OK Computer? Why martech needs to be 100% brand-led

By Dominic Murray



The Drum Network article

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December 19, 2019 | 6 min read

Digital is awash with mystification. Too little clarity and too many vague promises. In order to help cut through the confusion our latest whitepaper – OK Computer? – explores why marketing technology needs to be 100% brand-led, and what steps should to be taken to achieve this.

Computer keyboard

Initials explore the revolutionary power of martech.

Keen to put our findings to the test, we hosted a series of breakfast briefings with senior brand marketeers. They corroborated our insights, as well as sharing their own. We’ll be posting a series of articles exploring these insights in greater depth over the coming months, but as a starter for ten here are some of our findings.

Enabling experiences

Marketing technology can help any business improve performance, but only if it’s used in the right way. It’s a reality that too many organisations are still seduced by technology-driven solutions that fail to address real consumer needs. This is misguided and potentially wasteful.

Today, consumers expect more of brands than ever before. They demand authenticity, transparency and purpose. They’re looking for brands to feed their cultural and social passions 24/7; mere product utility is no longer enough. Above all, they expect brands to provide them with exceptional experiences however and whenever they choose to engage; experiences that are perfectly tailored to channel, contextually relevant and appropriately personalised. This poses a huge challenge: consumers’ expectations have risen faster than brands’ ability to meet them.

Brands need technology to help them get back on the front foot. While AR, VR, 3D printing and voice all have potential, the key opportunity centres around data. Being able to harness data allows brands to anticipate where the market is going and respond with greater insight. It empowers them to identify ‘signals of intent’ and predict consumers’ needs in the moment and it allows them to cut through the noise by providing more relevant solutions to micro customer segments. So why are brands struggling to capitalise on these opportunities?

There are multiple reasons for this. Many companies are hamstrung by legacy issues: systems that aren’t properly integrated and may no longer be fully fit for purpose. They also struggle with structural and personnel challenges, lacking the right processes and skills to act quickly and effectively. In combination, this often makes it difficult to demonstrate ROI, which acts as a block on further investment. Perhaps most significantly, the way many organisations are using marketing technology is failing to positively differentiate their brands.

We commissioned proprietary research to investigate the root causes of the problem. The martech Health Check within our white paper examines how companies are approaching, developing and deploying technology, and identifies specific points of strength and weakness. The first wave of research has established working benchmarks across 10 key areas.

Not surprisingly, we found that martech is very high on the agenda. Most companies are actively pursuing the opportunity and have put the basics in place. New technology is championed across businesses, research is being undertaken into consumers’ usage of, and attitudes towards, technology and many organisations have a clear, effectively communicated digital roadmap. In general, there appears to be a healthy and productive partnership between Marketing and IT/Tech. So far,so good…

Choosing the right tools

However, we also uncovered some significant problems. Too often, marketing requirements were not fully considered when technology was being commissioned. Worse, only one in four of our sample believed digital solutions were always developed purely on the basis of their relevance to customers. Most worryingly, very few people thought their organisation would invest in third parties to develop truly bespoke solutions. This is highly likely to be creating a ‘wind tunnel’ effect where most companies are using very similar technologies to deliver very similar experiences.

These may feel like technology problems, but they’re actually brand ones. The brands that matter most to people are the ones that have done the best job in terms of meeting their needs over time. Going forward, it will be impossible for brands to adequately identify, create or satisfy demand unless they are using the right technology in the right way. But the relationship is Master/Servant: technology must always serve the needs of the brand rather than vice-versa.

Technology opens up infinite possibilities… but to serve the brand it must be brand-led. To ensure you’re maximising the competitive opportunity, a good place to start is to ask yourself four questions:

  1. How can technology help accelerate the changes my brand requires?
  2. How can technology help me measure precisely how my brand is performing at any given point in time?
  3. How can technology help me create or drive home a key point of difference for my brand?
  4. How do I ensure my technology is sufficiently agile to meet my brand’s full needs as markets and consumers evolve?

Asking the right questions is just the start, knowing what you should do and actually doing it are two different things. The steps you take next need to ensure that the technology you implement is 100% right for your brand and that it will deliver and differentiate.

In addition, timing is everything. Once you understand what your consumer wants you must understand how the technology you select will resonate and be adopted across all sectors. Then you need to ensure that the organisation is “ready to go”, so that the technology can be implemented swiftly, effectively and in ways that impact every corner of the business.

The true power of martech is that it allows companies to radically improve both quality of service and consistency of messaging. By providing customers with more relevant answers at the time and place of their choosing, it drives loyalty and positive word-of-mouth. In short: it can play a key role in increasing brand love. As long as you take the right approach.

Dominic Murray, digital director, Initials Labs.


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