The pace of innovation in the digital marketing space has been dizzying and there is no sign that things will slow down. In fact, there are a lot of signs that the pace will pick up. At the recent Newfronts presentations, all of the major digital players rolled out new advertising products for brands to spend money on. And, if the Internet Of Things vision becomes a reality, all of us will not only have digital devices on our bodies but there will be connected devices throughout our house – on our appliances and such – and each one of the devices will be a marketing opportunity or a source of data useful for marketing.
It looks as if the Marketing Singularity has arrived. Before I expand on this proclamation, let me start by defining “singularity.” There are several definitions of the word but I think this one by Ray Kurzweil is the most relevant…
“… a future period during which the pace of technological change will be so rapid, its impact so deep, that human life will be irreversibly transformed. Although neither utopian nor dystopian, this epoch will transform the concepts that we rely on to give meaning to our lives, from our business models to the cycle of human life, including death itself.”
Now, the arrival of the Marketing Singularity is not a life and death situation but digital marketing is forcing marketers to transform the way in which they do their jobs. They cannot continue to do things the way they were done before. Let me explain why…
Not too long ago, as a marketer, you had just a few options in terms of what medium you would use to reach your target audience — print ads, TV ads, direct mail, maybe outdoor. Now there are a lot more mediums — email, display ads, search ads, video, social messages, social ads, mobile ads; the list goes on and on. The scary part is that in the very near future, the number of options could grow at even a faster rate since, as devices become prevalent on our bodies (e.g., Apple Watch), in our homes (e.g., Nest thermostat), and in our cars, new marketing solutions will be developed to address those platforms.
If just having an extraordinary number of mediums to choose from is not enough, marketers also need to deal with the exponential rise in decisions they have to make in terms of the messages they use to communicate with their target audiences, the timing of their activities, and the amount they invest in any particular area. In the not-too-distant-past, the communication vehicles used tended to have long lead cycles so while a great deal of effort was spent upfront getting everything right, once an ad or commercial was produced, very few in-flights decisions were made. Today’s mediums have very short lead cycles. That can be both good and bad. Good in the sense that campaigns can be adjusted and optimized throughout its execution. Bad in the sense that in order to optimize activities, a marketing organization needs to have a framework to make a high volume of decisions in a timely manner. Sure, some decisions can be made programmatically, but human decisioning is still a critical element of the process. I believe that the entire marketing lifecycle will drastically change due to the singularity and that no, it will not be run by “SkyNet” 🙂
Ultimately, it comes down to data. Data is the lifeblood of digital marketing. The effective and efficient use of data is critical to make sure that marketers can manage the overwhelming number of decisions they need to make in order to ensure that their marketing activities are doing what they are supposed to be doing to achieve the goals of a business. But here is where another problem arises — the amount of consumer and marketing performance data being generated not only far exceeds the amount of data that most marketing organizations can effectively “absorb” but there is a velocity and a diversity to the data that makes the absorption process complex. This complexity needs to be addressed and in order to do that, a different approach needs to be taken.
Until relatively recently, marketing organizations didn’t have to place much priority on accessing and processing large amounts of data in a timely manner. In the past, most market feedback was collected via offline mechanisms (e.g., surveys) so there wasn’t a whole lot of data to access.
Then, a series of events happened to change the world of marketing data forever:
- The success of early digital marketing technologies — like email and display advertising — fueled investments in new digital solutions that marketers can use to interact with their audiences.
- Thanks to Moore’s Law, many consumers now own multiple computing devices, and each of the devices — whether it is a desktop computer, a laptop, or a smartphone — is not only smaller than previous generations but it is also much more powerful.
- In addition, there has been an exponential growth in communications speed and interconnectedness, which has made the use of mobile devices practical and affordable.
- Finally, there is a consumer base that is willing to use their various devices — no matter where they are — to engage with brands at different touchpoints.
The end result is not only an incredible amount of consumer and marketing performance data generated on a daily basis — which will increase exponentially as the number of digital platforms increase at a rapid rate — but as mentioned earlier, the velocity and the variety of the data makes absorbing all of it very difficult.
The amount of consumer data that can be “absorbed” by a marketing organization — or how much data a marketing organization can access and then process to understand what’s happening — has been driven by similar underlying trends and has increased over time but it has not kept up with the pace that data is generated. This is because of the following reasons:
- Until the late 90’s, few organizations in the world had access to all of their consumer-oriented data and had sufficient computational processing power. These would typically be large government agencies of the sort you could imagine 🙂
- The Internet made consumer data more accessible to marketing organizations (without needing to spy on consumers…) but the volume of data was prohibitive until the recent emergence of big data technologies that democratized, for the first time, the high scale processing and storage capabilities that would typically be out of reach for mainstream corporations.
So how can marketing organizations close the gap so they can effectively “absorb” all of the marketing data that is generated, with all of its volume, velocity, and diversity? I will present my ideas on this in my next post. Stay tuned.