A glimpse into the future at the Gartner Digital Marketing Conference

Spending three days at the 2017 Gartner Digital Marketing Conference was like drinking from a digital fire hose. It’s no wonder marketers are running faster and faster to keep up. Here is a very brief summary of some of the key highlights from my perspective. We’d love to hear your thoughts! Please add your own thought about the future of marketing to the comments at the end of this post.

Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon

According to opening keynote speaker Scott Galloway, L2 founder and NYU Stern School of Business prof, these four platforms are so dominant in people’s daily lives that we as marketers ignore them at our own possible extinction. Welcome to the “GAFA world” (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon).


Who knew there was an acronym for that? Consider the fact that Facebook will do double the revenue of the entire magazine industry this year. That’s just the tip the iceberg of how ubiquitous these four megalithic ecosystems are, and how they are dominating every aspect of our lives. It may not be an overstatement that the single greatest imperative for marketers is how to best leverage these four giant platforms.

What’s the right mix of marketing channels?

This is a perpetual challenge for marketers. Of course, the answer is, “it depends,” because each marketer’s business objectives, audiences and resources are unique. So, while there is never one way to answer that question, as a starting point it helps to know what other marketers are doing. Gartner research provides that perspective.

This chart shows how marketers use various channels at different stages of the customer journey.

Channel roles in multi-channel marketing. Gartner.
Gartner Event Presentation, The Multichannel Symphony: How to Plan, Orchestrate and Execute for Harmony, Adam Sarner, Digital Marketing Conference, 2017.

Another view is to look at how frequently difference tactics are used (below). The apparent disconnect between the chart above and the one below may reflect more of the reality that email is the foundation of many multichannel marketing management systems, whether or not is it the best way to communicate with an audience. Nonetheless, don’t let anyone tell you that email is dead (at least not in the near future).

Channels used for multichannel marketing today. Gartner.
Gartner Event Presentation, The Multichannel Symphony: How to Plan, Orchestrate and Execute for Harmony, Adam Sarner, Digital Marketing Conference, 2017.


Not surprisingly the word “millennial” was uttered numerous times at the Garter conference. We talk a lot in consumer marketing circles about the importance of millennials. The influence and buying power of this come-of-age cohort is enormous, while understanding how to connect with them takes particular marketing dexterity. Think about this stat from the conference: Millennials spend more time on Netflix than on all cable networks combined. Take that, traditional advertising.

But while that’s not new news, one statistic from the conference hit me like a “dope slap”: today millennials make up over 50% of the B2B buying force. Millennials have matured into positions of power and influence in the business world just as they have as consumers. For B2B marketers, this may turn out to be as much of a challenge as it is for B2C marketers.

What a comprehensive marketing technology stack looks like

One could argue that the Gartner Digital Marketing Conference could more aptly be called the Gartner Marketing Technology Conference. Martech was at the center of practically everything. No surprise, since as a whole CMOs now spend more on technology than their IT counterparts.

A marketing technology stack is (ideally) a set of integrated tools that work together to let marketers plan, create, deploy, optimize, measure and analyze marketing programs. There are so many technologies in play that it is mind-numbing for most marketers. If you feel that way you are not alone. What does it look like in practice?

These are the three basic building blocks (80% of marketers employ them):

• Web Content Management
• Email Marketing Platform
• Web Analytics

At least 7 in 10 have deployed or are in the process of deploying the next level of technologies in the stack:

• Digital Marketing Analytics
• Lead Management Platforms
• Multichannel Campaign Management

Fewer than 40% have deployed more advanced capabilities:

• Multi-touch Attribution
• Dynamic Creative Optimization (DCM)
• A/B, Multivariate Testing

All martech is difficult, but B2C is the most challenging since the customer data is more complex more difficult to get at than B2B. Fifteen technologies (below) compete for attention at B2C brands.

B2C march stack. Gartner.
Gartner Event Presentation, Marketing Technology Insight: How Brands Deploy and Leverage Martech Investments (How Brands Deploy and Leverage Martech Investments), Bryan Yaeger and Kirsten Newbold-Knipp, Digital Marketing Conference, 2017.

Marketing analytics are a struggle for everyone

Apparently, only 40% of marketing organizations say they are using analytics regularly (sic!). Using analytics to assimilate all available marketing data and understand what it means in order to act on it to optimize marketing efforts can be like climbing Mount Everest. Even though we all want to achieve it, not very many marketers are doing as well as they want to be. Most marketers admit they have underutilized digital technology stacks. Most say that it’s very hard to get all the data from all the channels to talk to each other. The bottom line is that marketers who feel overwhelmed by these challenges may find comfort in knowing they’re not alone. Some of the tools that have been developed to start to manage all this data are out of the reach of many marketers due to cost or lack of resources or expertise to manage them. But those tools are becoming better, less expensive and more accessible by the day.

