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Getting to “opti-channel”: Marketo unveils next-gen technology


By Doug Zanger, Americas Editor

May 12, 2016 | 6 min read

Marketing automation, for all its conversation and cache, has in some ways reached an important moment.

The pace of change is undeniably rapid (as is most anything related to technology), and the advent of new technology, especially things like the “Internet of Things,” (IOT) are not just hot topics, but real and tangible mountains for marketers to climb. Even the conversation around “Big Data” has morphed in the past few years. What started as a nascent, ambiguous rally cry has evolved into greater understanding of not just what data can do but what it should do. The next generation for marketing automation and, more accurately, customer experience is here — and it’s not going away any time soon.

For its part, Marketo, at its annual Marketing Nation Summit in Las Vegas this week, announced its largest technology investment to date — a next-generation platform architecture that the California-based company hopes will elevate them from the rest of the pack.

Though the company has yet to share the official name, Project Orion was unveiled by Marketo CEO Phil Fernandez in front of around 6,000 marketers attending the event and joining the livestream. Led by a Marketo team in Portland, Oregon, the technology addresses the ever-increasing scale that marketers face.

"There are a billion customer events each day,” said Fernandez. “That’s a number that is far bigger than most people use in their marketing automation today. But, in a sense, if you’re looking to reach the scale of a Google or Facebook, that’s a whole different category of business software. By having a thousand times higher capacity, higher performance, you have the ability to get more granular and put more fuel into determining the right, next best thing to say to customers. It’s a whole other level of intimacy.”

According to Marketo chief scientist Shankar Venkataraman, marketing automation and customer insight is reaching an important inflection point, where scale is driving its continued evolution.

“The science and mathematics have always been there” said Venkataraman, who recently joined Marketo from IBM, where he was chief technology officer for the IBM Analytics Platform. “The problem has been getting all of that data into one place — a polymorphic system which can take any type of data, no matter where it comes from. Once you get to that point, then the ability to scale is there. People are looking at 30, 50 variables — but when you get so much data together, you have 10,000 variables, for example. And now people really want to analyze all 10,000 variables at the same time and we’re now actually able to think about this more.”

As Venkataraman and Marketo marketing group vice president Chandar Pattabhiram pointed out, some of the important goals in the new technology are fairly simple and intuitive: to make the process less daunting for marketers and gather the richest data possible to deliver a better one-to-one customer experience.

“A team of two had no shot of running 800 campaigns even four years ago,” said Pattabhiram. “Today, you have technology that can actually do it in scale which is less intimidating — so a team of two can actually run those 800 campaigns.”

One of the key benefits, according to Venkataraman, is that the platform is not a closed system. By being an open platform, it can work with existing “systems of record” (i.e. - Salesforce, finance, energy, social, search), essentially layering itself to provide a more accurate and actionable view of customer opportunity.

“Every action that you do through these systems percolates through,” explained Venkataraman. “If I click on an app on an iPhone, that app click comes to the marketing systems. That transaction that you do goes back to the financial system, which is actually running on a mainframe. This action has to tie in to the other systems. Conversely, if you don't click, the fact that you don't click, or the fact that you search for something — that is what we call ‘digital exhaust’. Everybody says, Google search is so good. The Amazon search and Amazon recommendation is so good. The reason they are so good is because they capture every bit of digital exhaust. That is what we are trying to do from a marketer's point of view. We will actually go on every channel. Then, we can actually match the marketing lead data to what this is actually going to convert into, an opportunity to see.”

Even though the technology can cover vast swaths of data, the grail for marketers is relevance, and ultimately long-term relationships with an audience of one.

“One-to-one marketing is not new,” said Pattabhiram. “In 1996, (Don) Peppers and (Martha) Rogers wrote a book about it called The One to One Future.”

In Pattabhiram’s view, the cumulative riches of technology, platforms and data shouldn't necessarily take a back seat to determining the “channel of choice.”

“It’s not omni-channel, it’s ‘opti-channel,” espoused Pattabhiram. “Don’t try to engage a customer across seven channels on day one. I know it’s a cliché but fundamentally, you want to be successful — so in stage one of the process start small, think big and act fast.”

Pattabhiram also pointed out that perfection can be fleeting — and with close to 4,000 technologies in the marketing space, a kind of Moore’s Law is taking place, with ad tech adding more and more players to the landscape each year, making the picture potentially more muddled.

“You have to go with small victories,” said Pattabhiram. “Find things and do things where you have at least some evidence of victories. Then, you can make a lot of it automated. It all depends on the boundaries you define as an organization and what you want success to be as opposed to perfection.”

For all involved in Orion, though, it comes down to how the technology delivers as much as possible.

“There’s a lot of apple polishing on the technology side,” said Venkataraman. “One of the reasons I left IBM to join Marketo is I wanted to be part of this. You have to create value.”

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