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Has Marketing Automation Destroyed Marketing?

In an attempt to make marketing a science, have we killed creativity?

By Gary Griffiths, CEO and Patricia Hume, CCO

Apple's 1984 Ad - Creative Marketing

Patricia, I’ve been thinking a lot about marketing. I’ve always been fascinated with marketing – but also often frustrated. I’m hardly the expert – you are. Your career, at least since those days when you were leading a large team of IBM engineers, has been all about sales and marketing in virtually all roles imaginable. So what is marketing, really, in your view? And don’t tell me the ‘Five Ps’ – I get that, and I can look it up if I can’t remember the fourth ‘P.’ But given all of your experience, when all the business book ‘wisdom’ is stripped away, what does marketing mean to you? Not at a text book level, but emotionally?”

“What is marketing? Simply put: ‘I got something to sell, and I need to convince you to buy it.’  Sounds simple.  However, capturing both the emotional and rational buying behavior of the masses is hard.  The operative term is the masses – we are all different – we are all motivated by different things.  Even within a defined ‘addressable’ market you have to consider that everyone is different.   How you want the buyer to think about you, your company and your product is important. And there are a ton of things to consider: Is your product expensive/cheap, easy/complex, elegant/hip, smart/feisty… I think you get my point.  And then once you define product, brand and voice, you need to get out there and make noise – capture attention and eventually get people to buy. I told Wendy when she joined that her primary role as the head of marketing would be to generate leads, leads and more leads.  We both smiled knowing that generating leads requires all things marketing: GoToMarket (GTM,) brand, competitive analysis, pricing, content creation, campaigns, advertising and so on. There is an enormous amount of work that needs to get done in order to be successful in marketing.”

“OK. That’s helpful. But there’s an element missing here, I think. Perhaps not as tangible as communications with prospects or pricing or positioning. But if I step away from business, and think about life – about the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Or Van Gough. Or War and Peace or the films of Hitchcock – there is a core element in all of these that I believe is also the core of marketing.  And I fear that recently that essential element of marketing – the piece so critical to garnering interest and creating leads – may have been relegated to the lower rungs of priority. We’re in Silicon Valley – so most of the credit for changing the world goes to the guys writing the code. And rightfully so. I get that. But in my world, the most effective marketing is the most creative marketing. And it is effective marketing that builds great companies – more so than great technology. Which is one reason I both love and hate marketing. Done well, it is the soul of a company. Done poorly, marketing is just another line on the P&L.”

Gary, I think you would agree that the most successful companies have three key ingredients. A great product, supported by great marketing and great sales. I think you need all three. Eventually a bad product will catch up to you and all the marketing in the world won’t save it.”

“Well, I agree. But regardless of how we define it, it seems to me that the focus of marketing in recent years has been about how best to measure the real value of marketing and get a handle on marketing ROI, i.e. deciding exactly where marketing dollars should – and should not – be spent. Marketing budgets typically consume significant percentages of revenue. In fact, for some companies, especially high-tech companies in a hyper-growth phase, when combined with sales, those budgets may actually exceed revenue. And don’t get me wrong – that’s critically important. But I’d hate to believe that the marketing teams in Silicon Valley feel like they don’t have an important seat at the creativity table.”

“Gary, marketing and sales are both art and science. I think that automation tools have tipped the scales too far to the science side and may have left the art behind.  For years it has been difficult to measure the ROI for marketing spend, especially if done on a project-by-project basis. And marketing was often criticized for not delivering results. So the focus moved to ROI and metrics. The ROI for marketing needs to be revenue and profit. All spend should lead to the same end.  If all that is measured are the numbers – numbers of leads, lead conversion, number of campaigns, followers on social media, website visits, downloads etc – it does not leave a lot of time for creativity.  You and I talked about how Apple re-invented itself.  A big part of that success had to do with their creativity in capturing both the emotion and the logic of what they were trying to do. The product was genius – the marketing equally so. I bet they did not spend hours looking at just the numbers, but instead worked very hard to create excitement and curiosity that led to sales and a whole new company.”

“As you said, Patricia, there is a science to marketing, and we all have a burning desire to make marketing more efficient, quantifiable and measurable. ‘Yup, we’ve got an app for that.’   And that’s great – it is just one example of how the U.S. high tech industry continues to grow. But I remember reading recently that there are more applications available to marketing than any other function in the company – and the vast majority of these applications are all about automating and quantifying marketing. Not convinced? Take a look at the tools available to marketing departments. I won’t even try to count.”

Marketing Technology Landscape 2016 -

“Yes, I get that Gary. It is overwhelming and somewhat ridiculous.  We have apps for everything: mobile marketing, display and programmatic advertising, search and social advertising, content advertising, video advertising, apps for print advertising and automating PR. There is marketing technology for content marketing, video marketing, email marketing, interactive content, marketing automation, campaign and lead management, CMS and web experience management, for SEO and technology for things that I have no idea what they do – like ‘MRM.’”

“Don’t look at me – I have no idea what ‘MRM’ is either. But I can probably also buy a marketing glossary app.”

