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Did IBM Just Build The Marketing Management Solution We Have All Been Dreaming About?

May 15, 2015 by Olivier Blanchard - 8 Comments

First things first:

I’m not sure how to say what I am about to say. I can’t truly vouch for this yet. I can’t back it up with facts, anecdotal or otherwise. I can’t tell you that I have personally tested this software, that I have been secretly using it for six months. I have no case studies to present, no data, no insights. All I can tell you is what I saw – not just me, but a few thousand people in attendance at the #IBMAmplify conference held in San Diego May 11-13. We will go into that in a moment, but let me just start by saying that if what I saw works the way I think it works, IBM might have just created the holy grail of Marketing software: the do-it-all app. The project planning / project management/data crunching / AI-driven analytics / Strategy / customer journey / customer lifecycle management / media planning / teamwork / marketing management solution / software suite every CMO and marketing management pro (brand and agency) has been dreaming about since the beginning of time.

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Disclosure:

Before I say anything else, let me address my role within the IBM universe. Call it disclosure. I don’t want there to be any misunderstanding or assumptions about why I am talking about this, or why I am saying what I am saying. First, I am not shilling for IBM. If this sucked, or I had my doubts about it, I wouldn’t be writing this piece. (I wouldn’t be writing anything at all.) Second, most of you know me well enough by now to know I’m not exactly a shill for hire. I am not a professional influencer. “Brand journalism” isn’t what I normally do.

A little over a year ago though, I was invited to become part of one of IBM’s influencer programs. The role consisted in attending some key IBM events, then writing about anything I saw that I found interesting. There was never a script. I was never asked to sell anything, or say anything I didn’t mean. I was occasionally compensated, but it was always for my time, never for my opinion. (Think of the opportunity cost of taking 2 days off to attend an event instead of working on your own billable hours. Time is time, and my time is valuable. I don’t give it up for free.) My role was that of an observer and translator. That’s it. I was occasionally paid to create content for the program, but again: I could write about anything I wanted and in any way I wanted. There were things I wanted to convey to my audience about new tools and programs that would help them (you) get better results. On the IBM side, there was no leash, no whip, no script. It was all me. Time, not opinion.

As I write this post, I am no longer an active part of that program. I haven’t been part of it since the start of the year. My going to this event was a bit of a fluke (I think I was basically an activated reserve, if there is such a thing in the world of influencer programs) but I am glad that I got to go. You will understand why by the end of this post. What I want you to understand though, before I say anything else, is that when I report on what I saw, when you read my opinion on it, I am not being paid to endorse or promote anything. I have no ulterior motives. There’s no consulting job with IBM on the line, no long term business relationship angle. I am not selling anything to anyone. I am telling you what I honestly think about it. And if you have any doubts about what i am saying, go ahead and read this. You will walk away with a pretty clear understanding of where I stand on “influencer” programs, ethics, and professional credibility.

Okay. Now that this is out of the way, let me get back to business.

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1) What was #IBMAmplify even about?

Good question. It took me about 24 hours to figure it out. Let me read off the header from the press release given to me by IBM’s PR team on Tuesday afternoon:

IBM Helps Brands Address the Rising Complexity of Marketing to Deliver Unique and Relevant Customer Experiences.

Not super specific, right? Maybe the sub-header will be more helpful:

Launches New Cloud-Based Design & Analytics Capabilities helping Brands Simplify the Way They Engage With Customers.

That’s… a little better. We’re starting to get somewhere. Sort of.

Going into the press conference on the 12th, I was still pretty confused about what the conference was even about. Was there a product release happening? Was this a Cloud conference? Was it a “tech for today’s CMO” conference? Were we talking about culture change and best practices? Were we talking about LOB (line of business) IT solutions? I couldn’t find the thread. All of the roundtable conversations I participated in and the presentations I attended seemed to beat around the bush… and I couldn’t find the actual bush. Then, as I read the press release (I may be the one of three “influencers” who actually did), I saw it. I found what I was looking for (far below what is shown in this snapshot).

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2) Spotting the bush: customer journeys, the end of dubious metrics, and paths to measuring marketing ROI.

