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What marketing might look like in the future

There once lived a wise, middle aged, bald prophet named Marc Andreessen. His job, was to profit from prophecy. Today, he is one of the most well known, and respected, venture capitalists in the world. He is famous for some of his sayings such as "if you want to see where a bubble is forming, follow the MBAs" in reference to the MBAs going to Wall St during the mortgage backed securities crisis of 2008 and the dot com bust in 2002. Arguably, his most famous saying is/was "software is eating the world". Today, it's a foregone conclusion that, software has broken the way a lot of industries fundamentally operate. I think it's particularly interesting, however, to think about what that means for marketing. I'm of the opinion that, very few companies really understand what they're doing and that modern marketing should not only look like engineering... it should be engineering.

One way to think about marketing is that there are two key components to marketing anything: content and delivery. Content can be described as "the story I am telling" which includes things like price, product positioning, the brand, and so on. Delivery can be described as "medium the story is told through" which might be a newspaper, search engine ad, and so on. If you think about the way that marketing was done in the past, you had a relatively small number of touch points to reach customers. There were TV ads, newspaper ads, mailing campaigns, etc. So if a marketer wanted to start a campaign, the sheer number of choices they had to deliver their content were relatively limited (at least by today's standards). If you're a marketer living in the 1950s and you're not going to get a lot of leverage by working hard on selecting delivery, you'll focus on content. As a result, marketing education focused on content. If you take a look at Harvard's MBA curriculum for marketing, presumably one of the most sought out educations in marketing (, you'll notice that the syllabus is still almost entirely focused on content where delivery is kind of a footnote.

Today, that's starting to become false. Nobody cares about your content if they can't see it in the first place. So there are entire sub-disciplines dedicated to understand delivery. SEO specialists, content marketers, PPC buyers and so on. Delivery, today, is as important, if not more important than content. So the traditional marketing frameworks, the ones being taught a business schools, are already incomplete.

Let's fast forward to 2030. What does the world look like? Well, it's fairly unlikely that we'll see less technology. So let's make the relatively safe assumption that we'll see more technology. Where does that technology go? Well, we're seeing it in our cars, thermostats, clocks, literally everywhere you can put a computer. I'm not saying all the buzz about the IoT is going to happen, but I am saying that in 2030, we are likely to be more touch points that technology interacts with consumers. All of those touch points are potential avenues for advertising. It might not look like the type of advertising we do today. It might be a whole lot more functional. For example, say I'm in my car looking for places to eat, I might get a promotion on certain items. I'm fairly certain there's 100 startups working on that idea.

That might not seem like an overly important point, the fact that technology will have more touch points, but it's the crux of this argument. In the future, we'll have way more ways to reach consumers. All of those ways aren't likely as easy to advertise as Google Adwords or Facebook is today. Today, we've got a plethora of ad formats, (video, long form text, short form text, sound, etc.). In the future, ads might be application specific (ie. place to eat in a car), they might be interactive, they'll probably tailor themselves to the individual. We're already making great strides in moving in those directions and all of those things requires a great deal of engineering. If a marketer has no notion of how these things can be used or interacted with, they're likely not going to be effective in using these new ways of reaching customers. That requires some technical background. That's not the end of it, however.

Another way to view marketing is, I spend time and money. In return, I'd like to see some KPI driven as a RoI. Today, we've got on the order of hundreds of ways I can deliver my content. Most companies tend to focus on a few key channels as core competencies. There are huge drawbacks, however. The more money a company might throw at a particular channel, the higher it's CAC (cost of acquisition) because they tend to saturate the channel. So you might spread a spend over multiple channels. Each channel has it's own RoI. If today we have on the order of hundreds of channels, tomorrow, because of the increase in the number of touch points, I might have on the order of thousands or even millions of ways to reach customers. There's absolutely no way a marketing team can scalably deliver it's content through all of those channels. After all, who can intimately know how to market through thousands of channels? So their RoI will be lower than the best possible result (ie. if a company were to market simultaneously over thousands of channels).

If we take the RoI idea further, it's conceivable that I might start to treat marketing, a little like trading equities. In fact, any quantitative marketing is kind of already done this way. I buy some traffic here, I buy some traffic there, and I take some time to see the RoI before investing more. In finance, there are a lot of jobs that are starting to disappear. Algorithmic trading is becoming more mature, we have almost entirely automated funds, ETFs, and so on. If we think that marketing might turn into something like finance, where ad/traffic buys are something that can be bought fairly easily, then perhaps one day, we might see the marketing equivalent of the algorithmic trading algorithm. We might have AI that drives marketing spend. We might have high frequency trading where someone buys traffic just before you do and sell it back to you.

If that world were to exist, companies with the best technical chops, would win the marketing game.


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