For Today’s CMOs, Nuance Is Dead; Long Live Nuance

aarondodezData-Driven Thinking” is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.

Today’s column is written by Aaron Dodez, vice president of digital marketing at RPA.

We live in a world of extremes and exaggerations. The internet can be broken (impossible) by a single tweet or celebrity Instagram photo. Some paid content articles seem to subsist almost exclusively on claiming that “no one” can believe what Celebrity A looks like 20 years after a big break (spoiler alert: older).

The marketing industry is no different. Programmatic marketing is going to eat the advertising world, according to popular opinion, but then, in the next breath, it is “dying.” Traditional television marketing is “dead,” until it is the hot new thing that provides reach in an unbundled sea of niches.

The realities of today’s immoderate world are nothing surprising, but, in a time where tomorrow’s headlines are already today’s punchline, what is the place of true human creativity and nuance?

Ten or 15 years ago, in my heady days at a mortgage aggregator startup where innovation and ad spending were at a premium, all we cared about was getting people through the funnel and completing lead forms. For most of us, if someone accidentally remembered the name of our company, well, that was a strange and almost quaint exception.

And sure, if you are in an industry with tailwinds and crazy organic growth, building a nuanced brand alongside detailed creative can be ancillary. But that’s not the reality which this industry now faces.

Even in a world of a million choices and a billion swipes, here are the facts: Scaling requires technology, but building a successful brand must include the subtlety of human touch more than ever.

For the modern head of marketing, technology needs to live together with human-based marketing approaches. People matter. As do machines. In this instance, nuance is not dead.

Let me explain why.

The Modern Customer Journey Is Rarely Linear

It is important to remember that the traditional customer journey or funnel with a clear top and a bottom doesn’t exist anymore. There are simply too many touch points with the consumer: A banner ad may drive awareness, a search term on YouTube can help with consideration and a television ad can be the final trigger for a purchase. And we live in a world where folks complete an entire funnel process on Amazon in one session on their smartphone.

Or, as is now the new normal, a person sees an ad and asks Alexa, Amazon’s voice-controlled Echo, to buy it. Hours later, it arrives on the doorstep. With Google rolling out an Echo competitor, Home, the days of even needing to lift your arms to your computer, much less use your legs to drive a car or walk into a store, will become an increasingly smaller percentage of a human’s purchase process.

So, to survive in a world of forced commoditization, a combination of awareness-inciting and action-instigating marketing, together with optimized individual channels, can make a brand resonate. Conversion rates matter. Data drives insights. But the right marketing approach is data plus heart.

Algorithms can put you at the top of search listings, but they can’t guarantee you’ll always be top of mind. That type of qualitative consideration is still a human’s job.

Optimization And Marketing Tech Are Still Required To Scale

To be most efficient with marketing resources, tools around campaign and data optimization become necessary to reach a certain level of scale. Yes, marketing technology is invaluable in this regard. But, in almost all of these cases, the inputs require solid strategy and creativity to succeed.

Sure, you can optimize campaigns in real time based on their performance, but what are you optimizing? Great creative can be a wonderful advantage, and brand awareness can help drive higher click rates and conversions.

It’s the reason that Google’s AdWords continues to be a huge cash cow. It’s not just the top-paying advertiser sitting at the top of the search engine results page, but also the one whose ads people click on the most.

That tells us that data alone is simply useless without someone turning them into actionable insights. And so too is marketing technology, unless it is being fed with the correct strategic approach and creative.

Storytelling And Technology Must Work Together

The word “storytelling” is vastly overused, but what it means cannot be overstated. The content and message must be memorable and succinct.

For digital display ads, for example, studies have shown only one-quarter of consumers spend more than a second dwelling on the ad. There is simply too much stimulus coming at consumers at all hours and from all directions. And attention spans are short and shortening.

Technology can help. Ad targeting can support the relevance of a message and match it with the correct audience. But at that point, it is the story and the strategy of the digital videos that will lead to success.

Are they autoplaying in a sound-off environment like Facebook or a disposable one like Snapchat? Should the video be customized for vertical screens? All of these strategic and creative choices make a huge difference in performance.

So ultimately, it is a hybrid approach of creativity and tech that will put the modern marketer over the top. Strategy and technology melded together, executed both smartly and creatively, arm the CMO of today with the winning approach to achieve their objectives.

The larger world may seem devoid of nuance, but for the successful marketer, their world must be anything but.

Follow Aaron Dodez (@aarondodez), RPA (@RPA_advertising) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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