Is Big Testing the Future of Marketing?
Every day, we are seeing more overlap between marketing and technology. Between science and art. And between data and insights that lead to better marketing techniques. This post hits on all those topics and asks if Big Testing is the future of marketing.
In our last Future of Marketing interview, Daniel Newman proposed that customer experience would drive the future of marketing. Previous topics included thought leadership, Big Data, creating a content culture, the roles of content and technology, the future of search, the science of marketing, the rise of Content Brands and we asked whether the customer or the content is king in the future of marketing.
Today we’re going to hear from Chief Marketing Technology Officer Scott Brinker (@ChiefMarTec), someone who really gets the intersection of marketing and technology.
Tell us about yourself?
I wear two hats at the crossroads of marketing and technology.
I’m the co-founder and CTO of ion interactive, a marketing software company that provides a SaaS platform for creating and testing post-click experiences. Post-click experiences happen when people click through from ads, emails, socially-distributed links, etc. — things like landing pages, microsites, or app-like interactions. Our goal is to let marketers create high-impact experiences that you’d think were crafted by a whole team of expert developers and designers — but any marketer can build them single-handedly in a drag-and-drop interface, without tech or design expertise.
I’m also the author of the Chief Marketing Technologist blog, which focuses on how the intersection of marketing and technology in the digital age is fundamentally changing marketing management and culture. The central thesis of the blog is this: marketing has become a technology-powered discipline, and therefore marketing organizations must infuse technical capabilities into their DNA. More and more people with technical backgrounds and skill sets are now working directly in the marketing department, and it’s changing the very fabric of what marketing is.
Tell us about a tough or interesting challenge you’re involved in?
A major topic that I’m focused on these days is the challenge of extracting value from big data in the marketing department. Clearly there’s tremendous interest in harnessing all the data generated by the digital “vapor trails” of prospects and customers and using that to power more effective marketing programs. New technology and new technical talent are both needed for marketing organizations to tap that potential. It’s become one of the epicenters of disruptive innovation in marketing overall.
However, part of the challenge is that we seem to be overly infatuated with the “analysis” portion of big data. Analysis is important. But to achieve modern marketing alchemy — turning lead (i.e., raw data) into gold (i.e., better and more profitable customer experiences) — you need a process to prove out and operationalize the insights that are unearthed from big data.
After all, most of the interesting patterns that are discovered in big data start out as hypotheses: a relationship that may serve to influence customer behavior. But as everyone who’s taken a Stats 101 class knows, correlation is not necessarily causation. To prove that something will have a meaningful business impact, you usually need to run an experiment. As Hal Varian, the chief economist at Google has said, “Experimentation is the gold standard of causality.” They should know — Google runs around 10,000 experiments in their business each year.
People contend that modern marketing can be a “science.” But that’s often misinterpreted to mean that marketing can become purely quantified. That’s not really accurate though. The key to scientific marketing is actually the embrace of marketing experimentation as a driver of continuous innovation.
How do you suggest we approach that challenge?
The good news is that the digital fabric of modern marketing makes it quite easy — at least from a technical perspective — to engage in marketing experimentation. The difficulty that organizations face here is more operational and cultural. Many marketing teams have a strong legacy of “the yearly marketing plan.” It gets etched in stone by executives based on a mix of data-driven analysis and experience-driven intuition, and then the team proceeds full-steam with execution. What’s missing is a faster feedback loop for experimentation to dynamically adjust that plan along the way.
However, that’s starting to change — thanks in large part to the force of customers in social media. We increasingly hear about agile marketing, real-time marketing, high-metabolism marketing. All of these ideas are helping marketing become more iterative and dynamic. That opens the door for us to incorporate marketing experiments in those shorter iterative cycles.
But marketing also needs to learn how to run good experiments — equipping more marketers with the right tools and training on data-driven decision making and good experimental design.
Perhaps most importantly, senior marketing leadership needs to encourage real experimentation on the front-lines. Not all experiments succeed, and if the culture of an organization punishes people for testing new ideas that fail, you’ll never get any meaningful embrace of marketing experimentation. Executives need to really champion the importance of continuously trying new ideas. Don’t just reward the wins. Reward the process that accelerates innovation through a mix of successes and failures. A well-run experiment that disproves its hypothesis is still valuable.
I recently wrote a piece on the big data bubble in marketing that calls this mission “big testing.” The real revolution in data-driven marketing will be a change in organizational behavior and culture to passionately embrace this kind of marketing experimentation.
What’s your prediction for the future of marketing?
I believe we’re in the middle of five major trends in marketing that are shaping our future. Actually, I call them “meta-trends” because they underly many of the hot topics that are constantly emerging:
- The great digital migration of marketing, which has really only just begun at scale.
- A shift from silos of paid, earned, and owned media into more holistically integrated converged media.
- Marketing increasingly focused on customer experiences, not merely customer communications.
- The technologification of marketing, where code and data are as elemental as art and copy.
- The evolution of marketing management from rigid plans to agile iterations.
New approaches and capabilities in marketing, like big data and big testing, arise from these meta-trends.
It’s an incredibly exciting time to be working in marketing. While it’s challenging to keep one’s bearings as our discipline — really our whole world — changes so rapidly around us, it’s also a once-in-a-generation opportunity to help shape the future of what marketing will become.