Navigating the MarTech Boom: 6 Watch-Outs in Building Better CRM

Josh Blacksmith, SVP, General Manager, CRM, FCB Chicago
Josh Blacksmith, SVP, General Manager, CRM, FCB Chicago

Josh Blacksmith, SVP, General Manager, CRM, FCB Chicago

Far too often, I see brands and agencies linking the practice of CRM to nothing more than back-end software and/or customer records management. As a practitioner in this field for nearly two decades, I know this to be an unfortunate and incredibly myopic view of what true customer relationship management can encompass. CRM is about data, technology and creativity coming together to inspire consumers into action in contextually relevant moments. CRM is about building better customer experiences, and this certainly warrants a wider spectrum of MarTech solutions than just your traditional CRM technologies.

If you’re like most in the marketing technology space, you receive call after call, email after email from vendors touting new software solutions that promise to drive incredible returns with greater ease and intuition—all at a fraction of your current cost. It’s largely become noise, to a point where many are tuning out and instead looking to trusted, objective thought leaders to guide decisions—from Scott Brinker and chiefmartec.com to more traditional sources like Forrester and Gartner. So, what do you need to keep in mind in the process of building out your stack?

As one who prides myself on being unbiased in order to serve a wide array of clients working across countless platforms (I am not a platform reseller), I’ve uncovered six watch-outs when it comes to buying and utilizing marketing technology effectively:

1. Technology itself should not drive your business decisions. Tech is so shiny—and it’s sold so well. However, you can’t keep chasing the next best thing, because there will always be a next best thing. Focus on your business objectives first and ensure they’re aligned to consumers’ experience expectations. It’s always best to determine what you’re trying to achieve before you go shopping, or you’ll end up spending too much on things you don’t need. Technology is merely an enabler to a desired business outcome.

2. Do your MarTech homework. Build your own MarTech provider heuristics and challenge solutions vendors to either align with or change your perspective. As with any business, it’s easy to be sold on solutions unless you’ve already done the work to define what you believe specific types of providers should enable. Before having a discussion with a prospective CDP provider, it’s best to ensure you can clearly differentiate a CDP from a DMP, for example, and can articulate what consumer experience you’re working to build. This effort will allow you to demonstrate your own expertise and will aide in getting straight answers around the core competencies a provider offers. 

  AI should certainly be embraced and tested, but go in engaged and with eyes wide open.  

3. AI is everywhere: Buyer beware. Artificial intelligence has been around for decades—since humans were first playing checkers against computers. Just because a technology platform comes with embedded AI, regardless of the genius attached to it, it doesn’t mean that AI can achieve what you’re trying to accomplish. Be specific with platform providers—request use cases that solve your distinct business challenges. Not all algorithms are created equal, and as implied, AI tools are still learning where their strengths lie and how to best operate. Remember how brilliant Watson was on Jeopardy? Then you’ll also recall the times when Watson’s answers were laughably off the rails. AI should certainly be embraced and tested, but go in engaged and with eyes wide open.

4. Machines still need human intuition. We’ve all seen the amazing benefits of marketing automation when done well, enabling real-time, predictive marketing and driving incredible efficiency. However, as automation continues to take hold across channels, one thing we need to be mindful of is how algorithmically driven machines, when left unchecked, create filter bubbles for consumers. These echo chambers inside which consumers operate are the result of machines driving personalization to the point that brands cease to introduce consumers to new thinking, perspectives and, yes, products and services. Business rules and targeting logic must be driven by humans and aided by machines to ensure disruption and diversity are introduced into the system.

5. Technology doesn’t overcome poor data. It isn’t a silver bullet: Garbage in is still garbage out, even when put into a top-end cloud platform. Unfortunately, organizational silos can be a significant detractor to building richer consumer profiles. Brands and agencies must become more comfortable with a world where media and CRM (and any number of additional silos) work hand in hand to build a connected end-to-end view of the customer. There are benefits that flow in both directions when acquisition media strategies are closely aligned with CRM strategies.

6. There is no “line” for consumers. We marketers regularly talk about customer experiences through conventional labels like “above-the-line” and “below-the-line,” but our customers don’t perceive their experiences in that way: They combine everything a brand throws at them into one holistic understanding of that brand’s value proposition. When leveraging technology to build an experience, it’s important to keep the integrated brand story in mind. Our goal in CRM, specifically, is to take the brand message and make it relevant to every individual with whom we’re engaging. What one consumer likes about a brand isn’t necessarily what another consumer likes—and with 1:1 messaging, we can tune into those likes to make that brand’s message more personally relevant.

The rapid pace of change we’re experiencing in the CRM space is invigorating. From blockchain loyalty and data privacy/ownership to voice and social commerce, there is an endless need for new solutions to continue meeting consumers when and where they’re most receptive. Keep building up confidence in the space and buckle up—the best is yet to come.

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