I was fortunate to attend the annual Technology For Marketing conference when it recently rolled into town - a two day event showcasing the latest and greatest in digital marketing at Olympia in London.

Besides an enticing agenda of talks from industry experts and customer innovators, it is the UK's leading dedicated martech event. So it was no surprise that the halls were sprawling with marketers browsing the sea of booths showcasing channel optimisation and marketing automation tools, all the way to robots, holograms, VR and AR.

Here are the big 3 trends I saw emerging from the conferene: 


1. Navigating the Martech noise/jungle

Marketers still struggle to understand how to select the right marketing tool from the dizzying number of options available to them. You only need to look to the infamous Brinker map of the crowded martech marketplace, which made it's appearance at the beginning of one fascinating presentation aptly titled: “How to measure and improve your return on MarTech”.

Dave Chaffey, founder of a digital marketing strategic advisory company Smart Insights, emphasised that while there is certainly no shortage of tools available, companies can simplify this complexity through intense customer centricity and build their Martech stack according to what would fulfill the ultimate customer experience they are striving for. Dave revealed findings showing that 60% of marketers in the UK already possess tools for managing search, social and marketing automation. While currently 10% have a marketing cloud in place, a third of people have this on their roadmap for the future. 

However, the key question and challenge behind this becomes who actually has the skills to run those marketing tools. Should your team develop those skills in-house or should it be outsourced to agencies? Dave asserts this is especially top of mind given how AI has moved up the hype cycle to become tangibly implemented in business today. Meaning we will need more data scientists to interpret this - a challenge for small to medium businesses in particular.



2. Industry experts weigh in on AI

The AI panel session became one of the most anticipated talks of the day, and had people queuing round the corner for seats. Panelists included our own Tom Smith, Senior Manager for Product Marketing at Salesforce, joined by leading experts at Phrasee, IBM, SAP and the AISB.

Key questions were asked around AI and how AI is being used today. In response, Parry Malm, founder of Phrasee, urged marketers to flip our conception of AI into IA - an intelligent assistant of sorts, that isn't here to run marketer's out of a job but to help them perform better and faster. Tom related this to how Salesforce Einstein is the embodiment of this concept for our customers - applying predictive intelligence and optimising interactions on the fly.

AI truly is doing amazing things today in the world of marketing. Phrasee tell us that many of the emails sitting in our inbox today, and in the future, have subject lines written by a machine. It's so sophisticated today that Phrasee runs its whole business on machine-penned subject lines, and claim they are difficult to distinguish from those written by a human.

One interesting content marketing example that IBM evangelist Jeremy Waite shared was how their AI engine Watson became the first machine to create the highlights reel for Wimbledon by tracking historical data on tennis matches to learn which sections to cut and piece together.

With all the attention surrounding AI, the experts on the panel cautioned that marketers should not neglect that process comes first. In fact, Nicholas Kontopoulos from SAP jokingly expressed this in the formula: old process + new tech = expensive new process. The panelists stressed that fix what's broken first before jumping on the latest “shiny thing”. For example, many companies still don't share data between marketing and sales.

Finally, organizational buy-in for AI appears to still be a challenge. A marketer in the audience lamented about the feeling of powerlessness and internal buy-in fatigue to get AI on the agenda, as well as feeling not equipped to execute on this vision. The panelists advised to start small and slowly gain attention through small successes, and to also form an alliance with IT. Considering Marketing typically lack the tech skills, and IT lack in the marketing skills - it's only through the cross-sharing of skills can AI-enabled marketing truly work.



3. Customer innovators talk data

The next big keynote of the day featured heads of customer insight and global partnerships at BT, Google, Shazam and Thomas Cook. They all emphasised two key points when it comes to data.

Firstly, data ownership is hugely important to maintain the trust of the customer. Related to these points, the upcoming GDPR regulation was another key topic at tfm that marketers were keen to learn more about. 

Secondly, quality data is paramount for powering relevant advertising and AI later down the line. Recent news about P&G cutting their digital ad spend by $140 million last quarter cited ineffective ads as being one of the key reasons. Such a dramatic move by one of the largest global advertisers alludes to decreasing faith in digital advertising in the market.

In comparison L'Oreal has had a different experience - bringing programmatic advertising in-house to run campaigns using their own data and verified second-party data sourced from partnerships, to extend their reach and become more relevant with its audience.

All in all we live in a world in which data has become a form of currency - where high-quality data is scarce and therefore even more valuable. In keeping with the priorities of data ownership and quality data, Salesforce announced how it is addressing these factors by running the world's largest source of premium second party data so that data owners and sellers can securely trade premium data for their marketing purposes. 


AI and other eye-opening technologies certainly open new doors to amazing customer experiences. However it's clear that without the right foundation in terms of both data and organisational process, marketers could miss out on the real benefits.

Find out what is top-of-mind for 3,500 marketing leaders around the globe, in our fourth annual State of Marketing Report