Christian Andersen is the Director of Product Marketing for IBM across the Middle East and Africa region.
Over the course of the 19 years with IBM, nine of which were spent in this region, Christian has held several marketing roles across diverse functional areas as market intelligence, campaign management, digital, channel, client and product marketing in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.
Christian is also one of the founding members and current Board Member of the Marketing Society, Middle East. He usually speaks at public forums while providing CMO’s insights on how AI, data and IoT can help the marketer of the future.
In his exclusive interview with MarTech Vibe, Christian speaks about building MarTech stacks, data breaches, machine learning, and the challenges marketers face in the Middle East. Excerpts from the email conversation
How important is personalisation for any marketing campaign nowadays?
Most marketers still employ the long and challenging route to marketing. They slave away for long hours, doing everything in their power to make their marketing campaigns run just right for large audiences. However, focusing on designing regular marketing communications that target the mass is not how marketers should operate. Customers today expect personalised experiences that resonate with their unique needs at every interaction. So meeting clients’ needs start by understanding how they behave online, what tactic triggers their buying action and even what devices they use when they buy.
The time of “spray and pray” is gone! Nowadays, marketers need to leverage behavioural data to improve marketing alignment and orchestrate targeted and timely marketing communications that incorporate customers’ preferences and deliver real brand promises at every touch point.
Multi-channel, omnichannel, and channel-less, which marketing approach works the best, and why?
Some marketers use the term “multi-channel” to describe a marketing campaign with multiple communications, tactics or channels – regardless of whether they are integrated or not. Others prefer using the term “omnichannel” because it adds seamless engagement with their customers across all channels. So omnichannel or multi-channel, does it really matter?
The focus should be on the clients’ journey, not on the marketing channels. Marketers that have a channel-less approach use cognitive marketing to understand the digital body language of their audience. Hence, they know what clients search for, what they tweet about, and what they post online. They target every client with the right message, through his preferred channel, at the exact time the customer is ready to read or make an online purchase. These marketers understand their clients’ data through machine learning, and they use that data to personalise the experience for every single client. Research shows that these marketers have the highest level of customer engagement, the best user experience, and hence, the highest ROI.
How can marketers in the Middle East overcome the challenges they face? What steps should they follow to ensure the effectiveness of their campaigns?
From my perspective, and based on my interaction with my fellow marketers in the region, I see two main challenges. Showing ROI always comes first. Second is identifying the right marketing technologies to support that. Keeping up with the latest MarTech solutions, is a crucial success factor in boosting ROI, along with other factors like retaining the right marketing talents, securing enough marketing budget, operations agility, etc.
Identifying the right marketing technologies or technology partner, to keep up with today’s constantly changing marketplace, is far from being an easy task for CMOs. With thousands of marketing solutions worldwide, many challenges and questions arise around integration, end-to-end deployment, reliability, service, and so on. Most marketing solution providers today are either a niche player with one or two solutions that don’t cover the whole customer journey spectrum or a “supermarket” of confusing solutions with a huge lack of integration and no clear value proposition. So if you are confused about the solutions to adopt, you can always talk to industry experts who can help you identify your challenges and mostly to make you think big!
When it comes to unstructured or dark data, how can marketers harvest that and how will that help them?
Marketing in this cognitive era is about using clients’ data and technology in new ways to elevate the entire customer experience. However, most of the clients’ data that marketers are trying to make sense of today is structured data – which is the data that companies possess already such as customer transactions, responses, demographics, some basic social media clients’ data, etc. This type of structured data represents only 12 per cent of the data available today, and it is not enough to make informed marketing decisions. 88 per cent of all available data is dark to most organisations! The dark data is more relevant and important for your business, as it tells you how your customers engage with your brand, how they behave online, and what devices they use when they buy.
The second challenge is that clients’ data is also fragmented online and across systems, and it is nothing but noise to you! The good news is that by using AI methods, we are now able to track the online activities of users and align marketing campaigns accordingly. The data collected from this tracking activity can also be used to create additional nurture content, help craft better customer experience, hence increase leads to quality and conversion.
Also Read: Dark Data, A Marketer’s Gold Mine?
Can machine learning help solve the problem of data? Should CMOs consider investing in AI and machine learning to get ahead of the competitors?
