Taming The Complexity Of Modern Marketing

  • by September 25, 2018
We live in times of massive disruption and fragmentation. Consumers now have the power, control, access and speed to make decisions whenever and wherever they desire. This shifting dynamic has made it increasingly more challenging for marketers, but those that embrace the complexity and evolve will survive.

Embracing the complexity means moving outside of your comfort zone and expanding your horizons beyond traditional marketing science techniques, like modeling and optimization.

While useful, these tactics no longer sufficiently address the increasing pace of change nor help us harness and understand the many nuances of consumer behavior and the marketplace. More advanced and comprehensive modeling approaches are needed that can scale, provide accurate measurement; provide greater flexibility and surface unexpected insights faster – mirroring today’s fast-paced, dynamic marketplace.

A Complexity Science View of Marketing



Enter the field of complexity science. It sounds like a highly complex academic term and field of study, but it can provide us depth of understanding – this increased clarity drives confidence and performance.

Complexity science is the combination of various frameworks and concepts from a variety of disciplines, such as behavioral economics, cognitive neuroscience, chaos theory. By studying them in combination, we can uncover the underlying principles and emergent behavior of complex and dynamic systems (like consumer markets), which are made up of many individual elements (such as consumers).

In marketing, the goal of complexity science is to understand the ways in which consumer markets, as complex (dynamic) systems, work, and help identify a marketer’s optimal role within them. (They are contributors to, not controllers of, the system).

Get to Know Consumers Through Agent-Based Modeling (ABM)  

We now have access to newer, richer data sets, processing power (quantum computing), identity graphs, multidimensional models, computer simulations and newer machine-learning techniques (deep learning) to understand the complex, dynamic and interconnected consumer.

In particular, one emerging field in complexity science is poised to help marketers better understand consumers. Agent-based modeling (ABM) is a technique that integrates areas of behavioral economics, marketing and AI/machine learning to study complex systems and consumer behavior (interactions between people, things, places, and time) with greater comprehensiveness and detail.

It is more precise and in-depth than standard marketing mix and other industry modeling techniques because it combines computational and mathematical models to understand these interactions.

It simulates individual behaviors of diverse groups of consumers in an environment, based on predetermined decision-making rules – rules often impacted by external and internal influences. Based on this view, it’s able to analyze the overall (macro) dynamics and outcomes of the system (like a brand’s marketplace) that emerge from the micro behavior of individual agents.

If marketers leverage ABM, they could respond more quickly to changes. That means making smarter decisions about their audiences, reaching certain consumers at the right time and placing the most relevant message to drive stronger cognitive, emotional, behavioral and transactional impact.

They can also develop more effective marketing strategies that drive business growth and increase the prediction (and reduce uncertainty) of their decision-making.

For companies looking to get started in testing ABM, think about investing (both internally and externally) across data capabilities, resources, time, talent, tools and tech.

Balance Art and Science

Marketers should not let the model learnings completely overrule their human instincts and experience. They should use the model insights to inform their strategic, tactical and operational decision-making.

The human factor should remain one of the most critical parts. Modeling should not eliminate the need for strategic thinking; rather, it should fuel that thinking. Modeling should not negate the need for sound design and implementation of marketing strategy – it should elevate the importance of it. 

Marketers need to be both artist and scientist, intuitive and analytical, strategic and tactical, brazen experimenter and reliable accountant.

Complexity and continual change are facts of today’s marketing.  If you’re a marketing leader, embrace this. L earn to become a more agile marketer, or risk survival as the industry changes around you. Marketers must be willing to upend the status quo, and adopt a spirit of open-minded exploration and experiment.

1 comment about "Taming The Complexity Of Modern Marketing".
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  1. James Smith from J. R. Smith Group, September 25, 2018 at 5:57 p.m.

    George, an excellent thought piece and kudos on addressing the "systems" approach. Don't you think we often get wrapped in tactical executions, without due consideration of all the strategic moving parts?  Contributions from all sectors are welcome...but many under appreciated.  Take the case of cognitive bias.  Ask 10 marketers to define it and how they can use it.  The answers will be surprising to say the least.

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