Marketing as Software: a short ramble

I’ve recently been loosely thinking about what the future of marketing might look like.  It seems that with all the new possibilities at our finger tips, much of the discussion in the industry has been about how innovation can improve advertising as we currently know it – programmatic for tighter targeting and greater efficiency, new delivery mechanisms for richer, native content, or technology to beat the ad blockers so we can still serve our ads the old way.

These ad serving technologies are breathing new life into traditional media channels carrying traditional advertising but it doesn’t feel like we’re making the most of the potential of new technology to improve the value of marketing to both consumers and business.  To paraphrase Henry Ford, we’re just creating faster horses.

Something I’ve been considering is whether marketing will increasingly become more like software.  Marketing will have a role within a wider media ecosystem, will connect us to people, objects and platforms, will be more closely aligned to consumption and will offer greater utility and relevance to consumers than advertising ever could.  Marketing as software will ensure brands are more fully understood and valued not by what they say (through advertising) but by what they actually do for people.

For marketers, this makes complete sense.  Creating meaningful connections with consumers by being useful means more first party data collection, more time spent with the brand and more opportunity to convert to purchase.  For consumers, it provides more opportunity to improve their interactions with the world through the now ubiquitous technologies we possess, chiefly mobile.

So what do I mean by software?  We’re already starting to see increasing interactions between objects and the benefits this provides to the user.  The object itself, for example mobile is the hardware, the network they open up, the interactions and ecosystems that it gives access to is the software.  This is where the value for marketing lies – the connectivity to objects, people and platforms and the experience this creates.  Software are the apps, tools, games and coding that do things for us.  This is what advertising in its current guise struggles at, yet this is what people truly care about.  Advertising provides little utility in a world where information and entertainment is instantly abundant.  Clearly brands are already in the software space when it comes to product development.  Nest, Sonos, finance companies etc. all rely on software for product experiences and service delivery, but I mean marketing as software which isn’t quite the same thing.

Four days in to 2016 and we’ve already seen some great examples of this.  Virgin Active have just created 33 new fitness emojis to help people talk about their new year fitness achievements.  Public Health England have just launched their Sugar Swaps App which enables parents to monitor how much sugar their kids are consuming by scanning bar codes of 75,000 products to reveal the sugar content and suggest alternatives.

The EA Sports Gifferator for Madden NFL 15 is another great example of marketing as software.  During the game, the Gifferator created a stream of GIFs highlights which fans could edit with their own headlines to share with rival fans to taunt them with in real time.  Marketing is providing connectivity, entertainment and utility through a piece of software.

Nike have been doing this for some time through their Nike Plus apps and product ecosystem, giving users a much richer brand experience than through advertising alone and providing Nike first party CRM data with which to build deeper relationships.

One further advantage of marketing as software is that like software, marketing can improve iteratively based on data and live feedback loops, constantly learning and improving in real time to improve the user experience.

Thinking about marketing as software puts the user experience at the heart of marketing, rather than seeing marketing as something we do to people.  It places the brand within the wider ecosystem that people navigate their worlds in.  It creates brand experiences people actually want to have and it provides meaning for consumers based on what brands are doing rather than saying, creating value for people and business alike.

For now I guess this is just a seed of an idea  I’ve not yet given a huge amount of thought to, but perhaps a thought to develop into something more meaningful in 2016.  Maybe.

Oh, and happy new year!