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How (and why) marketing tech fails to deliver on its promise

Matt Kapko | Jan. 22, 2016
Marketing technology promises to dramatically reduce wasted ad-spending and help marketers directly reach consumers with meaningful messages. Unfortunately, it hasn't delivered on that promise, and some marketing experts wonder if it ever will.

Frustrated hipster sitting with laptop

For all the hype around marketing technology today, consumers should be awash in creative media that excites and endears them to brands, and ultimately leads to surges in sales. Unfortunately for marketers, this vision is more fantasy than reality.

Marketing technology has evolved into a complex amalgamation of software, data collection and automation that aims to achieve the same simple goal marketing professionals have targeted for years, according Jake Sorofman, research vice president at Gartner. Ultimately, the promise of marketing technology is to deliver "the right message to the right customer or audience at the right time," Sorofman says.

However, the pillars of today's marketing technology, which are designed to achieve that promise, also create new complexities that limit brands' abilities to reach their objectives. "Adding technology to an ineffective marketing strategy simply accelerates the pace and reach of that ineffectiveness," says Mark Montini, chief results officer at the marketing firm M2M Strategies

Marketing tech can't solve ad-waste dilemma

Brands and their marketing teams waste billions of dollars on digital ads that no human ever sees, let alone the specific people those companies try to reach. In late 2014, a Google report made the problem abundantly clear: Nobody sees a staggering 56.1 percent of all digital ads, according to the report. 

"That kind of undermines the complete elimination of waste fantasy" that modern marketing tech perpetuates, according to Adam Kleinberg, CEO of advertising agency Traction. Marketing technology fails, because it rewards those who abuse it, he says. 

"Marketing tech can't tell me if my ad made someone laugh or be inspired or simply nod their head and think, 'That brand gets me,'" Kleinberg says. "That's the fundamental power of great marketing."

Rebecca Lieb, an industry analyst and advisor, says it's too soon to tell if marketing technology will live up to some of the hype or prove to be an outright failure, because the market is currently in a period of hyper growth, development and refinement. "The promise is that everything will somehow pan out, streamline, integrate and just plain work," she says. "We're still very much in the cycle of building, invention, disruption and innovation. There's little in marketing tech that's static or standardized." 

Integrating the key components of marketing technology — media software, social-media software and ad technology — remains a significant challenge, according to Lieb. Despite all the talk about and aspirations for the "marketing cloud," it "remains as elusive as it is undefined."

Marketers overlook customers in quest for more data

Technology challenges remain, but Lieb and Sorofman agree that an industry-wide lack of skills and misunderstanding of the space is particularly problematic. And marketers' unfettered interest in data often compounds these factors. "Marketers have pursued big data when they have small data challenges," Sorofman says. "They need to focus on the right data, which is often the first-party data they already have scattered across the organization." 

 

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