Last week ClickZ hosted our virtual Marketing Automation Summit which featured incredible speakers from some of the smartest minds in marketing.
The organizations represented—Demandbase, MailChimp, McKinsey, Salesforce, Deloitte Digital, and Purple—are pioneers in marketing automation. Their marketing leadership is made up of visionaries who can help marketers understand where to prioritize their digital transformation efforts.
In this post, we’ll summarize the highlights of last week’s Summit. We encourage you to view the conference in its entirety. It’s available on-demand from ClickZ.
Marketing automation involves using software and tools to build automated marketing processes that can handle high volume or complex projects. As marketing has become more complex, we need these tools more than ever.
For David Dewey of MailChimp, data is the game changer when it comes to marketing automation. Dewey heads up MailChimp’s machine learning and AI initiatives, and has firsthand experience with the sheer volume of data that marketers must manage.
Says Dewey, “We’re sending billions of emails and campaigns and can now harness the power of AI to provide an automated view of what’s working and what’s not. We’re then able to reproduce that across all of our users.”
Oliver Gediehn of McKinsey notes that managing digital campaigns has become much more complex over the last decade, with a proliferation of data and tools that can be overwhelming.
“We’ve always had tools at our fingertips to manage campaigns. I think what’s changed over the last few years is that there’s now an outdated suite of the basic tools that enabled our clients to achieve a certain level of automation, but there are still a lot of add-on tools you need. This adds complexity.”
Gediehn, who typically focuses on B2C clients, has noticed a growing need for B2B companies to do more digital marketing because of COVID-19, particularly in the realm of sales support that directly contributes to business growth.
Dewey notes three key things that MailChimp customers are asking for in terms of automation: capacity, control, and creativity.
“Our users are asking us to take things off their plate so they can focus on other parts of their business,” explains Dewey. “The more we can automate, the more time we’re giving them to focus on the things that only a human can do.”
While MailChimp customers want automation, they also want to maintain control of what’s happening, so having visibility into what’s going on behind the scenes is critical. Creativity is the final piece of the puzzle. Many MailChimp users are SMBs that have difficulty with the creative aspects that come with marketing.
“We provide a capability in our product to automatically do that for them,” says Dewey.
While tools like MailChimp don’t require in-depth technical stills, the ability to work with data is an essential requirement for today’s automated marketing team.
Gediehn emphasizes that automation isn’t just the realm of data scientists, but relies on a combination of art and science, a skillset that enables marketers to slice and dice the data, but also understand its business impact.
The other needed skill is creativity.
“We can let the machines run, aim for efficiency, test everything, and optimize, but we still need to inject new messaging, new creative, and different calls to action into our campaigns. That’s something we cannot outsource to the machine.”
Gediehn noted that it’s not typically one person that contains both skills, but rather, it’s the responsibility of a team or squad.
Dewey agrees that both data and creativity are needed from the perspective of MailChimp’s SMB users. “If you think about marketing automation and boil it down to the simplest form, what you’re trying to achieve is the same level of experience for all of your customers—as if you only have one customer.”
When asked what kind of data is the most important when planning and optimizing a marketing automation strategy, both speakers were hard-pressed to define one single type of data.
“I think the most important data is what defines your definition of success,” explains Dewey. “If you’re trying to drive subscriptions to a newsletter, that’s a different definition of success than trying to drive purchases through an ecommerce store. The way you profile those users or subscribers ends up being extremely different.”
Gediehn agreed, noting that customer profile and behavioral data are both important so that marketers can get the contextual messaging right.
“My typical push is to go as far down the funnel as possible,” says Gediehn. “You can always optimize for clickthrough rate and open rate, but I find that, very often, the logic stops way too early. Even with the best algorithm, you’re optimizing, not to an absolute optimum, but to something else. An important data point to add is the true lifetime value of a customer.”
Dewey emphasized that one of the biggest challenges with marketing automation is also the biggest opportunity—technology integration.
“Understanding what your objective is and how you measure it requires the integration of a number of different platforms and sources of data,” says Dewey. “Integrating it so you’re telling one cohesive story through data is really the biggest challenge. At MailChimp, we see that as the opportunity, because it’s where our users struggle. If this is something we can achieve for them, that’s a huge opportunity for us.”
Gediehn adds that one of the biggest challenges lies with how marketers view the tools. “If the tool is the solution and you neglect the operating model behind it, you’ll end up being disappointed.”
The second session in ClickZ’s Marketing Automation Summit includes four experts, plus our stoic moderator, Tim Flagg. Speakers include Brian Solis of Salesforce, Rob Towne of Purple, Erik Duffield of Deloitte Digital, and Jon Miller of Demandbase.
