Marketing is undergoing a period of incredible change with businesses transforming around digital to engage mobile and digital-savvy customers. This is an opportunity and a challenge to all businesses to better understand their customers, and to meet those customers where they spend their time.

In a panel lead by Liam Doyle, VP of advertising products at Salesforce, at the annual MarTech Conference in San Francisco last week the following industry experts gathered together to discuss the convergence of ad tech and mar tech within enterprise platforms, and what this means for brands.

  • Louis Moynihan, MarTech Partnerships at Facebook
  • Katie Cowie, former Digital Media Manager at Lowe's
  • Grant Keller, Global CEO of Acceleration
  • Will Gonzalez, VP of MarTech and Digital Operations at Sony

Here are my five key takeaways from the session:

1. It's a complex problem

Something that was talked about very candidly, and all panelists agreed on, was how complex of a problem it is to bring data from all customer engagement channels together--from advertising to marketing channels like email, mobile and beyond. From a technical standpoint, you have data dispersed across different organizational silos, online and offline, and in different types of technologies, but there are also line of business complexities. “One of the hardest things we did at Lowe's was bringing data together across systems,” said Katie Cowie. “The data email channels need is different from what Facebook needs, which is different from what display needs to receive. We needed to own the key to the customer and be able to create the data asset to distribute to the different platforms.” What's more, as Liam Doyle pointed out, is that “The problem Sony needs to solve may be different than the problem Lowe's needs to solve, because some businesses are closer to the customer than others.”

At the end of the day, it all came back to taking a customer-centric approach. “Solving for the ad tech and mar tech convergence is really just a means to an end,” said Grant Keller of Acceleration, “It's really about creating improved customer experiences.”

2. The convergence should be around the customer

Building on the theme of the convergence of ad tech and mar tech being more complex than just two types of technologies coming together, a hot topic for the panel was around how the customer experience bar has been reset (much higher) in recent years. This is thanks to what brands like AirBnB, Uber and Amazon have been able to achieve by leveraging data to take a customer centric approach.

Katie Cowie offered great insight into what she's observed in the retail industry around this, with a clear and actionable takeaway: “In retail, it was originally a race to build stores, then a race to the bottom on price, then a race on product suite differentiation. Now, with the rise of the digital era, brands need to think about how to differentiate on experience. How you will win against the competition, is by making it fantastic to shop.”

3. There's a gap between what we're talking about and actually doing

Several polls were taken in the room about different types of cross-channel integration and use of data in marketing efforts. Something that immediately became obvious was that there's a massive gap between what we’re talking about as an industry, and what we’re actually doing. It's easy to forget that what starts to sound trivial, really isn't.

Grant Keller had a great point on this which was that, “Just because it’s possible, doesn’t mean everyone is getting it right.” His call to action to close this gap was, “The first thing you need to do is get data across the organization totally joined up and connected around the customer in the right way,” with a note that, “If you're going to get anything right, it should be this.”

4. We can't avoid the offline problem

A crazy stat (and by crazy, I mean that the majority, if not all, the room was shocked and humbled by this) Liam Doyle brought up was, “Only 7-9 percent of all transactions happen online.” This opened up an interesting discussion with Louis Moynihan from Facebook, who agreed that, “Digital has been really good at digital conversion, but the offline piece is in the dark.” Louis also noted that integrations with companies like Salesforce allow brands to bring those silos together and bring us closer to debunking the ad tech and mar tech convergence. “What I would like to do, and what I'm doing with Salesforce, is have CRM, marketing automation and service all connected with Facebook.” Facebook's goal is to help brands advertise to people, instead of cookies, and serve ads that drive business outcomes. With the Facebook and Salesforce partnership, this is something brands can now do.

5. Get your data organized

In the final seconds of the session, Liam asked each panel member to gift the audience with advice on what they should do tomorrow to start to tackle the ad tech and mar tech convergence, and the majority answer was “find your data and get it organized!”

Will Gonzalez from Sony had also talked about this earlier in the session and said that, “Step one is getting all the data together.” His top use case at Sony was around using data to prove out hypotheses, like the assumption that someone who bought a 4K TV is probably also interested in a Sony Playstation PRO, to identify the right journey for loyal customers across businesses. Sony was able to do this once they got their CRM and transactional data together to understand what people are actually interested in. Today, using Salesforce DMP deterministic data matching, Sony is also able to connect anonymous customer data to first party data to determine match rate and understand how that influences propensity models and personalization plans by channel. A great success story to aspire to (if I do say so myself).

The questions posed by Liam to the panel at the beginning of the session, and what I'll leave you with as food for thought, is if the convergence of ad tech and mar tech is even the right question? Maybe it doesn't matter at all. Maybe, as buzz-wordy as this term is, it really is all about being customer-centric.