Segment-Of-One: Is Complexity Out Of Control?

If there is a common thread in technology, and especially marketing tech trends in the last 30 years, it is the accelerated march toward a segment-of-one world -- serving everyone, on their own personalized terms, at the right context in their decision journey, immediately, while getting even better as you build more data from every interaction.  

In an effort to keep up with the consumer and the competitive and financial demands of making this happen, marketers have built up their tech arsenals, hired new types of creative and design experts, and expanded their analytics teams. 

But the race is far from over, and the cost of complexity from more data, more media possibilities, more personalized creative, and more technology layers, is relentlessly countering the promised lift from it all. And is it even possible to find and pay for all the added talent one needs? 

In the face of all this complexity, marketing organizations are becoming more siloed, with focused specialists in a wide range of ever-narrowing disciplines.  



From a talent perspective, it is just not sustainable to have career tracks so focused.  Instead, we need to find a way to get back to nurturing broader athletes who can be marketing generalists.

With marketing plans that have dozens of media choices, selected targets, and creative variations, along with multiple sequencing options, we are resorting more to offshoring to lower the cost of resourcing needed to create and stay on top of such complexity. In doing so, we risk diluting the essence of our brands. 

Meanwhile, the pressure from above for proven results before investing in more marketing makes growth a Catch-22, when you can’t invest more to prove you can invest more.

In discussions with many CMO peers over the last year before the pandemic, I found most cited a need for all of us to step back and rethink marketing operations.  Now it is probably even more urgent to break the cycle of chasing the upside of complexity by adding more complexity. Instead, let’s aim to simplify our organizations and get the right balance back of breakthrough brand, innovation, and creative thinking, with sharp, transparent analytics and efficient, fast operations. 

The speed with which everyone had to mobilize during the last eight months of the pandemic puts a strong spotlight on the criticality of marketing operations. Once we get some breathing room, though, we need to become more deliberate -- not just reactive -- in setting up our processes. 

As I step out from my recent CMO role and begin learning about the next-generation ecosystem of marketing technologies and services available, it’s clear to me the next rounds of breakthroughs will happen through artificial intelligence that optimizes for the left brain, together with copywriting, design, and delivery personalization that scales the right brain. We need to bring both left and right-brain approaches into marketing organizations built for agile, iterative modes of operating through nonstop testing and learning.

This introduction launches a series of articles that will focus on how AI and creative personalization will drive the next generation of marketing transformation, focusing on a range of companies. I am very aware that AI is all over the tech world, and tooting the horn of AI breakthroughs will just add to the noise. But my take is different: Let’s look at these companies not just for their own capabilities, but also for the implications they have for marketing strategy, organization, and process. See them as a window into the broader potential of similar capabilities becoming more widespread. 

I look forward to your reactions and the inevitable debates this will spark. 

2 comments about "Segment-Of-One: Is Complexity Out Of Control?".
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  1. John Grono from GAP Research, November 19, 2020 at 4:30 p.m.

    Excellent piece Dave.

    This is a conumdrum that I continually wrestle with.   As a statistical researcher I have passion for data.   And for lots of it.

    When I worked in an agency we were doing brand modelling, which back then was a hard sell.   We'd collect all the brand information that the client had and pool it with our extensive macro market information.   We'd process masses of data (on much slower and smaller computers) in virtually endless combinations to provide bespoke marketing models with strong predictive ability.

    The thing that always astounded me that while we had hundreds (if not thousands) of candidate variables and millions upon millions of data points, we'd usually end up with fewer than 10 key drivers of sales with normally 80% explanatory power.   It was Occam's Razor in full flight.

    The lesson learned was that parsimonious models function perfectly well and were easily understandable by the client.  

  2. David Edelman from Edelman Advisory Services replied, November 19, 2020 at 8:54 p.m.

    John, thanks for the feedback. Not surprised. I do think though, that the power of AI will be to make it so much easier to find what those variables really are, and then be able to use those for things like creative design, media optimization, and other key decisions.  You'll see some examples in my follow-up articles. 

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