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The Future of Marketing Key Takeaways

The Future of Marketing Key Takeaways

Key takeaways from academics and industry leaders at Oxford Saïd Business School and Teradata’s annual marketing event
I recently had the pleasure of attending the 2nd annual Future of Marketing event, jointly organised by the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School and Teradata, as part of Saïd Business School’s Future of Marketing initiative.

Professor Andrew Stephen opened the event, recapping Saïd Business School’s Future of Marketing Initiative (which Teradata is a founding partner of), reiterating its vision to turn marketing on its head.

Professor Stephen, who co-hosted the event with Teradata’s Martin Willcox, emphasised that the agenda was designed to stimulate compelling discussions and thoughtful debate around the key challenges faced by marketing – so what emerged as the hot topics? 

AI and machine learning 

Perhaps predictably, machine learning and AI were a hot topic on the day. Martin Willcox said as much in his event introduction when he cited them as top topics for discussion in nearly every boardroom. Martin cited research from The Economist that suggested 85% of companies think AI will offer a competitive advantage. He used the same research to illustrate the scale of the challenge in actually delivering this competitive advantage, noting that only 5% are extensively employing AI today.

Martin suggested four ways to avoid the AI hype and to help ensure successful delivery:

  1. Focus on the desired product and process improvement through AI and machine learning

  2. Get the right data and get the data right, be clear about relevance of data (i.e. don’t amplify biases found in existing data sets)

  3. Don’t go for the newest, shiniest algorithm model – use complex tech when you need it, and only when you need it

  4. There’s no return on AI investment until you’re in production

Continuing the AI theme, Teradata’s Yasmeen Ahmad, explained how algorithms are already influencing the lives of digital consumers. In a session titled Machines Marketing to Machines, Yasmeen outlined a future where marketers can no longer directly appeal to consumers, instead they must target algorithms that are operating on behalf of consumers; think of Alexa putting ‘toothpaste’ in your basket without consulting you about which brand of toothpaste. She went on to explain how brands can influence these algorithms which you can read more about in her next blog.

The ever-increasing importance of data

A topic that came up in almost every session was the role data will play in the future of marketing. At the start of the day, Gary Class from Wells Fargo presented a fascinating session that explained how they use statistical modelling to drive customer efficiency.

Later in the morning a C-Suite panel featuring Alan Crawley from Optima Partners, Ann Steer from N Brown, David Radford from Allianz and Julie Kollman from Kantar started off by discussing marketing investment trends in data and analytics.

There was a consensus that companies are spending more on analytics because there is so much more data available today. One panellist expressed that this is good news, but there is still work to do in driving efficiency and effectiveness in this investment, despite pockets of exceptional examples. Another panellist noted that investment in data and analytics doesn’t only sit in marketing – a key challenge is selling the power of data across the organisation.

In an afternoon panel titled Operationalising the Future of Marketing, Tjark Verhoeven from Loyal Management Netherlands stressed the importance of the business getting closer to the data, rather than just leaving this to data scientists. He believed organisations need to give data scientists time to properly analyse the data but at the same time equip the wider business with data analytic skills and tools too.

The customer is still king and innovation still critical

Despite all the talk of AI, data and analytics, two traditional topics associated with marketing still shone through.

The C-Suite panel stressed the importance of customer experience. Sighting the example of price comparison websites, one panellist highlighted how companies at the top of these websites are often not the market leaders. Consumers still go for brands they know, so while brands must optimise for a particular distribution channel, they will win by optimising the overall customer experience.

In a fascinating session called Future of Marketing Skills, Professor Andrew Stephen shared his insights on what successful marketers will need. According to Andrew, we must turn customer-centricity into customer obsession. We must have a healthy obsession with the customer experience, fuelled by data analytics.

Whilst not everyone needs deep analytics expertise, there is a need for an analytics mindset. “We don’t need second-rate data scientists, we need marketers who can talk to first-rate data scientists.”

Andrew suggested that more ‘whole-brain’ marketers are needed. With the left brain associated with analytics and science, the right brain is the creative, fuzzy side, traditionally associated with marketing.

Returning to this theme in the afternoon panel, Andrew suggested we should not be constrained by dashboard metrics or KPIs. He stressed that we should look out for shocks to the system and exceptions. We should have short, medium and long-term metrics. We should challenge assumptions on measurement and allow for ‘strategic dabbling’ – i.e. 10% budget should be there to test and learn, as you might learn something surprising.

This last point particularly resonated well with the audience, given it followed three very different but equally innovative applications for marketing. Firstly Seth Rogin, CEO of Nucleus Marketing Solutions, shared how Nucleus’ innovative platform allows news media to achieve scale by combining inventory and data. With this scale, publishers are then able to provide advertisers with a new, highly targeted digital marketing platform.

After lunch, Jeff Ha from Facebook presented Facebook’s latest research on duel-screening. The study focused on consumer attention while watching TV and used high-tech goggles to analyse where the individuals were looking. Interestingly, those studied spent more time on their smartphones than talking or looking at other people in the room. Given the prevalence of social apps on phones, Jeff made the point that people are choosing to be social when co-viewing… just not with each other!

Later in the afternoon, Felipe Thomaz from Saïd Business School discussed the potential of blockchain. In a session titled ‘The Survival Guide to Blockchain’, Felipe explained the basics of this new technology and discussed its potential application in areas such as loyalty points, digital rights management, marketplaces and social media.

The Future of Marketing key takeaways

The event’s agenda served to highlight the fact that marketers need strength in breadth and depth. We shouldn’t be turning marketing teams into second-rate data scientists, but creating more multi-disciplinary teams.

With a mix of left brain and right brain skills, we need to build strong, data-driven teams who use the right technologies to deliver always-on, creative customer experiences. If we can achieve that we might just be building a winning formula for marketing excellence. 

For more from the Future of Marketing event, Dr. Yasmeen Ahmad talks about Machines Marketing to Machines in her next blog, while Professor Andrew Stephen features Future Marketing Skills in his most recent FORBES blog.

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