitor our social media,” says Sally Pemble, digital acquisition manager at James Villa Holidays. “We also wanted to give the team visibility of the posts that were being sent via each channel, so that when the customer engaged with that piece our responses were timely and relevant.”

It employed agency 7thingsmedia and social media management software Sprinklr to centralise its operation and customise requirements, which allowed the brand to save time and improve the quality of its response to consumers.

“I think it’s extremely important to invest in social media technology, if purely for the improvement in customer experience. One of the biggest benefits has been the reporting side of the platform,” adds Pemble.

Automation

Automation uses data to identify and target prospects at the right time and the right place, and although it was originally applied to email marketing it is now used across channels. Adopting this technology approach to marketing helps smaller players compete with the giants.

Jewellery brand Alex & Ani, for example, has worked with partner Sailthru to allow it to send personalised messages across channels with only minor adjustments to its templates and processes, rather than spending long hours on the platform.

Ryan Bonifaciono, vice president of digital strategy at Alex & Ani, says: “Tools that serve as both automation and personalisation are built to allow our team to adjust operations quickly but also create the foundation for long-term engagement with each individual customer. With the right solutions digital teams can focus on analysis and strategy development rather than the moment-to-moment.

“You’ll find digital marketers who understand technology at the core of the fastest growing companies,” adds Bonifaciono. “So for marketers who wish to remain relevant, technology must be a part of their continued growth and evolution.”

A second study by Boston Consulting Group, also commissioned by Google, shows that the efficiency with which digital advertising is delivered can be improved in some cases by as much as 33% through automation, and this improvement translates into more effective campaigns. It also finds that agencies can overcome much inefficiency by applying unified technology platforms and a lean approach to rethinking their processes and structures.

Miles at Google believes that automation is one of these processes. “In the industry we are starting to develop some good proof points around both efficiency driven through automation and effectiveness by stitching disparate data sets together to get a single view of the customer and being able to activate that,” he says.

Social media technology has enabled James Villa Holidays to save time and improve the quality of its responses to consumers

Programmatic

“I think technology-enabled creativity will dominate the marketing industry in 2015, driven by programmatic and data-driven insight,” says Phuong Nguyen, director of eBay Advertising in the UK.

For example, following research that shows only a third of consumers remain loyal to a brand throughout their shopping journey, eBay launched a ‘brand switch’ tool to identify when a consumer is likely to switch to another brand.

However, there are other concerns. Phuong believes that programmatic is still misconceived as a channel for remnant inventory, which is advertising space that a publisher has been unable to sell, and that “the industry is not yet using it to its full potential”.

Last year the industry certainly saw a rise in brand marketers getting to grips with programmatic technology, but will this be the year marketers from more traditional channels get involved in understanding and using it. This shift is happening because of a rise in premium inventory being sold programmatically, which could pique the interest of more marketers.

Miles at Google says: “Premium inventory is coming into the programmatic environment and it’s not just traditional display and online. This year you might start to see TV [ads sold with synchronised mobile ads], radio, OOH. There is a big trend to move more media to be addressable via technology platforms and the ability for the client to bring more data to inventory is really exciting.”

The need to understand data is inevitable for many marketers: not only will they need to use these technologies in marketing campaigns they will also need to understand it and to know whether it is working for them. Marketers might develop this understanding by investing in training or hiring specialist agencies or analysts, but what is clear is that using marketing technology is becoming the norm for those looking to stay ahead of the competition.

Skills and talent

The level of time and resource needed to implement technology platforms depends on the skills and talents of the team. The level of skill required of marketers today is growing, which in turn leads to either hiring people with experience in these areas or training existing team members.

“Marketing is increasingly driven by the need for accurate measurement, so many brands are augmenting their teams with financial analysts, data scientists and other people from highly technical backgrounds – ‘math men’ to sit alongside the ‘mad men’ creatives,” says Luke Griffiths, head of marketing solutions EMEA at eBay Enterprise.

Griffiths also believes that within larger marketing teams there is a split by individual channels, such as display, affiliate, CRM, email, search, and social. “The need for particular experience, with different software and tools calling for very different skills, is leading to increasing specialisation among marketing professionals,” he says.

Miles at Google says: “It’s increasingly important for an organisations to think about how they bring their skills sets together and also how the marketing departments become more effective with data. I think that is key in the future.”

However, there is also the debate about where the expertise come from and whether it’s in the brand’s interest to outsource it or keep it in-house.

Google believes there are a number of different operating models that are developing. “The reality is that agencies will have a major role to play in providing data solutions and media solutions to clients. All of the agencies are moving into this space and have been for a number of years,” says Miles.

Although for some technology-driven companies, such as Amazon and eBay, having the right platforms and IT infrastructure is so important to the business that these are developed in-house with significant investment, the majority of advertisers in the UK are not in this boat.

Griffiths says: “Partnering with external marketing and e-commerce experts can help companies focus their efforts on what they do best while outsourcing areas in which they have less resource.”

However, he adds: “Data analysis is increasingly moving from the list of ‘desirable’ skills for marketing professionals onto the ‘required’ list, but organisations can make the process of acclimatisation easier by providing specific training.”

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