What to do now? Make a plan to measure what matters most and meticulously construct the necessary technical solutions. The phase “it’s about the data, stupid” was heard over and over at the Gartner conference. Don’t be caught waiting around for it to get easier or you’ll be left behind. That’s the only way to start working toward the ideal analytics framework depicted here, and that’s to start where you are.

Analytics framework that maps and values the full journey. Gartner.
Gartner Event Presentation, Total Marketing Measurement: Build a Comprehensive Analytics Framework (A New Marketing Analytics Framework), Digital Marketing Conference, 2017.

Mobile matters. But what to do?

Mobile matters more than ever. But making your own app may matter less than ever. There are a staggering two million apps in the Apple App Store (and even more in the Android store) but average app downloads per user have plummeted and are now nearly negligible. Mobile users spend 80% of their time in their top three apps (their three “core apps” – web browser, social networking and messaging).

hands-holding-cellphone-sacramento-kingsTake this example. Even after building one of the most amazing apps in the NBA with a very high fan adoption rate, the Sacramento Kings see 70% of their traffic coming from mobile web (vs. the app).

According to a presenter from IBM Watson, apps are “escaping their icons,” which means that now app developers are better off incorporating their apps into the core apps when possible (think incorporating your app into the Uber or Messenger app).

Bots and artificial intelligence (AI)

By 2020, virtual agents are predicted to participate in a majority of commercial interactions between people and businesses. (Of course, they do now to some extent — think Amazon Echo and Google Home). But going beyond even that, envision a time in the near future when not just businesses will have virtual agents, but we as individuals will as well. Imagine you are planning a trip to NYC and you need a flight, hotel, show reservations, etc. You will ask your virtual agent (Hal?), who knows your preferences, your past behaviors and your unique circumstances, to plan your trip. Your virtual agent will search for the best options and present them to you, or just book them for you. The old cliché, “I’ll have my people call your people” becomes “I’ll have my bots talk to your bots.” Your virtual agent will scour the web for the best options, negotiate the best deals for you, and even make the purchases.

As marketers, are we ready to market not only through bots but also to bots? This is all happening now to at least a limited degree and will be ubiquitous in just a few years. How can you get started? The options that seem most accessible now are Facebook Messenger Bots and Amazon Alexa Skills.

What is an Alexa Skill? Alexa is Amazon’s voice service and the brain behind millions of devices including Amazon Echo. Alexa provides capabilities, or skills, that enable customers to create a more personalized experience. There are now more than 12,000 skills from companies like Starbucks, Uber, and Capital One as well as innovative designers and developers. This is something brands should be doing now.

The role of agencies is still very important

More and more marketers are bringing marketing tech, analytics, social, content development and other domains in-house. At the same time, the GAFA quartet is working at disintermediating agencies and working directly with brands. What’s the role of agencies in this picture? That’s a big question because marketers spend on average about 22% of their budgets on agencies and outsourced services. Turns out that even in this environment, only 10% of marketers plan to reduce their use of agencies or third parties over the next 3-5 years, while 43% are expecting to increase the use of agencies.

Agencies are here to stay. Gartner.
Gartner Event Presentation, Magic Quadrant for Global Digital Marketing Agencies, Jay Wilson, Digital Marketing Conference, 2017.

When Gartner asked marketers what are the top three reasons your company works with a marketing agency and/or other third parties on campaigns and/or projects, the results are shown in the graph below. Themes included quality, performance and expertise superior to in-house resources.

Why do companies work with agencies? Garnter.
Gartner Event Presentation, Magic Quadrant for Global Digital Marketing Agencies, Jay Wilson, Digital Marketing Conference, 2017.

As an agency partner to our client, we strive to deliver the kind of value reflected in that list. We do our best to bring creativity to all aspects of marketing, from strategy to content, from understanding the customer journey to the application of paid, earned and owned media, from the best use of marketing technology to helping connect all the analytics dots for a comprehensive, meaningful view. The value of a strong agency partner will remain vital now and into the future.

Keep it human

Clearly the overwhelming takeaway from the Gartner Digital Marketing Conference is that marketing technology, AI, predictive analytics, bots, IoT and other machines are quickly encroaching on (or taking over) many of our jobs as humans. But it was said many times and in many ways, that with all the emphasis on technology, humans matter most. First, it will take marketing people like us working “with machines, through machines and to machines” to build successful marketing programs.

The new normal: marketing with machines, through machines and to machines. Garnter
Gartner Event Presentation, Marketing Takes the Lead, Jake Sorofman, Digital Marketing Conference 2017.

Second, as good as machines are getting, it will be a long time until they provide the kind of creativity and innovation that humans are capable of. And most importantly, because ultimately all our marketing efforts, whether executed by humans or machines, should be done in the service of people — helping provide what people need and want to make their lives better, and even to make the world a little better place in the process.

So, it’s a very exciting time to be in marketing. A quote from the opening keynote stuck with me. It turns out that IQ and EQ are not the skills that most guarantee success for the 21st century marketer. What matters most is adaptability to changes. So, hang on, it will be a wild ride!

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