Machines have changed marketing forever (and that’s a good thing)

The marketing world is evolving at warp speed thanks to advances in technologies such as machine learning. Peter Day looks at key trends that have brought us to where we are and those that will dictate the future.

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If the last five years have demonstrated anything, it’s the awesome power and opportunity that can be unleashed by data when it’s properly understood – and the problems that can arise when it’s not.

Those divergent possible outcomes are increasingly a reality for every organisation as they grapple with the once incomprehensible mountains of information that they possess. With the emergence and increasing availability of technologies such as machine learning, those mountains of data are looking ever more conquerable and more easily navigated.

This shift is leading to more powerful insights being drawn and plenty of other fascinating knock-on effects. Here are half a dozen of the biggest trends Quantcast is seeing.

Expeditious adoption

The rapid uptake of new technology presents big opportunities for marketers. The past few years have seen exponential growth and investment in machine learning thanks to easier access to cheap and powerful computing power and better-categorised data. In fact, Quantcast’s research shows that 59% of marketers plan on increasing their investment in this area in 2019.

An International Data Corporation (IDC) report also suggests that by 2022 companies will be spending US$77.6 (AU$112.1) billion on machine learning platforms, tripling the estimated spend for 2018. The ongoing development and investment in this technology will continue to transform marketing in the coming years.

Above all, the tools that marketers use will become much smarter and will soon automate the majority of business operations. This in turn allows marketing departments to operate like modern technology companies. If the cost of executing on big ideas (in both time and money) is reduced, then they have the power and flexibility to experiment.

With greater freedom to hone in on testing and learning (as the cost of failure falls), businesses can focus on ideas rather than operation. That’s a very exciting prospect.

Unshackled

Technology will free marketers from drudgery and let them focus on creativity. Renowned US computer scientist Alan Kay once said, “simple things should be simple and complex things should be possible.” That, to me, sounds like the perfect description of what technology can do for businesses today and into the future.

Already we are seeing the application of computing power simplifying repetitive work. This has caused a shift in the daily responsibilities of marketing teams. We now have ready access to machine learning programs that can interpret vast swathes of information – at rates far in excess of what whole teams of people can achieve.

Mundane online marketing tasks like campaign optimisation and setting bid prices are now easily automated, freeing up valuable human resources to generate more value; especially in creative roles and those where softer interpersonal skills are essential, like building better relationships with clients.

Imagine a world where the testing of creative ideas was so simple you could try new ones every day with almost immediate feedback based on data at meaningful scale.

That is approaching the perfect intersection of human intelligence and machine learning in marketing. And as technology improves, we’re getting nearer to that outcome.

New kid at school

It’s not just machines entering business, but living, breathing data scientists.

Picture a stereotypical marketer of the old school and you might envision a fast-talking type in a sharp suit. But the modern day marketing professional is often a different character.

Gartner research showed that the average size of a marketing analytics team has grown from a couple of people a few years ago to 25 dedicated full-time employees.

Additionally, 74% of marketers now have technological management responsibilities, according to Gartner, further supporting the notion that technology is rapidly changing the face of the marketing team.

With innovation frequently outpacing skills development, many marketing leaders are hiring talent to fill the gaps in their teams. Data from It Jobs Watch UK reveals that hires of data science professionals have increased by 19% since 2017. That’s a number that is almost guaranteed to rise in the next few years.

Enter the ‘Martecheter’

If there’s one thing that the rapid march of digital technology tells us, it’s that the skills of today are going to be largely insufficient for the jobs of tomorrow. In fact, research from the World Economic Forum shows that 65% of current students will go into jobs that don’t exist yet.

As IBM Watson’s 2019 Marketing Trend Report reveals, single-skilled marketers don’t have the expertise to analyse massive reams of data while at the same time developing captivating creative. The result is a skills gap between corporate-savvy and data-literate marketers.

With the nature of marketing continuing to evolve at pace, adaptable tech-savvy individuals will become the most highly sought after hires. The scene is now set for all-rounders, who can bring multiple skills to the table to fill the marketing ranks of the future.

Brave new world

The giant leap – in technological terms – over the last few years has also transformed the role of the CMO. In the modern environment – greatly empowered by granular insights – they’re no longer required to act as the company visionary.

Rather than crystal balling, CMOs are now better placed to make decisions based on data-drawn insights to execute campaigns and show ROI. Indeed, there’s plenty of research that shows CMOs who understand and take a strategic approach to using machine learning in their department are those likely to benefit.

Quantcast’s own research found that 52% of those using AI-related technologies in marketing saw an increase in sales and 51% saw an increase in customer retention. Additionally, 80% of senior marketers say the technology will enable them to focus their time on strategy by removing some of their day-to-day tasks.

Everyone on board?

Lastly, CMOs need their strategic lead to be taken up by the team below them. Once again, it’s a safe bet that the numbers of CMOs citing the positive impacts of machine learning technology will only continue to increase as it becomes more commonplace. But with a key role to play in generating results company wide, CMOs need to ensure everyone, from team managers to the front line, fully understands the technology they possess.

This means appreciating how it can inform their decision making, its gaps and how to use data to drive improvements. Implementing any new technology can take time, but a shift in attitude from the top that trickles downward is a vital step in the right direction.

Peter Day is chief technology officer at Quantcast

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