“And as I was saying Gary, there are of course hundreds and hundreds of companies that are selling their wares to help marketing teams automate their jobs – and better quantify the results.  Something new is popping up everyday. Talk about a marketing challenge – how do you stand out in that diagram above?”

“Stand out? How can you even read it? Anyway Patricia, with each one of these thousands of tools and apps and platforms, there are metrics. Graphs and charts and funnels and KPI’s and dashboards and more numbers and more apps designed to consolidate all of the graphs and charts and KPI’s and dashboards into another dashboard. Makes my head spin. But because CEOs and CFOs, like me and Darin, and boards of directors love numbers, perhaps we are responsible for the explosion of metrics?  Perhaps because we all like to think that as long as we have the charts and graphs that show the marketing numbers increasing, then we must be winning:

Last week, we had 2,347 followers on Twitter. This week, we have 2,602! That’s an increase of nearly 11% – in just one week!”

“Yes, Gary, I get that, and I know where you’re going. As I said, metrics and KPI’s are not the whole story.  And just to add fuel to your fire, you can bet there are apps – a multitude of them – that have automated a way to generate more followers on the Twitter example you’ve mentioned. Or on Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn and a host of other social media outlets, where any respectable company in 2016 must be seen – and heard. But I worry, that with so much noise in the social network, it is hard to make your brand really stand out.”

“Precisely. Yet in the billions upon billions of dollars invested in all of the tools to extend the reach of marketing and make marketing activity easier to measure, have we lost that central core of marketing? Have we forgotten creativity? Have we lost sight of the fact that at the end of the day, it is the message, not the medium – social or otherwise – that will drive buyers to your product? Do you watch Mad Men?”

What you call love was invented by guys like me…to sell nylons.

– Don Draper, Mad Men

“No, I don’t watch Mad Men – I apparently have more work to do than you. But after more than three decades, I still remember Apple’s stunning “1984” Super Bowl ad. That was bold, it was brash; it was a brassy shot across the bow of IBM. But most of all, it was creative: fresh and disruptive. A single moment, one ad, like a Michelangelo, had more impact than millions of pie charts and line graphs and KPIs could ever achieve. The art is what is remembered – even as the product it promoted has been forgotten.”

“Yeah, I clearly remember “1984.” That ad made me wince – you too – as we were both IBMers at the time.  And as you stated above, I too remember Steve Jobs’ triumphant return to Apple with the brilliantly simple, “Think Different” campaign. That was also creative in its stark simplicity: a black-and-white portrait and two words. And ultimately measured not in ROI, but in hundreds of millions of dollars in Apple market capitalization. And by the way, back to our ‘marketing vs. technology’ debate –neither of these successful Apple campaigns ever featured a product.”

“Yes – we both agree on the Apple story as one that sets the tone, the example of creative brilliance at work. So is there a point in this Gary?”

“Well, yeah, clearly. My point – my concern – is that we’re getting so tied up in the numbers of marketing we’re forgetting that if we want to sell something – whether it is the soap and cigarettes of Mad Men or computers or Internet connectivity services, without the creativity – without big, bold and fresh ideas – we’re only counting the minutia of tweets or likes or leads or impressions. We make up measurements because they are there – not because they have real impact.”

“Are you saying that tweets are not important?”

“Essentially I am. I’m saying that hundreds of tweets are not really important. But if you are going to have an impact – millions of re-tweets – which means millions and millions of dollars of marketing budget. Unless you are Kim Kardashian. But doubling ‘retweets’ or ‘likes’ – from 20 to 40 – is meaningless – and hardly worth the cost of the app that does the math. I’m afraid we all run the risk of missing the big picture, why we’re here in the first place: to rise above the masses and get the attention of those we want to be our customers. I mean, is there an unwritten rule that when you are selling to the enterprise that marketing has to be dull? Do you agree?”

“Sorry boss, I do not agree. Dull is death. I don’t care whether you are selling to consumer or business – creativity – emotional response – art is important. And you have been the loudest critic of ‘corporate marketing.’”

“Look, Patricia, I’m hardly defending dullness. I’m just saying that’s what marketing to enterprises has become. Dull. Not exciting. Not creative.  Try this: name a marketing campaign from a high-tech company to the enterprise that was memorable.”

“Gary, we’ve both been talking about Apple’s great marketing – what could be more high tech than Apple?”

“But Apple was selling to consumers – not to the enterprise.”

“No – Apple, just like iPass, is selling to ‘people.’ Consumer or business – it is all about the human response to your story and the manner in which you tell it.”

“Right. So why then shouldn’t marketing campaigns and messages to enterprises be just as fresh – disruptive – maybe even as disturbing – as a campaign aimed at consumers?   Because you are spot-on Patricia. At the end of the day, we’re all consumers. Seriously, I’m not opposed to metrics and measurements. I’m one of those CEOs who wants a way to measure a return on my marketing expenses – same as you. But also like you, I believe in the power of creativity. We both believe that it is important for a product or company to rise above the crowd.  To do that, by definition, we cannot do what everyone else is doing. To author the next Apple “1984,” we can’t afford to allow marketing metrics to be the trees hiding the forest of value and real return. We must be clever. We have to be creative.”

“I agree, Gary. 100%. Gotta run – board meeting next week. Need to build my marketing dashboard.”