The American Marketing Association’s Latest Definition of Marketing is,

Marketing is the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large. (Approved 2017)”

Way back in 1992, when I studied marketing with MacDonald, he defined it as:

“The central idea of marketing is of a matching between a company’s capabilities and the wants of customers in order to achieve the objectives of both parties.”

Whilst the definition may have become a bit more complex, it is essentially the same; however, what has been ignored by most organizations over the last 40 years is the opportunity to become a marketing-oriented firm. A marketing-oriented firm places the needs and wants of the customer at the center of everything the firm does. You can be marketing-oriented or do some marketing, and there is a huge difference: It is the difference between eggs and bacon in which the chicken is involved, but the pig is committed. Or for vegans – the difference between apples and carrots.

Few organizations have embraced this philosophy or ‘marketing orientation’ even though it is the ‘secret’ of many stand-out organizations like Apple and Amazon. 

This is surprising when the ultimate aim of the perfect Martech stack solution is omnichannel marketing; identifying and attending to the needs of the consumer wherever they are, so that our product or service enters their purchasing funnel when they are ready to purchase, and we can optimize our chance of winning their business. This is just different terminology for ‘Marketing Orientation.’

Martech stack, deployed purposefully, can provide a substantial part of what is needed to become a Marketing orientated firm and emulate Apple or Amazon.  However, without this strategy and intent, it is just a set of sales tools to find, sell to and retain customers, which is my experience of How it is being used? 

Take my recent transaction with a local car dealership. I called and booked a service where they pick up the vehicle and return it after servicing. All went well on the day. However, days later when I drove the car for the first time, I noticed the service light had not been deactivated. So, I called them was told to bring it into the garage to be deactivated.  A week passed and I received a call asking if I wanted to schedule a service!

Then there was the purchase of a technical outdoor coat as a gift for my wife. It needed to be waterproof and breathable. Trust me, that is not as simple a set of criteria as you might think! Both requirements have quantitative differences between coats. No website, not even the brand’s own, made it easy to find specifications of their coats and identifying the correct sizing introduced a whole new level of difficulty, which is shocking given the online clothing industry’s issue with returns.

I have no idea what the Martech stack monitoring my shopping behavior will be realying about my website visits, but I am sure that it will not tell them to improve their website filter and search capabilities or anything else that would have made my life easier. When I finally purchase a coat it was a quick, straightforward procedure, and the brand owner will never know if my protracted investigation of their site resulted in a purchase. Thankfully it was the right size!

But what about the white goods I had to replace recently?

That exercise consisted of looking at several review sites to find potential brands and models, and then reviewing pricing in the marketplace.  Having decided on the model, I got down to the serious business of getting the best value for money. The website offering the lowest price also came with a promise to match any lower price found. However, after a bit more research I found the same product, which although £10 more expensive, came with a two-year guarantee (instead of 1 year), plus free removal of the old product, a service that cost £20 from the other company. Perhaps these are marginal benefits, but it is easy to guess which one I bought. More to the point, the guys with the price promise will have no idea why I didn’t buy from them as their martech stack won’t tell them.

So, despite all of the Martech, salestech, and whatever other technologies are deployed, my experience as a consumer has been underwhelming, and my friend’s experiences have been similar. This raises the question as to why? The answer may lie in a recent article that revealed Martech stacks are  really intended for software engineers and data analysts, not marketing people. They aeem to be a Frankenstein’s Monster, built from the parts of sales and marketing that can be driven by collecting and processing data. 

This is evident by a quick look at the Martech Alliance’s infographic of the Marketing Technology Landscape. It shows the complex patchwork of Martech applications required for an omnichannel solution and this immediate shift the focus away from the customer and onto: Which ones to pick? Which ones work together? What compromises are needed? The complexity is counter-intuitive to achieving simplicity, and the marketer cannot make these choices; they are technical decisions.

Even if this selection process can be navigated successfully, the value of the resulting system is only as good as the information it collects and its ability to analyse it.