Here is what caught my eye:

IBM Journey Designer – A virtual whiteboard where practitioners on multiple teams within an organization can collaborate with a single view of a customer’s journey to make more informed decisions. The design point of this capability is as simple as a drag and drop where they can effectively plan, design, create and execute multichannel campaigns based on insights learned over time…

Okay. Now we were getting somewhere. This, I understand. This, I can wrap my mind around. I just finished working on a book (see previous post) that focuses on using digital programs to develop customer journeys and manage customer lifecycles, so a tool that lets you plan and manage that in a way that combines data, analytics, planning and actual management (including engagement and content), sounds to me like mana falling from the sky.

Please tell me more, IBM press release:

IBM Journey Analytics – Marketers are challenged with vast amounts of data generated on each customer every single second. For example, a customer who goes into a store to look at an item, then checks comparable products and prices via mobile device, gets feedback from family and friends on social channels – to ultimately make a purchase from their iPad. IBM Journey Analytics allows marketers to visualize and quantify actual customer journeys to help deliver more relevant experiences with greater precision to build brand loyalty.

Oh. Okay. I like even more.

Let me frame something for you: One of the most contentious points discussed between us CMO types in the first 24 hours of this conference was last-click-attribution. Some of us hate it with a passion. (Why? Because it’s an absurd metric based on either a) egregiously flawed assumptions about how customers actually come to discover, want, select options, then purchase a product, or b) just plain intellectual laziness on the part of marketing professionals who don’t really care how customers behave, as long as they have a convenient metric to report.)

I got into a little bit of trouble for a tweet about this while at the event, but it needs to be said:

Last-click attribution makes about as much sense as attributing your race day performance to your very last workout.

Sorry if this rubs some of you the wrong way, but last click attribution just isn’t how the real world works. Customer journeys are like athletic training journeys and academic journeys and professional journeys: to understand where someone ends up, you have to be able to see the entire path they took to get there – decisions, obstacles, milestones and all. You can’t base it all on the last exam they took, or the last email they sent their boss, or the last interval workout they logged on Strava. Mapping that path has always been the bane of marketers: how do you know what works and what doesn’t? What should you spend and not spend your budget on? How do you repeat success and improve on it?

That’s reality, and it is what IBM Journey Analytics seems to want to do. Combined with IBM Journey Designer, you now have two inteconnected pieces of the marketing puzzle: customer journeys/pathways AND campaign design to drive desired outcomes (by creating or replicating ideal discovery-to-purchase pathways for customers).

Still with me? If you’re still only sort of seeing it, hang tight. We’ll get back to that in a minute.

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Here’s the really cool part though: If you can map the customer journey, you can map the impact of your marketing and customer experience activities and investments, right? And if you can match spend to those activities and investments (which, you can), you can actually measure the ROI of that spend along a pathway. When you can actually see what aspects of your spend had an effect (or no effect) on that customer journey, you can also see where your money was well spent (or not) and to what extent it was (or wasn’t).

I don’t know if IBM has figured out that they’ve solved a huge piece of the ROI puzzle yet, but… based on what I have seen… they have. We could stop here and pop some champagne, but we aren’t done.

3) But wait… there’s more: Customer Experience Analytics and Commerce Insights.

Two more quick bullets and we can start to put it all together:

IBM Customer Experience Anlytics – A single platform unifies IBM’s Journey Analytics, Digital Analytics, and customer behavior analytics capabilities. Marketers now have a complete view of how brands engage with their customers. For example, brands can see what kind of content they are looking at, whether they are buying, registering, and/or downloading. Brands can also understand why things are happening, such as why the customer didn’t complete a registration, or abandoned a shopping cart, then take corrective action to re-engage the customer and nurture brand loyalty.

IBM Commerce Insights – Marketers, merchandizers, and product managers can now pinpoint the causes of underperforming products (and categories) on an e-commerce site, or point to relevant data and insights, to quickly respond to competitor activity or changing market conditions. This offering also provides predictive analytics to understand customers beyond simple transactional patterns.

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Boom.

