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An Alternative Approach to Marketing Technology (Part 2)

 

When you think about it, this is a lot like the dynamics of platforms in the market at large. The centralized platform of the iPhone enabled a decentralized explosion of millions of specialized apps. Increasing consolidation of centralized marketing technology platforms is actually facilitating greater diversification of specialist and vertical solutions within their third-party ecoystems (this sentence is SO Silicon Valley; read it again and it will start making sense despite all the buzzwords).

The best way to simultaneously strengthen centralization and decentralization is to architect our centralized capabilities as “platforms” to be used by the decentralized “ecosystem” of the rest of the organization.

Simone Cicero’s 7 Key Principles of Platform Design are a great guide to follow in pursuit of this mission:

  1. Recognize the potential that grows at the edge (outside of headquarters – at the branch, the LPO, the operations center etc.)  of the organization. (AB: Headquarters doesn’t have a monopoly on creativity, brilliance, customer insight etc.)
  2. Design for emergence — help new capabilities arise from innovations at the edge.
  3. Use self-organization to provide mass customization — tailor locally in context and within governance and guiderails.
  4. Enable continuous learning and living in VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity).
  5. Design for disobedience — let the creators on the edge bend the rules to innovate.
  6. Design for interconnectedness — help creators on the edge band together.
  7. Let go the identity — marketing technology and operations is the sum of the centralized core combined with all the creative experimentation on the edge.

Platform Revolution is also a terrific book on the subject that you can adapt through the lens of internal platforms too.

Paradox #2: Automate & Humanize
 
There’s a similar tension between automation and humanization in marketing. We want to leverage technology to automate as much as we can — because it provides greater efficiency that can be beneficial to both us and our customers.
 
But the more machines handle on our behalf, the more we can lose touch with the humans on the other side of those machine-managed interactions. A manual process of sending an email, from one human to another, forces some modicum of thought about the recipient in the mind of the sender. An automated email nurturing algorithm that can fire off dozens of messages to thousands of recipients without any direct human decision-making at all has no such inherent empathy.
 
The answer is not to avoid or drive out automation. Good automation can help customers (and, internally, employees) get what they want or need faster. But marketing technology and operations leaders must consciously work to continually provide human checks and balances to automation.
 
Utilize people to leverage automation by looking for anomalies, exceptions, and feedback signals that can alert us when an automated process is diverging from the needs of the constituency it is was presumptively implemented to serve.
 
Who are the best people to detect these “disturbances in the force” of automation? People on the edge of the organization, those who are closest to customers and front-line delivery of your brand promise. This is where the two axes of the grid start to come together: decentralization can support better humanization.
 
There’s a famous saying that “the map is not the terrain.” Just because a map shows something — where a river is located, where a path leads — doesn’t guarantee that’s true. An error may have been made by the cartographer. Or the landscape may have simply changed. Rivers dry up or change course. Paths are altered or abandoned.
 
This leads to the wise hiking aphorism, “When the map and the terrain disagree, trust the terrain.” If the map says to walk forward, but your eyes show a sudden drop-off from a cliff, to hell with the map. (This goes for you drivers blindly trusting your GPS too.)
 
We can adapt this wisdom to marketing technology and operations. “The marketing automation platform is not the customer.” Just because the data in your customer system of record claims that a customer has certain characteristics and preferences, it doesn’t necessarily make it true. Those properties may have been mis-recorded or changed over time.
 
Therefore, “When the automation information and the customer disagree, trust the customer.”
 
This means empowering decentralized staff on the edge of the organization — those closest to the customer — to apply empathy, intuition, and common sense in detecting and resolving customer problems or unaddressed needs. 
 
Marketing empowerment should be one of marketing operations key objectives to help front-line marketers and customer-facing staff use good judgment in fixing problems and avoiding inadvertently human-unfriendly interactions.
 
One way of managing automation without losing sight of the people  it’s intended to serve is to evaluate its efficiency for both the company and your customers:
 
 
Processes that are inefficient for both the company and customers are generally crappy and should be improved. Processes that are efficient for both the company and customers are generally awesome — but should have checks and balances to make sure they remain so.
 