Before digitization we gathered quantitative data on customer purchasing, refined that with quantitative market research, and then drilled deeper with qualitative research. This enabled a ‘good as it got’ understanding of the customer and enabled successful marketing orientation. Buying behavior like mine would have emerged from this process if it was sufficiently common. If it was ‘rare’ then it didn’t really matter. But market research is in decline: 

“The danger seems to be that many companies believe data gathering from social and other online sources is an easily available and cheaper shortcut. The drive to be flexible and speed up Data Harvesting, so brands can be seen to be more reactive is putting added pressure on Old School Methodologies.”

The cheap and available data is no substitute for the data that is needed: collecting huge volumes of data and relentlessly analyzing it won’t reveal the critical information that is present in what hasn’t been collected and, it is an activity of diminishing returns. Rather than delivering personalization of  marketing messages, the resulting message is one which has the highest  behavioral probability of a response from the average customer. . For many, this is no more refined than your average Phishing campaign that relies on the recipient believing the message is direct only to them when it Is a numbers game. 

Just like the processes that proceeded it, Martech data is a game of probabilities, not of personalization and while it gives insight into how people behave, it doesn’t deliver the most important insight: why?

As a tool to predict future behavior, It is getting less reliable, as a recent Mckinsey article illustrates:

As one CMO told us, “I’ve largely retreated to Mass Marketing instead of Data-driven Marketing because customer behavior is changing so fast, I can’t trust my historical data and models.”

So, given the diminishing returns, for those organizations who desire to be Marketing-oriented, perhaps is time to think differently?

The real value for marketing-oriented organizations is in anticipating and predicting (intelligent guessing) the who, where, and when of the customer’s need so they can be matched by the company’s offering. But what if we didn’t need to guess? What if instead of finding a myriad of ways to spy on the potential customer and guess their next move, we get the customer to tell us?

In 2012 Doc Searls wrote The Intention Economy: When the customers take charge. It envisaged that, in the not-so-distant future, a customer ‘communicating’ their need as it arose and suppliers responding with their offers.  Technologically, this can be done without data regulations and privacy issues and  with the benefit of removing most of the guesswork and focusing on listening and responding to the customer’s needs.

Those needs are simple. Koch and Lockwood in ‘Simplify’ propose that there are only three possible propositions- price simplification,  proposition simplification, and both! For simplicity, we can call this best price, best service, and both.

Just imagine how you would feel if, as a customer, you could signal your needs and receive propositions of the best price and best service?

So assuming this sounds like a good strategy, what can you do today to move towards it? Here are some practical questions that may help with that.

1. When was the last time you asked a customer to let you know when they needed your help? 

2. How would you make it easy for them to ask and for you to respond in a way that delighted them?

3. What would your service or product need to be like that they would be so pleased they would tell everyone they knew?

4. How can you adapt your ‘martech’ to enable you to operate a marketing orientation and strategy of simplification?  

Clearly, in my view, the future of Martech stacks liesnot in doing more of the same. but in transforming into an ‘Intention Stack’, a stack that gathers the intentions of your potential customers as they arise. 

This can be supplement by recognizing  that the best omnichannel marketing solution, perhaps the only omni-channel solution, is to get the customer to carry your brand or product around in their head, so that they seek you out when they have a need. Of course you will need to be ready to delight them when they do.

In the old days, this was called a Branding strategy deployed by marketing-oriented companies. Big brands know this it is the smaller newer ones that think Martech is a short cut. And it can be, if used in the right way to narrow the gap between the moment of desire and its satisfaction. This can only occur if the customer is placed in the center of the company’s universeand that, requires Martech stacks built around customers made for marketers. 

James Bryant

James is an owner/founder with a dynamic history of developing and delivering solutions using a transdisciplinary approach for multinational organizations & governments across a variety of industries and sectors. These include organization and systems transformation, data management and analytics, behavior change, and IoT.

In addition to growing his existing organizations, his focus is on transforming leadership and organizational performance by acquiring Requisite Behaviours, which combines Cybernetics, Complex Systems Theory, and Behavioural Science.

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