spring / 2018

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Juliet Stott
Gerd Leonhard on the Future of Marketing in a Digital Age
Juliet Stott
Apr 19, 2018

The exponential growth in digital technology and the resulting change in consumer behavior will collectively disrupt the traditional marketing model of “surveillance, intrusion and interruption”, says Gerd Leonhard. He believes that the art of making noise needs to be upgraded to the “art of making meaning, sense and purpose”.

Here the leading futurist, who’s a keynote speaker for the likes of Cisco, SAP, Microsoft and Unilever talked to Content Magazine about how to use data without being too creepy, why the art of storytelling will continue to be one of the most powerful tools a marketer can have, and why the role of the CMO will be elevated in a digital world.

Content: As digitization spreads across marketing, what trends will emerge?
Gerd: Marketers will have access to pretty much any data they want about a user—where they are, what they’re like, their profile, and of course very soon, their locations, thanks to the Internet of Things (IoT). As the now somewhat jaded tagline goes ‘data is the new oil’, and as Andrew Ng, the former CTO of Baidu keeps saying, ‘Artificial Intelligence is the new electricity’. When we have a lot of data, we also need lots of intelligence, so we can actually do something with the data. A lot of marketing and advertising is already making very heavy use of data mining and artificial intelligence, or more accurately, Intelligent Assistance (IA). But in the light of the recent Facebook troubles, in the next couple of years marketers will need to make sure they have actionable and correct information and, from this May in Europe, the explicit permission to use data effectively. Requiring opt-ins rather than opt-outs is definitely the right way to go.

What are some of the drawbacks of digitization?
The problem is how marketers use information without looking like they’re deeply intrusive or creating George Orwell’s dystopian world. A smart approach is to try and use the technology to build closer relationships with consumers, to become more personal, more direct, and much more respectful. Spotify, for example, is already really good at this. It gets to know its users from paying attention to their listening habits, it then feeds them interesting playlists and discovery lists based on this. In the near future it will be able to create very targeted advertising and marketing. For example, if Spotify knows that I like trance music from Goa, and I’m going to India, it could then suggest a couple of locations or venues for events that I might be interested in. I really believe that good marketers and advertisers are successful because they build close tie-ins, relationships and trust with customers so, in the end, these people want to hear from them, rather than being forced or gamed to hear from them.

In the near future will marketers be creating content for new devices such as augmented reality glasses?
I think that the idea of people wearing augmented reality outfits, like the one that Intel has just put out, where ads pop up for say the nearest Starbucks, is farfetched in terms of user acceptance. That could be deeply intrusive and open the door for all kinds of bizarre manipulation, making Facebook look like child’s play. I can’t imagine that would last. Who would wear a virtual reality glass or a mixed reality lens, like HoloLens, if you’re going to be bombarded by unwanted ads?

What impact will the likes of Google and Facebook have on storytelling? Will they make it obsolete or more valuable?
Although marketers and brands are realizing that algorithms are interesting, strictly algorithmic offerings are not what humans are looking for. Humans decide things based on emotions, on what I call in my book, Technology vs Humanity, the ‘androrithms’, the human things such as trust, emotions, mysteries, serendipity, and discovery. These are human things that algorithms are not able to furnish. Happiness is not an app, and people aren’t machines. In the end, most decisions are made by human considerations. For example, if someone was looking to book a hotel, they’ll look at images, at videos, ratings, and they can get a feel for a place, but they’ll eventually decide on something not just based on data and algorithms. In the long run, marketers need to find a way to use technology to get closer to people, to build brands, and to get people to trust them. That’s worthier than just following an algorithmic program, or otherwise gaming people in some clever way.

As digitization converges roles within business, what will happen to the role of the CMO?
In my view, the CMO will become one of the most influential people within a business because it’s the CMO who will need to figure out what products or services the business needs [to sell] in the future. They are the ones who could anticipate what people/customers are looking for, and what they won’t want. They will write the message, and story of the brand. Keep in mind that, with humans, it always comes down to the story, and to the experience. We buy a story, we buy a feeling, an experience, we buy meaning and purpose. We don’t just buy stuff based on facts such as ‘this car goes faster than this car’. The success of a brand such as a Tesla shows that consumers buy a message, and a purpose. Tesla is currently selling more cars in its top class than Mercedes Benz and BMW together. The reason is not because it’s necessarily built a better car, it’s got a better story – and it transforms the owner. It comes down to the storytelling, the ingenuity, and tapping into the human emotions.

What role will Facebook and Google play in the consumer’s future lives?
Google and Facebook are essentially becoming artificial intelligence agents. The future of Google is not as a search engine, but as a kind of ‘external brain’. It will know that I am in San Francisco. It will know what I like because it knows all my friends and reads all my emails. It will have 200 million data points on me and will use them to make recommendations to me, or will send me a coupon, or whatever. They know I am going to like it for certain, because that is what the intelligence has figured out. All the major internet platforms are becoming driven by Intelligence Assistance by IA, and soon, by ‘thinking machines’.

Facebook is already an AI which is why its facing all these issues right now, and why I just deleted my profile and all my pages. Facebook is essentially that first ‘global brain’, yet it does not want to be accountable for what that means.

Which books should marketers read to stay abreast of the digital changes in the world?
The first one is ‘The Inevitable’ by Kevin Kelly, the former founder of ‘Wired’ magazine, who’s a really sharp thinker. If you are in marketing, you can’t possibly exist without reading Marshall McLuhan’s ‘The Medium is the Message’. It’s 20-years-old, but completely accurate. If you’re interested in the impact of artificial intelligence there’s a great book, called ‘Life 3.0’ by Max Tegmark. Then Tim O’Reilly’s ‘What's the Future and Why It's Up to Us’. Another book is by the psychologist Martin Seligman called ‘Authentic Happiness’.