Opinion: Communication in the age of martech

Advertising in its current form has some catching up to do, reveals the author

Opinion: Communication in the age of martech
The AIDA model has long been the reference point for building and operating an advertising model. However, with the emergence of modern and omnichannel retail, the adoption of technology, social media and the internet age, in general, has shown that consumers don't traverse a simple linear path while making purchase decisions let alone loyalty. Any attempt to simplify consumer behaviour and emotions utilising a hierarchical model would do a disservice to the marketing and advertising practitioners.
The above statements may sound too far-fetched and academic but if we choose to look at the past few decades as a sign this only becomes apparent. Today's path to purchase would look more like a spider's web with multiple entry and exit points than a simple straight line. In this web of choices and distractions, a brand has to connect across a wide spectrum of interfaces the consumers interact with. Very often martech is pitched as a solution to bring to life this omnichannel journey of a consumer. The marriage between integrated marketing, technology, data and communication is not a simple one at any scale. The complexity increases even more if one throws into the mix all the channels and interfaces. To understand, absorb and utilise Marketing technologies well we need to first understand the ecosystem in which it operates. 
Martech is the crucible of the best across various functions harmonised to foster speed and agility. Martech became a tool to augment this unification of varied areas of an organisation. Advertising in its current form at least has some catching up to do.
This catching up has three key themes:
Active externalisation: Advertising and the craft, in general, is viewed as an external actor
Lack of harmony: Martech layer rarely finds its way into advertising conversation for TV, print, and outdoor without a unifying creative thought
Lack of integration: The advertising layer (agencies) lacks captive capabilities to integrate with other layers of the brand. This also emanates from the fact the relationship is time-based.
Each of these themes needs a separate focus and nuanced treatment. In this article, I wanted to focus on the first - ‘active externalisation’. It is a well-known fact advertising has its roots in the non-digital age and carries some of those peculiarities to date. The journey from deciphering the brief to execution has some long-standing ceremonies which are extolled by its practitioners and any intermingling with tech, data etc is not easy to achieve. Even in the digital native organisations, the product, marketing and advertising efforts operate as three parallel worlds destined not to converge until the point of go-to-market.
This externalisation is as pervasive within the organisation as it is outside. The result is a product/solution built using technology, insight, channel and data that the rest of the organisation is in forever catch-up mode. What the agencies see and access is marginalised information. This information again is at the mercy of the person crafting briefs and her/his ability to stay abreast with the wider organisational realities/resources. Unfortunately, Martech cannot solve these inefficiencies that exist in the communication value chain.
What often emerges from this dissonance is the myriad of tools used by the agencies and marketing functions in complete silos without any kind of integration or backward compatibility with the captive assets. Without being overtly prescriptive the internal marketing organisation needs to find a way to draw from this informational value chain and integrate it with external actors in the agencies. But this is no mean feat, to harmonise organisational assets with external capabilities in a coherent manner needs more than effective brief writing. There have been varied attempts to solve this oddity ranging from balanced to extremism. One extreme has been in-house agencies/teams that are tasked to create value and also optimise cost. But needless to say that creative output is best served in an environment of variety and diversity. While the in-house teams are well-equipped to draw from the organisation's value chain, it lacks the creative diversity that fuels an agency's ability to bring a fresh perspective to an existing problem. 
A balanced approach could be an incentivised relationship between the agencies and brands where the impact of the creative solution creates value for both. To this end, agencies have to invest in Martech not just tactically but with a strategic focus in four areas:
  • People
  • Product
  • Process
  • Performance
The agencies would find it valuable to invest in people to bring them closer to martech technologies through investment not just in tools but to develop long-term talent pools. On the product front, this would create an opportunity to build for the gap in the market and scale such products as a service offering. The process for creative output has to undergo a metamorphosis so to speak into an outcome-based solution that becomes the tenet for performance.
To truly imbibe this change the other themes that have to be evaluated are 'lack of harmony' and 'lack of integration' in the communication value chain. Active externalisation, lack of harmony and lack of integration together would form the triangle for brand love not just for the agencies and the brands but most importantly the consumers in this new age of communication. Agencies in this new age would have to balance these three themes to emerge as long-term and sustainable brand custodians.           
(The author is CEO, GripDigi)
Campaign India

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