The Rise of Martech and the Fall of Marketing?

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Chief Martec gives the keynote
Chief Martec gives the keynote

Brand is the sum of CX

Seattle-based Marchex has been around some 13 years with an evolving solution for call tracking. What was once the relatively simple matter of understanding attribution by placing unique phone numbers on web properties has become, said Guy Weismantel, VP and CMO, a "more sophisticated" approach to tying offline sales to marketing media.

The Marchex offering is tripartite: Connect media to the call (attribution); understand what happens within the call; and use that information to acquire more customers like those making the calls. The second part of that strategy is, indeed, AI-powered, using as it does natural language processing to transcribe calls — "Every call," he said — with a very high "match rates" even in comparison with IBM Watson's touted NLP capabilities.

Marchex does have its own proprietary interface, but will also plug into many commonly used eCommerce and other platforms like Criteo, "augmenting the digital space with offline signals," Weismantel said, with "more phone calls now being made than ever" — and, as Weismantel points out, someone who goes as far as making a phone call is demonstrating real intent to purchase. The solution mostly suits B2C, especially large brands like GM and T-Mobile.

Weismantel is comfortable with the idea of marketing owning the brand-customer relationship. "There's a lot of talk around for the CFO, CIO, and CMO need to be more closely partnered together," he said. But marketers do have more responsibility for tech purchases — and increasingly not just for "vanity purchases," as marketing is seen as increasingly responsible for revenue. When it comes to tech, marketers must now "take a breath and ask 'What's required for my business?' There's an inflection point. How much tech can we consume?"

At the end of the day, Weismantel told me, "brand is the sum of experiences a customer has. Marketing is the natural home for that relationship." On the other hand, things can go wrong when marketing "builds a wall around that. Other departments have not been standing still." He foresees company-wide data and tech eco-systems. 

But Marchex itself is "still trying to figure it out. We're part of that story."

Hurricane Blockchain will make landfall

Consensus, then, on the central importance of AI to the future of marketing, supported by good data; different views on whether marketing, as we now know it, will continue to own the customer experience end to end. But what if something was coming along which would blow out current understanding of customer data completely out of the water?

That might just be a reality, and Jeremy Epstein, former VP of marketing at Sprinklr, now CEO of the consultancy Never Stop Marketing, is tirelessly sounding the alert. He's talking about an era in which there's no CRM any more; in which customers fully own their own data; and in which brands will have to pay to talk to them. 

It's the era of Blockchain (learn more about Blockchain here).

Blockchain is complex, especially in its ramifications and consequences, but the short version is that switching from "real" to virtual currencies — like BitCoin — will lead to transactional, and ultimately all, customer data migrating to a decentralized ledger (the Blockchain), which will be neither owned nor managed by a central authority. Everyone will have the same data; it will be transparent; and it will be anonymized.

Science fiction? Not really: the Blockchain exists; what limits it so far is the finite use of virtual currency. 

So why does this matter. Will B2B marketing, which surely has more to do with business than personal data, be affected by Blockchain?

"Yes," said Epstein. "That's like asking, years ago, 'Will the Internet affect the B2B space?' Entire B2B marketplaces will move onto the transparent, shared database." What's more, all the middlemen in the B2B space, the data management and quality partners, will become unnecessary. The same goes for all the middlemen in the adtech space, he said. "Blockchain is the middleman destroyer."

Okay, so how does this relate to something like AI? "It will put a premium on people who can figure out how to do faster AI. We'll all have the same data, and we'll have greater confidence in the quality because we'll know it hasn't been tampered with." This means, he said, that predictive modeling should actually be better under Blockchain.

One topic which was bubbling under (and perhaps should have been boiling over) at MarTech was GDPR, the stringent data regulations proposed by the European Union. Listening to Epstein explain that the data in Blockchain is owned by nobody but the users, it occurred to me that in a Blockchain world, GDPR would be irrelevant. Epstein agreed: "Blockchain is great for privacy. We wouldn't need GDPR. In a Blockchain world, you're in charge" (Users access their own data 'wallets' using private, cryptographic keys.)

Epstein's mission with Never Stop Marketing is to raise awareness of Blockchain's consequences by meeting with brands and "acting like a shot of espresso." He doesn't expect brands to reconfigure their businesses for Blockchain — after all, he doesn't profess to know how fast it's coming (although he does point to the exponential rise in value of Bitcoin) — but they can dip their toes into the water; for example, by working with a Blockchain-based adtech company like Papyrus, just to figure out the concepts.

Maybe my question about why marketing should own the data-driven customer experience will be erased by changes in the space we can't yet fully imagine. "Some people will be better off," said Epstein. "Some people are going to get hurt. But Hurricane Blockchain will make landfall."

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