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End-to-End Marketing Part 1: The death of creativity?
Jacques Pavlenyi - IBM

There's a trend roaming the marketing landscape. The acquisition spree that started as smoke signals in the mid-2000s with Experian's purchase of CheetahMail and Email Solutions, has heated into a raging fire:

Clearly these companies see an irresistible opportunity. Where IT in the previous e-business cycle was all about automating back-office processes, the maturation of cloud computing, the continual eclipse of PCs in favor of mobile and tablet devices, and the explosion of social media and Big Data all seem to lead to a unifying thought: the application of technology and repeatable models to transform traditionally “creative” and manual front-office processes like Marketing.

My concern, though, is that with the (IMHO) long-overdue headlong rush of applying these technologies to improve the “the science of marketing”, we may be forgetting the core creative nature of marketing. This creativity is critical because we're dealing with people. Customers, prospects, influencers don't behave like perfectly rational beings in a perfect Adam Smith economics universe. People are complex, messy, layered, unpredictable. In my opinion, that means marketers still need to keep that creative element. I like to think of it as the human application of technology:

Image - Mktg Circle - Head-Heart

Obviously, the end-to-end customer lifecycle is much more complex. But for purposes of my post today, I wanted to emphasize the inherent necessity for BOTH the logical and the emotional when it comes to marketing. Data is taking center stage, and for good reason: measurements are easier to get than ever before, in places we as marketers have always dreamed of but didn't quiet get to:

  • The average prospect spends 19 seconds on my latest offering web page since the updates last week, up 4 seconds. The A/B test indicated the update would result in a 10% increase in time spent, so we did better than expected.
  • My most recent LinkedIn banner campaign had a 0.7% click-through rate, a decrease of 0.1 points from the last campaign. The analysis indicates it was more due to bad choice of copy vs. a general decrease in LinkedIn click-through rates.
  • My Twitter followers have a 3-point higher positive Brand Consideration vs. the general population.
  • Of the 4,972 responses I received from my last newsletter offer, 17% of these were “Qualified” are ready for passing to a Sales Rep, slightly better than expected. Of those passed leads, 27% of them converted into wins, much higher than our year-to-date average conversion rates. Discussions with Sales indicated improved enablement prior to launching the recent newsletter was a key success factor.
  • The most recent beta program indicated 5 specific product improvement proposals garnered 71% of the “if this were available, I would be more likely to purchase the next version of the product” responses. Advanced analytics estimates a 64% chance of a 10% increase in revenue from making those changes.

This level of analytical rigor would be a dream come true for most marketing organizations. And the application of technology is slowly but surely making this a reality.

But at the end of the day, it's people who make the purchase decision, and therefore some kind of emotional element still enters into the equation. You don't think this applies to business-to-business marketing? I humbly suggest it does:

  • FEAR: “Will I be fired if I choose Vendor A over Vendor B? Will my management team think I'm stupid or smart for making this decision?”
  • EGO: “Can I further my status in the organization if I make this project a reality?”
  • PASSION: “I really believe this solution can make a difference in the world.”
  • REVENGE: “My predecessor was a jerk. Bringing this project to fruition would be proof they were wrong.”

If you think I am over-stating the danger of excessive reliance on data and technology, rather than emotional appeals, I simply offer the following example. I was at Universal Studios Orlando a few weeks ago. IBM Connect, the big collaboration conference, held it's big Wednesday evening event party there. The roller coasters were a blast, but something struck me as I left the Despicable Me ride. You had to exit through the gift shop. That's when I realized that EVERY roller coaster, every experience ride, every museum I've been to in the past few years sets up the path so that you HAVE to go through the gift shop on your way out. It's not on the way in – you haven't had the experienced yet, so there's no context for the shill about to hit you. It's on the way out, when your adrenalin rush is fresh and your emotional connectivity to the theme the highest – the best time to hit you with a retail suggestion. I have to admit the plushy minion stuffed toys were very appealing.

This uniformity of experience comes from a lot of data that originated in retailing and observational studies of purchasing behavior. But while it may result in more revenues per visitor, for me it drained the experience of uniqueness and creative differentiation. I became inured to the appeal. As a result I actually started to resent being manipulated so explicitly. Data can help in the short term, but too much and it robs the purchase or consumption experience of emotional content, like surprise and delight.

In a follow-on post, I plan to delve a little deeper into how technology can improve different parts of the customer (and therefore marketing) lifecycle, without losing the emotional qualities that I believe are necessary for successful marketing and selling.

What do you think? Do you agree the marketing pendulum is starting to swing too much towards the analytical? Or not enough?

Photo - Jacques Pavlenyi - IBM

Jacques Pavlenyi, Senior Marketing Manager
IBM Collaboration Solutions


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