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The New Machine Rules: Insights from iProspect Future Focus 2018

The recent Future Focus event by iProspect at AQL in Leeds saw more than 150 senior digital and marketing leaders from across Yorkshire and beyond. Everyone congregated to hear and debate some of the core themes dominating the future of business and marketing communications.

Pete Coates, Sophie Wooller, Rahul Parmer (Google), Caroline Reynolds, Annabel Thorburn, Ian Williams, Dan Stephenson (Sky) and a very special guest from Amazon Media Group delivered a series of talks on everything from data, machine learning and ecommerce strategy to chatbots, digital assistants and addressable advertising.

The Digital Economy is empowering the customer and transforming business

There is no shortage of content that tries to paint a picture of the future, but how often do any of us take the time to sit back and take stock of how we can find opportunities to grow our business in the digital economy?

Established businesses need to take a long hard look in the mirror and decide if their current infrastructure and capabilities are fit for purpose for this new breed of demanding, high expectation consumers. Entrepreneurial startups have opportunities to spot weaknesses in traditional business models, enabling them to win customers by disrupting the established and giving the customer a better experience.

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According to Gartner, by 2038, four in ten (38%) jobs that exist in today’s economy will be completely replaced by automation. Data is the currency of this new economy. Our ability to analyse data, automate decision making and program algorithms to observe outcomes and optimise activity to deliver greater performance against a set business objective, creates an endless stream of exciting opportunities to drive profitability.


What’s more, we are producing more data than ever before. 90% of all the data in the world today has been created since 2016. That’s nine times more data than had been created in the preceding years since the dawn of Homo Sapiens. Those who will win in the digital economy will be those who are best placed to harness, store, analyse and activate that data most effectively to deliver the best experiences to their customers.

Here are some of the things we learned:

A data-first business strategy is critical for everybody

If data is powering the digital economy, making it central to your business model is your first step. Your data strategy should mirror your customer strategy (if you don’t have one of these, you will need that too) and aim to collect and store information about your customers and their interactions with your business. Everyone is a stakeholder in your data strategy and, in time, you'll need to be in a position to plug it into your own activities.

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The ‘cool’ case studies we hear about from other businesses on topics like personalisation, 360 degree views of the customer, marketing automation, interactive data visualisation etc. are indeed possible. This is only because they are built on top of a great data platform and powered by useful, accurate data and with a clear goal. You can’t get there without starting with a great data strategy.

Machine Learning is accelerating business performance

The businesses that have an effective, well organised and maturing data strategy are beginning to accelerate their development. They are doing so by utilising emerging technologies like Google Cloud to employ machine learning strategies to improve everything from customer acquisition, to product development and customer experience.

Machine learning is taking traditional analytics models that focus on describing and diagnosing the relationships between businesses and their customers and developing them to produce ever-more accurate prediction models. It is important therefore that they can identify likely outcomes and decide the most effective course of action to drive maximum business returns.

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Automation is transforming marketing

Machine learning capabilities are consistently resetting benchmarks on what is possible when creating great digital customer experiences and optimising performance marketing channels. This new ability to more accurately predict what will happen unlocks the ability to make multiple commercially critical marketing decisions such as:

  • What people to target
  • how much they’re worth
  • when to target them
  • what message to show them
  • what experience to provide to them.

iProspect CORE, our A.I.-powered engine, has already started to demonstrate what is possible within this space by aggregating data from multiple platforms including DoubleClick, Google Analytics, YouTube, Facebook and Bing. The objectives are to optimise across all decisionmaking stages of biddable campaigns. Early testing on previously manual campaigns are driving 30% improvements in acquisition cost.

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There are huge opportunities to deliver outstanding digital retail experiences

Technology is developing at an exponential rate, setting entirely new benchmarks for customer expectation and completely changing consumer behaviours. Retailers however are struggling to adapt their businesses effectively enough to take advantage of these opportunities and develop their capabilities on a similarly steep curve.

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The West needs to look East for inspiration, as the true innovation is happening in China, Korea and Japan with interactive immersive retail experiences being created to showcase products and make transaction seamless. Retailers also need to be prepared to take their proposition out into other digital environments. With social and now instant messaging platforms developing ecommerce capabilities, the gap between inspiration and transaction has never been so close.

Marketing to the machine is the new skill we all need to learn

As businesses invest in technology to automate their processes, the consumer is also employing technology to help them filter out what is relevant to them and shut out the rest of the noise. Understanding how to be relevant is becoming increasingly important as digital assistants such as Alexa, Siri and Cortana frequently become the gatekeeper between brand and customer.

Sales to service

Businesses are also beginning to delegate customer communication to machines, with chatbots becoming more commonplace. Many consumers are happy to trade off that personal touch for faster 24-hour response times and emotionless interactions as they see the quality of conversation improve over time.

Relevance is equally important in our advertising communications too

As technology and data infrastructures improve, our ability to carefully select audiences and communicate relevant messages has become possible. Platforms like Sky AdSmart are transforming advertising capabilities through the TV screen to tailor advertising messages to an increasingly granular audience. Quality over quantity will become the mantra of the AV planner.

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Platforms like Sky have become even more powerful in that they can not only understand our TV viewing behaviour but can overlay that with internet and mobile usage. This can be done through their ISP, telephone service and app portfolio to create an increasingly broad range of targeting capabilities across multiple devices. Relevance at scale across the entire customer journey is becoming a reality.

Amazon is far more than just an online retailer

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Connected devices, fresh produce, video streaming, movie production, cloud services, bricks and mortar stores. Amazon is now much more than an online book store. It has disrupted the traditional digital duopoly of Facebook and Google and are fast becoming a tier-one media partner for advertisers from all verticals.

Through Amazon’s Audience Platform, advertisers can now unlock a wealth of data to target and communicate with audiences based on their interactions across Amazon’s portfolio of customer-facing platforms. With more than half of all shopping searches starting on Amazon (according to multiple studies), this is one of the most powerful, while as yet largely untapped, communications platforms in the world.

Sound interesting? Make sure you check out our Future Focus handbook, which is packed with key insights from the day. Plus, you’ll find a more detailed summary of each of the talks on LinkedIn.

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