Has ‘software eaten marketing’?

by Lauren Sallata. Transforming a brand with the right combination of inspiration and MarTech.

by Lauren Sallata. A constant in marketing has always been the need to meet buyers where they are. When technologies change buying behaviour, brands must transform, or pivot, to be present in the places where their audiences are. Think of the launch of the BlackBerry or iPhone, marketers quickly scrambled to build an intuitive mobile platform or site. Remember when social selling became a trend? Savvy marketers adjusted to build more owned and paid social content. The list goes on, even today.

While the phrase “software has eaten marketing” has been talked about for years, what is becoming even more clear in today’s world is that technology alone is not the answer to this challenge. Technology must be combined with an equal focus on building a self-reliant team and a sense of collaboration throughout an organisation. It’s imperative for brand transformation success to combine technology investments with commitment to inspiring teams with focus and clarity on goals. Having one without the other will deliver less than the desired results.

According to Gartner, 26.7% of a marketing budget is dedicated to technology investments. It’s important to build a cohesive strategy, and do your homework in advance, before deciding how to invest those funds. Here are a few steps:

1. Be precise when figuring out the problem you’re trying to solve: We’ve all heard the phrase “don’t boil the ocean” and in the marketing realm, these words of advice are most important when building a strategy. In fact, it’s best to not try and “boil” anything, not even a puddle. What that means is start small and ask yourself questions like:

  • What specific problem are we trying to solve?
  • What do we have in place today to address it? Where are the gaps?
  • What specific use cases are there for this technology investment?
  • How will we measure success?

Answers to these questions will help you to build your strategy. The technology decision should follow that strategy and be determined only by focusing on how that solution will help reach your specific goals in specific use cases.

2. Build bridges with other departments, particularly IT: Once you’ve determined these answers, it’s time to ensure you’re not reinventing the wheel. Collaborate with your colleagues for input into the best technology decisions to help support your strategy. The best way to do so is to partner with the IT department. The partnership between a CMO and CIO can drive efficiencies across organisations, large and small. More than ever, it’s crucial to be a customer-centric company. Achieving seamless customer centricity is most effectively done when marketing and technology teams work together because, often times, objectives bleed over into each other’s areas of responsibility, which can delay roll out or even negatively impact the success of one.

For example, Forrester estimates that one-third of marketing organisations have a dedicated technology team. Open communication between this team and those in IT can only help reduce redundancies, increase efficiencies, and deliver seamless customer and team member experiences, while also driving a steadied and consistent digital transformation. This is a model that I have used first-hand to great success.

Additionally, there are many business drivers that impact the business, such as data privacy and data handling (CCPA, GDPR and others), big data analysis and customer-facing platforms. This is a business side imperative and a risk management responsibility that marketing must manage, with counsel from legal, and support from the enterprise data teams.

3. Place importance on training and innovation: As marketing leaders, we all have KPIs. And while we need to focus our teams on delivering on those KPIs, it’s also incredibly important to allot time for new ideas that aren’t directly tied to the here and now of marketing. This is often referred to as the 70/20/10 rule of innovation. This framework breaks down areas of focus by suggesting that 70% of time is spent on current business activities, 20% on tangential activities, and 10% on fresh innovation. It’s that 10% of time that gives marketers the time to test and learn new concepts. Without prioritising this time, uses of technology can become stale and even hinder the quick pivots needed to address market/buyer shifts. This is also where teams can identify competitive advantage.

4. The people element: That being said, while we can have the best plans in place, without a trusted and inspired team, much of it may not be achieved. Moreover, the traits of marketing professionals have shifted, particularly in light of the growing importance of MarTech. Key attributes of marketing team members now include a sense of self-reliance. It’s no longer expected that if marketing teams have a technology question, they go to IT. Marketing professionals today have a base level of understanding of the technologies available to perform their function.

Team members should also embody a desire to be an expert and have a passion to truly understand how technology works. Additionally, they should be thinking ahead about future use cases (this ties back to the 10% above). How can blockchain, as an example, be used successfully in marketing? Is there a problem it can help solve? Technology is in service of the business and the business is in service of people.

5. Looking ahead for marketers: Enhanced experiences are key to brand transformations and the combination of technology and expertise will help to continuously improve or innovate those experiences. This is because technology is leveraged to service the business and the business is in service of its people, both customers and team members. To help ensure you’re constantly evaluating how audiences engage with your brand, keep these thoughts top of mind:

  • There are multiple customer touch points across many large organisations. How frequently are we evaluating those touch points to ensure they’re getting into one place, allowing your team to analyse the data collectively and then act on it?
  • Are your MarTech investments building a centralised, flexible technology stack that allows for testing new ways of leveraging technology in daily activities and customer experiences?
  • Are your team members inspired? Are they pursuing training, internally or on their own time, to help them strengthen their skillsets, while also helping to execute your transformation?

Successful brand transformations are achieved when leaders emphasise the combined importance of technology and team culture (both within the marketing team and through collaboration with other departments); and implement a phased, focused approach to success. As the world continues to evolve, brands that do the same will come out on top.


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Lauren Sallata was appointed Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) for Ricoh North America in June 2021. She brings more than 20 years of experience to the role as an award-winning professional who has successfully directed large organisations through digital marketing transformation, increased customer engagement, and enhanced strategic communications.

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