Okay… so… how does this all come together? Because… yes… it’s a lot to absorb, the pieces aren’t necessarily super well connected in this format, and I still don’t know what product or suite of product I am even talking about. Is there a name for what this is? All I have so far is a list of four solutions with virtually zero branding, and nothing much in the form of an overarching identity. (As opposed to the amazingly clear branding and identity of IBM’s Watson, for example.) Translation: I’m excited about this, but I still don’t know what it is, or what it’s called, and that’s a little confusing for a marketing guy at a marketing conference that is unveiling a marketing product.

An interview with David Haucke, Senior Product Strategist, IBM ExperienceOne, clued me in on the broader structure of what we were talking about. This isn’t the actual diagram he showed me, but it’s very similar. Take a minute to look at all of the pieces. (Below.)

Still not super cohesive, and I still don’t have a clear, catchy name for what this all is, but we are inching our way towards something more specific.

(Progress!)

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Okay, wait… let’s find a better way to explain it:

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There you have it (at a more tactical level):

  • Understand your customers (data and analytics)
  • Plan your budget and your program/campaign
  • Design customer experiences (how the campaign will work)
  • Build marketing content and touchpoints
  • Listen for reactions and behaviors (data and analytics)
  • Optimize your performance (measurement and analytics)
  • All of it in one place.

That’s better, but we still aren’t there. Let’s dive a little deeper into what it does and how.

4) A deeper dive into what this all is… using pictures from the unveiling.

Most of what you need to know about this can be explained in images, so let’s just go ahead and do that. First, let’s distill this all down to the basics. Four words describe what this ultimately delivers:

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The idea is to stop pushing marketing at audiences. We have sophisticated data acquisition tech now. We have very advanced analytics software to make sense of it all. Marketing can and should be personalized, valuable, lifestyle-integrated, non-disruptive. It should be tailored to customers in every way. All we need are the right tools, the right information, and the right products.

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Incidentally, if you aren’t familiar with Watson, you need to be. Just understanding what Watson Analytics can do should make you pay attention to what this truly could be.

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First things first: data. You have to be able to collect it, parse it, organize it and make sense of it… and do so quickly and at scale. Intelligent computers can do that much better than we can, and… IBM is pretty good at that part.

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Second: here is where IBM Journey Analytics comes in. What you are seeing in that image is a simple series of models suggested by the software based on audience segment (top tier customers) and a business objective (increase revenue by 10%) selected by a project team. Enter the parameters, and within seconds, several campaign/customer journey options pop up, complete with channel, device and OS data. This is based on existing customer (behavioral) data. It can then become the kernel for a campaign or program that will target a particular customer set with the goal of making them spend 10% more on your products.

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Here is a closer look at how the report looks:

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Still with me? Now let’s talk about what happens from here. If you geek out on project management software, you’ll appreciate this. From what I can tell, it does everything you need it to and then some. It does so without crowding your inbox with mounds of emails. It even allows you to automate SMS alerts to team members who haven’t replied to a query or task. It helps you manage budgets, timelines, teams, tasks, schedules, launches, customer interactions… I could spend weeks just digging through all the cool things it can do.

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Next, you can customize your engagement and customer experiences based on the software’s recommendations. It’s all remarkably simple and easy to use, which is one impressive given the layers of possibilities offered on each screen.

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Designing customer experiences is also so simple that you can focus a lot more time on creative and strategy than on the busy work of managing every detail of the campaign. For instance, here is a screenshot of how real the creative drill-down is. Note the intuitive process mapping in the background.

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Now let’s look at the significance of this kind of software (which was mentioned much earlier by Chris Wong – VP Strategy and Product Management, IBM Commerce). Simply put, because so much of the planning and building work is handled by the software, marketers can finally shift their focus to creative, design and content.

Here is how marketers work now:

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Here is how this software aims to flip the way marketers work:

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That’s right. The aim is to free us to get back to focusing on what we do best (the cool stuff that made us go into marketing in the first place). On the customer side, this translates into rich, seamless, fully integrated personalized product and brand interactions, both online and offline. There’s a huge tactical discussion we probably should be having about connected devices (#IOT), sensors, social ID, and the future of retail, but that will have to be the subject of a different post. For now, understand that this software is what will actually drive the future of intuitive personalized retail.

