Is it time for ‘marketing-as-a-service’?

Snow Fall is a beautiful, interactive and immersive multimedia experience about the avalanche at Tunnel Creek in the US. It was lovingly crafted by The New York Times in 2012 and was heralded as setting new standards in digital storytelling.

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Seventeen months later, the publication’s internal innovation report was leaked. It points out that while projects such as Snow Fall are extremely popular, with more than 21 million page views, they are not easily replicable.

The report acknowledged that “we have a tendency to pour resources into big one-time projects and work through the one-time fixes needed to create them and overlook the less glamorous work of creating tools, templates and permanent fixes that cumulatively can have a bigger impact by saving our digital journalists time and elevating the whole report. We greatly undervalue replicability.” In a memorable quote from Quartz editor Kevin Delaney, “I’d rather have a Snow Fall builder than a Snow Fall.”

Isn’t marketing, particularly digital, undergoing a similar change? We love a great campaign but perhaps they are not as valuable as creating a marketing infrastructure and set of marketing processes and capabilities that can deliver replicability. This does not mean that marketing should be normalised but if we can create the right building blocks, including data, content assets, rules and logic, then we can create ‘composable’ marketing that is unique in discrete executions, yet more scalable, efficient and quicker to execute.

I have encouraged marketers to learn from the world of technology before. Agile marketing can borrow from agile software development.
You should be aware of software-as-a-service (SaaS) and cloud-based software. Should we not be thinking of marketing-as-a-service (MaaS)? If we can create marketing components that we can assemble on demand, then we can deliver new marketing experiences quickly and effectively.

Consider digital advertising campaigns. Mondelez’s vice-president of media and consumer engagement B. Bonin Bough recently said that he expected all media to be bought programmatically. Procter & Gamble has stated it aims to buy 70-75 per cent of its US digital media programmatically by the end of this year. American Express also suggested that it wants to shift 100 per cent of digital buys to programmatic.

What becomes most valuable is less the specific creative execution, or individual campaign, and more the underlying models, frameworks and algorithms. To paraphrase Kevin Delaney’s Snow Fall comment, “I’d rather have an optimisation model for programmatic media buying than a great ad campaign”.

How about content marketing? Infographics have proved popular but creating great infographics as one-offs is time consuming and expensive. Using chart and graphic-building tools and services, such as Quartz Chartbuilder, makes more sense. Syndicating and distributing content manually is too intensive; again, we need services and platforms to properly power content marketing.

Where could MaaS go? Imagine if we could draw on data sources, query that data and build segments on the fly, pull out marketing building blocks to deliver personalised messaging and experiences that are tailored to specific devices, medium and context of use.

IBM is already doing this in its own marketing. Platforms such as Bluemix and services like Watson (artificial intelligence as a service), enable the company to build propositions such as IBM Voices that allow anyone to discover the most valuable social content shared, created and discussed by IBM thought-leaders and subject matter experts. Made with IBM is a campaign landing site powered by content as a service, delivered dynamically based on business rules.

Many marketers see the future of marketing being about increased personalisation and marketing automation. If that’s the case, they are best powered by MaaS, so I would expect to see this thinking and approach, if not this label, becoming more prevalent.