“What’s the ROI of this new marketing automation software?” the CEO with furrowed brow asks, looking over her glasses. As if reacting to someone switching the on button, the presenter flips to the anointed page in his deck and, with solemn confidence, rattles off an assortment of data points. The issue with this type of technology, just as with many others – such as CRM, AI chatbots, big data analytics, programmatic ad buying – is that the way these are set up and run inevitably falls short in the value exchange for the customer. These solutions are inherently designed to solve marketing and corporate issues and constraints rather than enhance the customer experience.

As my co-author, Caleb Storkey and I, present in our newest book, Futureproof (Pearson Sept 2017), we believe that there are many new technological forces that will revolutionize the way marketing is going to be done. Looking at some of the technologies that have been around for the last ten or so years — namely all the marvelous tools on the web (social media, peer-to-peer marketplaces, electronic payments…), the smartphone, big data analytics — we believe that the usages will evolve considerably over the near-term. Specifically, for example, in social media, we will have to sophisticate the collation and analysis of the complex and high velocity data to create more compelling content and deeper engagement. The winners will be those brands that learn to master, corral and engage on a deeper level on a limited number of networks rather than trying to be all things to all people everywhere.

The three powerful disruptive forces for marketing

Beyond these more marketing related technologies, there are three more forces that will also impact the marketing mojo. First, there is artificial intelligence. Naturally, AI will be necessary as part of analytics, parsing and treatment of the huge volume of data. It will also be important to harness the AI, even developing more empathic bots, to help customer service and enhance engagement at scale. AI will be able to help to improve other marketing activities such as research and development, optimizing dynamic on-shelf pricing and in-store interaction. The opportunities are quite staggering. It my conviction that if your company doesn’t have an AI strategy in place, it will soon find itself a laggard.

The second is the Internet of Things, whereby wearables, smart homes, connected cars and other mundane objects will provide a whole new layer of data, touch points and ways to delight and engage customers… in the right hands. With the ever smaller and more efficient sensors coming on board, we are on the cusp of seeing widescale adoption. Predicting how this will impact your marketing activities is not easy. However, clearly, you should be experimenting now. Moreover, as the Echo and Google Home devices proliferate, one major challenge will be reconfiguring how you will be found via voice commands. SEO becomes VCO = voice command optimization.

The third disruptive force for marketing, that is decidedly more prospective, is genomics. As genetic sequencing costs diminish, it is not hard to imagine marketers gaining (and paying for) access to new forms of customer profiles and insights thanks to genetic predispositions. Outside of the ‘lower hanging fruit’ that genomics represents for insurance companies, medical and healthcare companies, the opportunities for consumer product marketers to gain manifold insights through genetic decoding seem only a matter of time before coming to fruition.

The human factor within

Opening exchange with JJ, the empathic bot

Yet, as sexy and efficient as these technologies may be in helping to manage the volume of data and communications, speed up the sales cycle or cut costs, there are two vital points to keep in mind. First, none of these technologies really work in isolation. It’s important to find the right balance and cocktail of technologies to help drive the brand’s strategic intent. Secondly, and far more importantly, we continue to believe that the best team involves machine + human. A recent experiment by Volkswagen, Empathic Futures, was designed to explore the relationship between human being (the customer) and an empathic bot. No AI is as yet capable of dissimulating its machinery over any protracted amount of time. In this case, VW hired the Feld studio, whereby human involvement and curation collaborated effectively with the AI to create an experience for the participants that was genuinely remarkable. (See here for an in-depth review of the Empathic Futures experiment).

If we fully subscribe to the potential for CRM platforms to help drive customers through the sales funnel, we think that it’s absolutely vital to adjust one’s mindset in order to create a durably successful sales and marketing strategy. We use a reverse acronym, MRC, maybe because we tend to see marketers too often use these platforms the wrong way around. As we present in our book, we feel brands need to insert more meaningfulness, inculcate a higher sense of responsibility and learn to foster greater collaboration within and without the company. This is, in our opinion, the way to inject higher value for both employee and customer and, ultimately, unlocking healthier long-term success.

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