And in case it wasn’t clear, this doesn’t just focus on the low-hanging fruit of Marketing – customer acquisition. One of the many things I really like about it is how strong it is in terms of driving customer development and customer retention. It may seem like a detail to the average person, but for someone who understands that customer acquisition is the frosting rather than the cake, that’s big. Very big. (Again… the new book gets into that quite a bit, so you should totally pick it up when it comes out in a few weeks.)

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To recap, this isn’t just personalized marketing at scale, it’s also a toolkit that allows marketers to plan, craft and deliver on that promise in a far more expedient, effective, operationally smooth, and frictionless way. It takes so much of the guess-work and heavy lifting out of the way for marketers that it borders on too good to be true. (The more features you uncover, the deeper you go into the demo, the more you find yourself overwhelmed by the same question over and over again: “it does that too?” … which leads anyone with a block of rock salt firmly strapped to their shoulder to wonder: What am I not seeing, and what’s the catch?) From where I am standing though, it’s sci-fi minus the fi. It either is or has the potential to be the most powerful Marketing program management software ever devised by anyone, anywhere until now. And the way I see it, the dynamic convergence of all of the internet of things + predictive behavioral modeling + interactive retail + adaptive computing + intuitive intelligence automation stuff hinted at in movies like Minority Report (albeit far less creepy and intrusive in the real world than in the movies) cannot happen in real time and at scale without it. This is the engine that makes it all possible… and it does far more than that, still.

My one complaint:

Here comes the part where you get to see for yourselves that I am not a shill or a PR pawn, because I do have one complaint, and I have to give voice to it. Ready? Here we go: I am still not entirely sure what the name of this software is. While I was covering the Wednesday unveiling and the extensive demo on the twitternets, I had no idea what to call it. People following my feed asked me and i wasn’t sure how to answer. There were charts and frameworks and lots of copy, I did seize on Journey Designer, but… where was the branding? Where was the logo? I looked through the Press Release and other literature from the event, and the closest thing I found was IBM Marketing Cloud. Surely, that couldn’t be it. Something this cool and powerful and marketing-focused couldn’t possibly be saddled with such a vague, boring and IT-driven name, could it? You’re going to be selling this to CMOs, not CTOs. This can’t be called Marketing Cloud.

So I started asking around. Every conversation I had with IBMers ended with “hey, by the way… that demo we saw today. What’s the name of that product?” Everyone gave me a different answer: IBM Marketing Cloud Solutions, Journey Analytics Something, Watson Marketing, I Can’t Remember Exactly… A few did guess at IBM Marketing Cloud, but they weren’t entirely sure and told me they would have to get back to me to confirm. I finally just did an online search and it turns out that IBM Marketing Cloud is, in fact, what this whole thing is called… as far as I can tell.

Now… I know that I’m a Brand Strategist by trade and a Marketing guy by default, so I might be a little obsessed with both, but… seriously IBM, no offense, but from where I stand (and I am your market) you need to brand this thing properly. 1) It deserves an identity. It is far too revolutionary and well built to be called something so generic. Know what I mean? 2) You’re selling to a B2C-savvy Marketing crowd. Even if they happen to work in B2B, they respond to cool the same way everyone else does. (Hint: that’s why they all sport MacBook Pros and Apple watches, and why even though the free coffee at this event was pretty stellar, the Starbucks line in the lobby never abetted.) You aren’t going to get anyone’s attention with IBM Marketing Cloud. That’s a great name for a group or division, but not for a product. Worse yet, it sounds like old IBM, not new IBM. You guys are not the same company you were five years ago (or more to the point in terms of market perception, twenty years ago). This product proves it, but no one will ever know about it if you wrap it in a boring old IBM skin. The absence of proper branding for this product doesn’t belong on this side of IBM’s ongoing evolution. You branded Watson super well. Time to unleash the same kind of magic on this too. Trust me, it deserves it, and so do you.

/rant.

As for me, fancy-cool name or not, I can’t wait to get my hands on this. So… Dear IBM, as soon as you are ready to test an SMB version of this, I know an agency that would make a fine field test partner for all the pro-level packages you come up with. (Ahem.)

Aaaand… that’s it for me. I’ve told you everything I know. Your turn to do some digging. You can find out more about all of it here. The site is still pretty light on demos and detailed information, but I expect that will change in the coming months.

Cheers,

Olivier

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