By bringing AI to marketing, CMOs can now make sense of both their client’s data and the dark data – a primordial step to target the right client, with the right message, using their preferred channel. AI technologies are cognitive systems that can understand unstructured information such as natural language, imagery, emails, call records, tweets, journals, blogs, and videos. It can then reason by recognising patterns in the data it understands and uses that to create recommendations and probabilities. The third attribute of a cognitive system is that it can continually learn, taking in new information as it is published, and by gaining direct feedback from humans it works with. Finally, because a cognitive system understands human language, it can naturally interact with customers.
Given the powers of AI, can it be used to help curb the menace of fraud that has been affecting the AdTech world?
By using AI to analyse data generated from advertising activities, it would make sense that advertisers would then minimise their financial losses. We, as marketers, need to keep ahead of the game, keep on innovating and continue to enhance and update our strategies to keep the fraud battle at bay. These fraudsters adapt exceptionally fast and find ways to copy certain activity. Implementing AI would most certainly have a positive impact on future incidents and reducing the frequency of fraudulent activity found in bots, mouse movements, and the creation of fake social network accounts that engage us regularly. With AI technology, we would hope to see that fraud becomes less rampant in the future. Analytics is key to any marketers success to know where and how their advertising dollars are being spent and achieving the expected results.
Since data breach is no-longer a one-off phenomenon, are companies in the Middle East wary of their data security?
The Middle East ranks data security and compliance as the top benefit of the public cloud and as the top criteria for where to run its workloads, even more often than its peers in other regions. Those priorities are followed by cost and performance, values that fall in line with responses from the rest of the world.
The clients that we engage know that to remain competitive in today’s fast-moving environment, they need to adopt infrastructure and solutions from a wide range of cloud vendors. A hybrid, multi-cloud world is quickly becoming the new normal.
Public cloud use shows the most growth in the Middle East over the next year. This would include a single public cloud, multi public clouds followed by hybrid cloud and private clouds not forgetting the traditional data centres, collectively.
The scepticism is changing as the majority of our clients have moved past the starting blocks of their cloud journey – they are now managing these cloud-based services and data across multiple providers and are now feeling overwhelmed as each set of cloud services comes with its tools, increased complexity and costs.
What are some of the trends in marketing that you’ve noticed in the Middle East this year?
A decade ago, marketing terms like SEO, PPC, social media, email marketing, viral marketing, mobile marketing, marketing automation, AI marketing, marketing cloud and so on, made no sense for marketers in the region. Today, most of these terms are our daily bread and butter. It is quite impressive how the marketing landscape and technology have evolved in the last 10 years in the Middle East, forcing companies to adapt quickly to online trends and reshape their entire go-to-market strategies.
Speaking of online trends, social media marketing stays at the top of the trends list in the region. Social media became a way to reinforce brand loyalty through local success stories and clients’ testimonials.
I’ve also observed a higher adoption of marketing automation and marketing cloud technologies as the need to reduce cost and to integrate marketing communications is tremendously increasing.
In the Middle East, you can also notice some early-adopters of AI for marketing. These marketers are ahead of the global game and use AI to understand the digital body language of their audience. They know what clients search for, what they tweet about, and what they post online. Using AI, they target every client with the right message, through his preferred channel, at the exact time, the customer is ready to read or make an online purchase.
Besides these online trends, events and face-to-face initiatives are still very influential. Clients always need a platform to hear what their counterparts are doing across industries and also share, collaborate and learn from each other. Events in the Middle East also have seen a significant facelift, with more engaging experiences through virtual reality, augmented reality, and immersive insights – way beyond basic screens and videos.
How would you suggest CMOs should go about when it comes to building their MarTech stack? What are the common pitfalls one must avoid?
Think big, start small, and move fast! These are the three advises that come first to my mind to start building a solid MarTech stack. In other words, just keep it simple and start with what you do best. Any MarTech project should be a part of your business goals and aligned with all the stakeholders within your company. Treating this project as a stand-alone or an IT project is a common mistake that CMOs make these days.
It would help if you also did your homework by researching your market and audience to make your stack more localised and relevant. The MarTech stack should support you in every step of the marketing process while keeping the client at the centre.
With many marketing solutions in the market, my last advice is to select a reliable technology partner that can deliver on time, but also deploy end-to-end and integrate with your existing systems. This way, you can start small and grow fast while staying agile.