Brian Solis is a futurist and the Global Innovation Evangelist at Salesforce. Solis notes that COVID-19 has forced customers to evolve rapidly and dramatically, with the future focused on scaling, personalization, and automation, while keeping an eye on humanization.
“We want to make sure that we’re not automating marketing to the point where we’re forgetting about the human on the other side of the screen,” says Solis.
Erik Duffield, Deloitte Digital’s GM of Experience Management Practice & Asset Solution Group, notes that brands are connecting more digitally with their customers. “The competition and scale of digital competition requires automation.” He added that the new, post-COVID world has also changed how customers will engage in the combination of physical and digital now and in the future.
Jon Miller is the CPO at Demandbase. Miller, previously the Co-Founder at Engagio and Marketo, has been in the B2B marketing automation space for a long time. He notes that one of the biggest shifts for B2B marketers is the canceling of events since the pandemic started. “B2B marketers typically spend a lot of their budget on events. That’s obviously had to change.”
For B2B companies, COVID-19 has caused a massive shift away from events and toward digital channels including targeted advertising and online events. “Historically, marketing automation and ad tech have been pretty disconnected,” says Miller. “I think we’re starting to figure out how to bring those worlds closer together.”
Rob Towne, Director of Marketing for Purple, notes that as a digital-first company, Purple was in a better position than its competitors after COVID-19 hit. “We’ve been able to take our years of experience and the machine we’ve built from that and make sure we’re communicating really well with our customers.”
When asked to choose between dealing with data complexity versus focusing on data quality in terms of the future of marketing automation, Demandbase’s Jon Miller noted the “uncanny valley” dilemma—the realm where automation becomes creepy.
Miller laid out an example: The Polar Express movie tried to realistically animate humans, but didn’t get close enough to achieving photorealism, and viewers found it disturbing. The lesson learned is you can either have cartoons or you can be photorealistic, but if you land in the middle, you’re in the uncanny valley, and it’s creepy.
“That’s where marketers can get into trouble,” explains Miller. “Today, we’re not quite there yet with AI to achieve true photorealistic personalization without human intervention and if you do personalization to anything less than full perfection, it’s creepy.”
On the issue of data quantity versus quality, Towne emphasized that data is only helpful if it’s processed correctly. “We may know that a certain user visits twenty different pages, but what is that indicating? How do we identify or score them in a way that we understand that they’re typically looking for kids’ products, so we can show them our new kids’ line versus home comfort?”
Per Solis, Salesforce’s State of Marketing Report which came out earlier this year, found that 81% elite marketers shared a CRM system with service and sales.
“That means that the ingestion of data provides a much fuller understanding of how to market to someone—where they are and what they want—based on their preferences,” says Solis, “But you can also start to anticipate any problems and opportunities so that you can further personalize automation.”
Rob Towne of Purple recently hired four new team members who stood out because they had three specific skills: they embraced a holistic approach to marketing, they had a propensity for analysis and data visualization, and they had the drive to dig deeply into the data.
Says Towne, “Having the mindset of always wanting to dig further to find more information and having the skill set to tear that information apart and put it back together is probably one of the most critical pieces.”
Miller agrees that while a holistic approach is effective at the highest level, marketing automation talent is scarce.
Says Miller, “Marketing is art and science. I agree with a holistic approach at the high level, but I’ve spoken with many CMOs and one of the biggest challenges they face is finding marketing automation talent.”
Miller’s advice is not to get hung up on finding people that have certifications with specific platforms, but to hire people with the analytical skills and a willingness to learn.
“I do think it’s about hiring the right DNA more than it is about hiring actual experience with a particular platform,” says Miller.
Solis notes a list of skills for the future published by The World Economic Forum includes analytical thinking, innovation, complex problem solving, creativity, originality, and initiative.
“Our own research at Salesforce shows that empathy is also a top skill we’re going to need for the future,” explains Solis. “If you think about it, this is a list of soft skills that universities don’t teach. For the managers and the executives out there, you must empower people to learn differently moving forward. You have to incentivize them to experiment and make them feel safe and empowered to try new things.”
Even with the many challenges and complexities inherent in marketing automation, our panelists think the future is bright. When you get it right, automation becomes the engine of growth for your business.
“It’s moving from automating processes to automating intelligence,” explains Duffield, “So it’s not just about one decision. It’s about orchestrating hundreds of decisions simultaneously, in the context of that customer in the moment that they’re in. That’s the wave that’s coming to marketing automation.”
Solis is most excited about marketing automation as the driving force that brings the organization together.
“It’s not only going to be a competitive advantage,” explains Solis, “But at some point it’s going to be the baseline for customer engagement. As a global innovation evangelist, but also as a customer, I want businesses to know me across that journey and to give me a better experience.”
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