Yet a process that is inefficient for the company but efficient for the customer may be worth it, if the experience is good for the customer and the economics work for the company. Most “high-touch” moments fall into this category. Indeed, the kind of front-line marketing empowerment we just discussed is often “inefficient” for the company — the efficient thing to do would be to let an automated or rigidly regimented process run blindly undeterred, regardless of the negative impact on customer experience.
 
Those moments of making things easy for the customer, at some expense to the company, can deliver powerful ROI over time through customer loyalty and word-of-mouth business. Be careful of overly optimizing activities in this quadrant.
 
The dangerous quadrant is processes that are optimized to be highly efficient for the company, yet are inefficient or unpleasant for customers. An annoying IVR phone is a classic example. Because so many projects to increase efficiency are inward-facing, measured by internal efficiency metrics, it can be easy to slip into this quadrant without even realizing the negative experience impact on customers.
 
“Self-service” options for customers can inadvertently fall into this category. In theory, they can help customers get answers immediately, on their own terms, at very little cost to the company. But if these options become mandatory — the only channel for a customer to resolve an issue — and they fail to handle all cases well, they can backfire on customer satisfaction.
 
Marketing technology and operations leaders should bring this lens of “efficiency for the customer” to all automation projects, championing the human.
 
Beyond Paradox: Balancing the 5 Forces
 
So now that we recognize that these forces of centralize/decentralize and automate/humanize are difficult to balance, but aren’t mutually exclusive, the overall grid of the 5 Forces of Marketing Technology & Operations starts to make more sense as a landscape that you want to cover in its entirety.
 
 
In the northwest quadrant of centralize and automate we want to standardize common tools and data and optimize global processes. This is what we have traditionally thought of as the responsibility of a marketing technology & operations team: rationalize your marketing technology, organize your data around a shared customer identity, and efficiently scale marketing activities. Platformize marketing’s capabilities as much as possible.
 
In the northeast quadrant of decentralize and automate, we seek to empower smaller teams to experiment locally, optimize workflows to their needs, and leverage our centralized platforms and infrastructure to innovate quickly and cheaply.
 
Rather than fight the use of specialized tools on the edge, we want to encourage BYOT (bring your own tool) for certain kinds of activities, as long as they properly share the right data with our centralized core. We want to inspire and support citizen developers, citizen data scientists, and citizen integrators to create more with less dependency on limited central resources.
 
In the southeast quadrant of decentralize and humanize, we want to champion marketing empowerment — giving marketers and front-line customer experience staff levers for applying empathy and intuition to delight customers. Encourage marketers at all levels to spend more time visiting customers to build that intuition. Establish mechanisms to detect CX anomalies and resolve them swiftly. This is where we deliver authenticity in our brand.
 
In the southwest quadrant of centralize and humanize, we invest in people at scale — both our internal teams and our external customers. A great marketing technology & operations team should build great marketing enablement materials to help marketers and other customer experience staff learn how to best leverage martech capabilities.
 
We want to provide “enlightened governance” of our decentralized capabilities. Ultimately, we want to embrace and amplify the “culture code” and “customer code” principles that define our brand.
 
Finally, in the center, we want to embrace continuous change. The work we do to improve the above quadrants of this grid aren’t once-and-done projects, but rather a new state of normal. We design systems for change. We use agile marketing methodologies to adapt and evolve, both in our centralized capabilities and with our decentralized teams at the edge of the organization. 
 
Ultimately, becoming good at change requires you to develop an open mindset across the entire marketing organization..
 
Anat: Our Marketing and Product Management Forums show a mighty struggle our banks are having with the challenges and opportunities technology brings to the marketing world.  The insights I got from Scott’s thinking validate a thought process I shared in previous articles on the topic.  Banks of ANY size can and should use technology to reinforce the customer experience consistent with their specific brand message.  Do not lose heart because chase dwarfs your technology budget.  Their value proposition is dramatically different from yours.  At the same time, curated application of technology solutions to bring your brand to bear on your employee and customer bases is an essential element in your future competitive position and brand message.  Focus, selectivity and a clear strategic direction are all necessary to help allocate your scarce development dollars where they matter the most.  

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