When you think about technology in retail, what comes to mind? Often when we talk about technology, we gravitate to what consumers can see – things like scan-and-go, interactive mirrors, AR/VR or, recently, The Metaverse. These are technologies consumers directly interact with, so it makes sense for retailers to consider, evaluate and (where appropriate) integrate them as part of a broader customer experience. Yet we can’t forget about the technologies behind the scenes that help retailers o
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s optimise customer experience. Just look at ChatGPT. It has brought much attention to the potential of AI to speed up processes like content creation, but it’s not the only way. There are many other technologies customers may not directly see, but from which they will ultimately benefit. They are collectively referred to as martech – short for marketing technology. As a CX researcher, I find the whole martech space fascinating. It’s easy for me to say brands need to use data to offer better personalisation, but pulling that off can get complex. This complexity has led me to a part-time position at a martech consultancy called The Lumery as their director of knowledge enablement. I help share research, insights and education around martech. More on that another time. For now, I’m hoping that by highlighting the many impacts martech has for retailers, I can convince you that tech in retail doesn’t just mean what customers see in-store. It’s just as important to use technologies that connect you with customers, even if they don’t directly notice. To make this point, let me explain what martech means and then give a few examples of how it is already affecting retailers. Martech – connecting brands to customers Martech is becoming a common term, but it isn’t always used consistently. If you ask Amazon, then it’s a platform to create marketing campaigns. According to Gartner though, it’s a broad set of integrated technologies used to target, acquire and retain customers, which is a much broader definition. Some of these different definitions can be explained by how varied the martech industry is, and how quickly it’s growing. A recent industry recap1 identified nearly 10,000 different martech tools, ranging from applications for advertising and content to social, commerce, data and even project management tools. Amazon’s definition covers the advertising function, but not the other pieces. One of the keys to martech is that the pieces fit together like a jigsaw puzzle. Think about sending personalised emails to different consumer segments based on their recent browsing behaviour. To do that, you need accurate and real-time customer data from a well-designed and tagged e-commerce site, feeding an email system with automated rules and content that sends the comms. You might even have an experimentation platform that sends different comms to different segments and tracks their impact. To the customer, it might look like a simple email, but the tech behind it is just as important and complex as anything they might interact with in-store. This example highlights two of the major roles martech can play for retailers: collecting and interpreting customer data effectively, and putting that data to use for a variety of personalisation activities. These are far from the only benefits though, let me highlight a few more. 1. Automation A big drawcard of martech is the ability to synthesise large amounts of data quickly, then automate marketing activities like sending timely emails, messages or app pop-ups, and even customising website landing pages. As businesses scale and customer behaviour gets more complex, effectively automating marketing activities is becoming critical, particularly if the aim is to offer some level of personalisation. AI has great potential for automation as part of martech, but it’s not the only method. Other martech platforms provide forms of automation through decision rules and process flows. The key here is being able to respond to customers automatically in the appropriate way, at the appropriate time. Whether through AI, machine learning, simpler rules or other means, martech can unlock a lot of marketing activities. The question then becomes what activities should be automated, and when? This leads to the next benefit, experimentation. 2. Experimentation As a psychology major who went into academic research, I find the idea of developing and testing hypotheses through experiments second nature. So it surprises me that marketing decisions, new products and campaigns are often launched without any testing. Research shouldn’t get in the way of creativity, but martech has enhanced the ability of businesses to ‘test-and-learn’ through experimentation. Martech tools allow marketers to adapt content or even website architecture dynamically, and then track and iterate on the results in real time. Think of it this way: If you’re not experimenting or learning from your marketing activities, how will you know what worked, what didn’t, or even if there is a better way to do things? This is where the next benefit comes in – attribution. 3. Attribution Attribution is a complex topic, with many debates about the best way to do it. The general idea is relatively simple though; attribution is about evaluating the effectiveness or impact of different marketing activities, communications or even whole channels. As an example, let’s look at a customer who just bought something on your website. Was that sale driven by the website, a recent email campaign, a banner ad or other marketing activities? It was probably a combination of all of those, and attribution is about figuring out what that combination is and then determining (i.e., attributing) how impactful each of those touchpoints was in each customer’s journey. There are a variety of ways attribution can work, and martech makes them possible by identifying and tracking customers over touchpoints, connecting those touchpoints into journeys, and even applying different attribution models. So, it not only helps set up and facilitate marketing activities, it can even help you evaluate them. 4. Marketing operations As I wrote earlier, martech isn’t just about external marketing activities. It can also help marketing teams work more efficiently through digitally enabled processes and planning. Have you ever used a Miro board to collaborate with a co-worker? That’s one of the nearly 10,000 martech tools in the industry that I mentioned earlier. Maybe you use project management or agile working tools, those are on the list, too. I started this article writing about how tech isn’t just what customers see, and the same applies within martech itself. Martech isn’t just the tools that create or facilitate outbound marketing activities, it’s also the tools, people and processes that make all those activities come together. So what? My main point from this more technical article than my others for Inside Retail is this: the technology you use to connect to customers, martech, is just as important as the technology with which your customers directly interact. Despite its complexity, martech is a critical part of building an engaging customer experience. So next time you think about technology in retail, don’t just think about the tech customers see. The key to unlocking the experience your customers want may be there just under the surface – you just have to put the jigsaw pieces together to see it.