Advertising Week: Fragmented and Holistic Responses

Was New York City Advertising Week 2017 a blur for you too?

Biggest blur moments for me? The scorching sun streaming into the rooftop lounge at the Monarch Hotel about halfway through a presentation by Christopher Lochhead on how the most successful entrepreneurs engage in category conversations, not product and features conversations (courtesy of Netsuite). Eating breakfast in The Modern restaurant at MoMA, a room I’d never previously entered before nightfall (courtesy of IBM Watson — more about that on Monday). Running down to Canal Street at the height of the sudden heatwave for a quick interview, then back uptown to host a webcast.

But emerging from the blur were a series of crystal clear messages.

Big themes emerging

Maybe this is something I’m pre-disposed to see, given the space we cover here at DMN, but one big theme was the ever-increasing convergence of adtech and marketing tech — inevitable if the multiple tools in the business stack are to drink from the same stream of data. Data, of course, is driving everything, not least the discussions at Ad Week sessions; especially it’s driving — or it should be — digital transformations within companies.

Here are some comments which really resonated.

Looking back over the changes of the last few years at an Oracle Marketing Cloud Roundtable:

“People seem to think that (digital) transformation is a single event rather than a continuous undertaking that never ends.” (Paolo Yuvienco, Global CTO, DigitasLBi)

“Brands underestimated the speed at which they needed to change.” (Louis Cohen, CMO, Wolters Kluwer)

And today?

“(AI is) not one thing. It’s a lot of small enhancements to micro-services; it’s evolutionary.” (Ron Corbisier, CEO, Relationship One)

“I’m going to coin a buzz phrase…The place where we are today is IA, intelligent automation.” (Cohen)

Of the new immersive technologies, including AR and VR, “the IoT will eventually be the biggest thing; one of the biggest changes we’ll see.” (Robert Meo, Marketing Operations Manager, Splunk)

“60 to 70% of people check prices on their phone while in-store.” That’s AR in action. (David Skinner, SVP, strategic alliances and partnerships, Merkle, Inc.)

“VR is great for storytelling, but it’s AR that brands will monetize.” (Yuvienco)

“Voice connection is going to be crucial to the next level of connectivity.” (Cohen)

And might it just be getting a little harder to manage CX with all these evolving touchpoints?

“It goes back to whether you have a fragmented strategy or a holistic strategy.” (Corbisier)

A holistic view of the data

And that’s just a sprinkling of POVs from some very smart panelists. The stack, the strategy, CX, AI, AR, VR, voice, the IoT, digital transformation. Is your head spinning. I asked Brian Baumgart, founder and CEO of Conversion Logic, the three year-old, Los Angeles-based machine learning and analytics vendor for enterprise B2C, to make some sense out of all this.

Baumgart described Conversion Logic as a “holistic” cross-channel marketing and advertising company. It’s holistic because it helps clients optimize campaigns based on all the data, online and offline, including call center data and in-store transactions. What’s more, it layers itself across both marketing and advertising stacks. A concern I heard throughout the week was that marketers still don’t fully understand their stacks, and are often unable to properly — or fully — utilize the tools they’ve already bought. That’s not working, let’s move onto the “next shiny object” to fix it.

That’s an important part of the concept: Conversion Logic, said Baumgart, “doesn’t do execution, doesn’t spend or take media dollars.” What it does do is integrate with “all tools,” and “align data from disparate data sources.” All tools? “Over 75 downstream solutions,” said Baumgart, “including some proprietary BI and CRM systems.” Conversion Logic doesn’t create audiences either: “We analyze and provide insights on audience segments — how they contribute to conversion.”

Transparency is key

In other words, Conversion Logic sets out to provide a clear-headed view of what’s working in marketing and advertising campaigns — the attribution layer — based on understanding data from the downstream tools in the stack. It’s an independent view —
transparence is a key concept for Baumgart — precisely because Conversion Logic isn’t running the campaigns. And it’s a view which seems to prove valuable to clients like General Motors, Microsoft, and Pizza Hut.

At last year’s Advertising Week, I sensed considerable friction between agencies following the traditional model of reporting campaign performance data to CMOs, and digital consultancies and data vendors who insisted CMOs should be able to see their own performance data directly. “The friction is easing,” in Baumgart’s view, because data transparency “benefits all the stakeholders, including agencies, consultancies and other partners.” It’s not about auditing data, Baumgart insisted, it’s about providing an independent, transparent view.

Of course, understanding what’s happening right now is important for brands; but even more exciting is understanding what’s going to happen next. Did anyone say AI?

“How do I predict performance? Of the things I do, what can I do better?” Those are the kinds of questions Baumgart is striving to answer, using in-house machine learning capabilities. Are brands ready? “It’s a challenge,” he said, “but marketers at large brands are investing in these capabilities.” He’s increasingly seeing brand-side data scientists, and it only helps Conversation Logic to bring them into the conversation: it provides “internal validation.” He’s also still working at identity management at the user level (for more on that, listen to my podcast with Adobe’s Ali Bohra).

So there you have it: one perspective on data, cross-channel, attribution, and what’s needed in the stack (or stacks). 

When the range of challenges facing today’s brand marketers and agencies appears itself to be so fragmented, it’s no wonder strategies for coping continue to be fragmented too. 

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