The Wednesday Stack: ‘Marketing is In Trouble’

“Marketing is in trouble.” Great news with which to start a Wednesday morning.  But Vivek Sharma, founder and CEO of Movable Ink was able to hint at some solutions in his opening keynote at ThinkSummit 2018 this morning.

“Databases are filled to the brim with words and numbers about our customers.” But CMOs are still struggling to meet their goals. “What are we missing?” he asked. A rhetorical question: In today’s world, he said, people are moved by the visual. Marketers are hamstrung because “existing processes weren’t built for the visual era.”

That was the context for several major announcements. “Movable Ink is no longer an email-only company,” Sharma said. From today, it will support personalized visual experiences wherever brands meet their customers. Web pages and display ads are the first channels in addition to email, “with many more to come.”

Sharma also announced in-house computer vision and deep learning capabilities to classify images according to likely appeal to specific customer segments. This is available in beta. Finally — an industry first, he said — Movable Ink will support AR experiences in email and on web pages and display ads.

UPDATED: I sat down with Vivek Sharma following his keynote to drill deeper into Movable Ink’s strategy. I told him it had seemed obvious to me for some time that the company’s ambitions exceeded email.

“There were a couple of choices. Some people wondered if we would turn into an ESP, but that was never a space we wanted to play in. We think there’s a wide array of choices, and we didn’t have something unique to offer. The natural progression point was with content. We were doing a lot with email, but no marketing team wants to be siloed; so what would it look like for us to play on websites and display ads? We did research with customers, kept it open-ended, and this idea of ‘stories’ started to emerge. We have a product package called Moments, which is about single channel personalization, which can be used to tailor email, websites, or display ads independently. But when you start to connect them, and sequence creatives, you can tell a story in a really natural way.” It’s no surprise that Movable Ink would seek to tell stories to customers landing on web pages from emails, but Sharma explained that search terms used to arrive at a web page can also be a starting point, while email plays the role of a re-targeting or re-engagement channel.

If the progression from email marketing was predictable, the strong emphasis on visual content in the announcements was less expected. “We noticed these emerging trends around Instagram, and around emojis being used to communicate — and this is a universal language; we’re actually evolved to understand visual imagery over millions of years, whereas text is a much more recent invention.The hard part is getting away from generic visuals.” Brands have deep wells of information about their customers, which aids segmentation and targeting: “But that last millisecond experience of deciding what visual that people see — can the data you have inform that choice and be able to tailor it in real time? That felt like a big opportunity, and one that hasn’t really been addressed in the market.”

Executing on that opportunity is clearly related to the computer vision and deep learning capabilities Sharma had referenced in his presentation. “I was certain there was something big that we could do here. We have a feedback loop that we can tap into. We can show you one version of a creative, then have a different version for someone else, and we can train algorithms to make those decisions on the fly. You couldn’t do that if you didn’t have an intelligent creative platform.” At the same time, Sharma insists, the platform needs to be easy to use — and transparent. Marketers won’t necessarily trust AI from the outset.

The challenge with AR had been that so few people have the opportunity of experiencing it. “If I build an app with a specialist team, then I have to go market, and build an audience. What if we could flip it, take this app everyone has on their phone — the web browser — and build AR experiences in there? And do it without writing code. Right now, the engagement numbers we see are off the charts about how it performs for brand experiences. But we’re preparing for that future a few years out where wearing headsets or glasses becomes the default; when computation becomes a fabric you’re peering through, rather than a device you put in your pocket.”

Finally, the parnership between Movable Ink and Persado announced earlier this year seemed a natural fit, with Persado’s math-based ability to optimize email subject lines through constant testing. “To over-simplify it, Persado focuses on text optimization, while we focus on image optimization. Persado’s CEO made the case to me that they should be working with all of our clients, because they drive open rates, and we’re the thing which shows up after the email is opened and helps drive the click. But even once you’re in the email, Persado is able to generate text; we’re able to pull in Persado to automate text and CTAs, so it’s not just about subject lines.”

Movable Ink has added around 100 members of staff in the last year, and with a growing Japanese market Sharma will be hosting a mini-version of ThinkSummit there in a few weeks time.

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Collaboration? That’s a good thing, right? It certainly seems to be a good thing for CMOs, according to a new report from Accenture (research conducted by Forrester). “By ushering in new levels of collaboration across the C-suite, technology ecosystem and agency partners, CMOs can drive customer experience (CX), a proven source of growth in modern organizations today.” That’s the headline.

While 87 percent of organizations agree that customers are dissatisfied with traditional experience, no less than 95 percent of “CMO Collaborators,” as defined by the report, say their entire organization is aligned around the “new” customer experience. What is that exactly? It’s the experience that can be created through empathy based on data and insights. That’s why technology decisions are now CMO decisions, with 76 percent of collaboration leaders investing in emerging solutions. Much more here.

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Speaking of collaboration, Wrike, the collaboration work management platform, unveiled a new version of their Wrike for Marketers platform this week. New features include enhanced DAM capabilities, and integrations with MediaValet and Bynder.  Guest review capabilities through Wrike Proof will provide greater accessibility for team members to review assets within the Wrike platform without an account, further streamlining the creative approval process. The company also released Wrike Resource, a new tool for marketers to help manage resources and team workloads. 

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It’s Advertising Week here in New York, and among thousands of announcements, one which caught the Stack’s eye is YouTube’s attempt to turn marketers into “full funnel storytellers.” Specifically, there will be a greater variety of ad extensions, encouraging customers to take action based on video content. Location and form extensions are already available; future opportunities will include prompting customers to download an app, find a performance time, or book a trip.

YouTube is also adding two informative metrics: lifted customers (customers influenced by the video) and cost-per-lift. 

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Did someone mention customer experience?  Hot off embargo, here comes an Adobe report affirming that high-tech companies are investing in that increasingly desired outcome. Among the key findings:

  • The top challenges faced even by high tech companies: product availability, better customer service, and siloed data
  • To meet the challenges, 43 percent of high tech companies surveyed are planning to launch services or products around digital transformation
  • But only 38 percent report themselves as mobile first, and a remarkably low 42 percent are using data to inform marketing planning.

Come on, high tech, step up. If you can’t do customer experience right, who can?

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