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The future of marketing will rely on relationships driven by data

Personalized consumer experiences created from relationship building will drive the future of marketing, said executives at the ExactTarget Connections conference in Indianapolis.

ExactTarget CEO Scott Dorsey kicked off the event, speaking to a room of thousands of marketers and challenging them to participate in “inspired marketing.” According to Dorsey, “inspired marketing” is a fusing of the right brain and left brain in a way that pulls creative and metrics together to make the result more powerful.

“Inspired marketing is about connecting with consumers,” Dorsey said. “It’s about growing businesses.”

The Gilt Group combines the left and right sides of the brain with their in-house 70/30 rule—a rule that allows the team to spend the majority of their time looking at data, and the rest being less calculated. “The majority of the time, we look at the data, but thirty percent of the time we take a leap of faith and take chances,” said Elizabeth Francis, CMO Gilt Groupe.

Marketing and technology are tight knit at Gilt. “Your CIO should be your best friend,” said Francis, who added that she is “joined at the hip” with her CIO. Francis also said that Gilt listens to feedback from customers and customer service employees to help shape the direction of products and services.

Pointing to research from Gartner, Dorsey said that by 2017 the CMO will control more marketing budget dollars than the CIO. “The emergence of the CMO at software companies proves that marketers are really cool to work with,” he said. “Marketers drive revenue. Marketers drive engagement.”

Building engagement requires listening, and the ability to be a little vulnerable. Charlene Li, cofounder of the Altimeter Group, said that while marketers can’t plan the future since it’s constantly changing, they can rethink what it means to be a marketer. “One way to think about this is to no longer think about it as marketing,” Li said. “It is really about relationships. We’re talking about business. The relationships are needed to drive business.”

Li recommends being honest and open as a good way to build relationships. While she admits that being transparent and authentic can be difficult at times, she promised that admitting failure would lead to good things. Look at Dell: A few years ago images of a Dell laptop on fire surfaced. Instead of releasing a press release with a canned statement, the company posted the image and explained the problem with its laptop batteries. This fostered a community forum and helped turn the problem into an opportunity.

Pat Scott, chief digital officer at Nationwide Insurance, said that listening is essential. “We take the test-and-learn approach,” said Scott, who said he’s always looking for ways to optimize communications and customer experiences.

ExactTarget aims to help marketers bridge the gap between creativity and technology by making it easier to integrate data from across channels. The company, which launched primarily as an email business, now offers a suite of tools that integrates email, mobile, social, and web. Just last week the company announced the acquisition of two data management companies: B2B data automation services company Pardot and iGoDigital, a web company that specializes in personalization. “Data is king,” said Scott McCorkle, VP/general manager for software at ExactTarget. “Data is what drives relevance.”

ExactTarget’s strategy appears to be working. At the conference, ExactTarget’s Dorsey mapped out the company’s global expansion, which began in the UK in 2009, took the company to Australia in 2010, and to Brazil last year. This year the company is opening an office in Paris and an office in Stockholm. The company is also opening a 24/7 global support line to help marketers whenever, wherever.

The iconic actor Michael J. Fox gave the closing keynote in the opening day’s presentations, in which he touted his motto, “Don’t play the result.” Referring to a classic acting rule, in which actors should play through a scene even though they know the result. The reason, Fox explained, is because of the potential that comes if you play through it; the unknown results that might come about. Marketers can learn from this advice. You need a script, but the ability to be nimble will open you up to unknown opportunities.

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