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Martech Revisited – is ‘Attribution’ the (Researcher’s) Answer?



By Peter Orban

The third conference of the budding Martech space – as I wrote about here – recently concluded  and this summary reports on the most notable trends. It also applies a lens we think might be the most useful for researchers.

A short primer on Martech for those of you new to the marketing technology (Martech) conversation on the GreenBook Blog.

As marketing is becoming increasingly digital, several important consequences result. We are very familiar with one of them: data. Digital creates an inordinate amount of data, disrupting insights and research and leading to the emergence of data science in marketing.

But there is another implication which may be less familiar. Since everything digital is controlled by software, marketing is becoming a software driven discipline.  “Martech” describes and captures the emergence of the domain which falls between marketing and technology, with implications as big as the impact of data science on marketing. In fact, data and marketing technology have a symbiotic relationship as Martech provides many of the tools to wrangle Big Data but also translates the result into customer experiences. Finally, it captures, organizes and cycles the resulting data back into the system.

Hacking Marketing

As a further proof of marketing becoming a software driven discipline, conference chair Scott Brinker spoke about how software development went through its own disruption as a result of the internet,  facing a situation of uncertainty, an unknowable environment, and the need for fast decision making – similar to what modern marketing is facing – just a few years ago. In his book, Hacking Marketing (published for the conference) he describes what marketers can learn from software development to thrive in this environment. His basic tenet is that creating a customer experience and a user experience both happen in the digital domain and therefore follow similar rules. In fact, at times it is hard to tell CX and UX apart.



Martech is experiencing rapid growth. When Scott Brinker first published the list of companies serving the Martech space five years ago, it listed 153 companies. The latest number on this list ballooned to 3874 – a 22x growth in a mere 5 years.(!!) The latest version of the Martech landscape not only sports many new companies but also introduces new categories and a new framework.




The coming organizational upheaval

Ever since digital’s appearance, insights driven organizations were slow to properly integrate (traditional) research, analytics, and data science. Sometimes one dominates the other (mostly driven by the domain where the company operates), or sometimes they fall on different parts of the organizational structure. This frequently leads to loss of efficacy, if not tensions.

This is going to get a whole lot worse…or more exciting, depending on your perspective.

Gord Hotchkiss, a strategist, spoke about ways of corporate sense-making. As environments grow increasingly less predictable, corporate structures need to evolve to allow faster and more effective sense (decision) making, replacing hierarchies with networks and putting CI in the middle of this new universe as the provider of the framework. Amen!


Frito Lay’s Ashwin Nathan spoke about D3 studios, the new, in-house agency that combines design, digital and demand. It brings together designers, creative people, data scientists, and people who can actually code. Some of the benefits cited were seamless data integration across existing internal and “external” platforms resulting in new, proprietary ways of market segmentation and unsurpassed speed.

One of the most interesting aspects of this studio was how “account management” is staffed by brand managers from the Frito-Lay brand organization on an 18-24 months rotation.

Change is not without challenge, as was evident in Beki Scarborough’s presentation about Martech turning into Wartech as IT departments are increasingly stretched and marketing expenditure grows. One of her recommendations was to create a corporate customer experience council to inject the voice of the customer in the (sometimes) heated discussion between competing priorities, different interpretations of “agile”, and various silos.

Balancing Agility with Scalability

“Agility” is yet another indication of how marketing is becoming software-driven, as the term originates in software development.

Mayur Gupta discussed how agile thinking and execution could transform even the most entrenched industry: healthcare.  Technology today enables the consumer to turn the table and pick the best doctor, best hospital, and the best care at the best price, time, location and touch-point of her choice.

Shubu Mithra of Coca-Cola  and Jennifer Zesut of Beckon looked at agility in measurement and discussed how a new “alert” state of mind is needed in face of declining predictability. Agile measurement needs to enable quick and almost continuous course corrections vs the more typical annual “rearview mirror” approach. The impact is like comparing simple interest vs compounding interest – significant.

At the same time, there is a growing recognition that agility can’t be an excuse for lack of planning. Many speakers discussed a problem familiar to every research buyer who sees value in a new solution but struggles with fitting into the bigger picture. Scott Brinker’s keynote drew yet another parallel to software development. He suggested using two different frameworks: agile for experimentation and traditional for the core.  The most important part of this model is how to manage the transition between the two. He suggested a ‘stage-gate’ approach for scaling into the core.




Close in, far out

One of the most fascinating and forward looking presentations was IDC’s Gerry Murray’s session about Cognitive Marketing – a combination of software & technologies behind Google’s self-driving car, for example. It is now being deployed in marketing for purposes like real-time sentiment analysis, recommendation engines, buyer journey visualization, media mix optimization, and attribution analysis.




David Raab’s presentation about machine intelligence in Martech soothed some frayed nerves by suggesting that human marketers will always be needed because change will always continue, but he also reminded us that using machines effectively will be essential for future success. He also pointed out that machine intelligence cuts both ways: it’s not only marketers who can apply it to more effectively persuade, but consumers can also apply it to make their choices more effectively.

On the other end of the spectrum Theresa Regli injected some well-timed skepticism by busting the 10 most frequent myths in Martech, and John Hard, Director, Marketing Sourcing at The Walt Disney Company, gave pointers on how to work with procurement.

What does this all mean to the CEO?

Marketing and its various sub-disciplines weren’t always held in high regard by the CEO. The digital transformation started to change this and – with the help of Martech – it is earning its place in the heart of the new enterprise.

When Dave Morgan finished his presentation there was a stunned silence in the Grand Ballroom and, later, a snaking line of people who wanted to meet him. His topic: how Martech eats Adtech. He postulated that Adtech as we know it will soon disappear, absorbed by Martech. The reason is simple: Adtech can only deliver impressions, clicks, and other process metrics – all proxies. Martech, on the other hand, “goes all the way” delivering outcomes: actuals. It is an easy choice for a marketer and very relevant metric for the CEO & CFO.

Talking about metrics that matter, Pat Lapointe from Growth Calculus, offered a simple but effective  framework to connect the process outcomes of marketing (technology) to shareholder value.




Attribution – is that the right lens to look at Martech?

Martech is clearly a major force to reckon with, so the question for insights professionals is this: what is the right lens to apply when looking at marketing technology?

The net outcome of the evolving technology is the ever richer customer experience executed via existing and new touchpoints and other impact delivery mechanisms. At the same time, we can capture outcomes with ever increasing efficacy, not to mention more data at an ever increasing speed. But the answer to one questions still remains elusive: why? Why those particular touchpoints? Why only certain customers? Why in given moments?

Attribution is a critical area, the framework to connect the stimulus and outcome. Just as the rest of the ecosystem is evolving at a breakneck pace, attribution also need to evolve and the industry needs a consensus on how can this happen.

GreenBook’s Inaugural Attribution event

GreenBook in planning an inaugural event to bring together Attribution, Martech and all the professionals with a stake in these areas, for early October.

We’ll discuss the state of attribution to understand the ecosystem, various different or competing approaches to model creation, and start developing collectively how and what attribution needs to be today and tomorrow.

Watch this space for details.

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