Since the early 1990’s, Marketing Technology (MarTech) has rapidly evolved and dramatically changed the ways that we connect, communicate, and collaborate, both as individuals and as businesses. We’ve witnessed the convergent waves of consumer electronics, mobility, social media, cloud computing, and “big data” reshape how companies go to market and connect with customers in relevant, productive and profitable ways.

Equipped with information and linked through social media, customers will only continue to gain power and learn how to exercise it. As we look ahead to the year 2020, companies will need MarTech innovations to balance this shift in market power, keep up with customer demands and prepare to respond to these trends:

  • “Mass Marketing” will take on an entirely new meaning as the masses will control much of the dialog (and all of the authentic advocacy) about brands and their reputations.
  • Connected Customers will demand full control over the timing and process of communications and consumption, so businesses will be expected to meet customer needs as soon as they materialize via whatever channel the customer has chosen.
  • Marketing campaigns, once thought of as one-way communication paths from brand to customer, will truly become two-way streets. Continuous engagement will be the norm and episodic campaigns will be in the rear view mirror for most companies.
  • Company marketing processes and the insights and intelligence embedded within them will coalesce. Not just because they overlap so much, but because the customer experiences them as parts of the same interaction.
  • Static “rules-based” processes will just not be able to keep up with the pace of market change. Faster, smarter and more predictive marketing processes and decision-making will be required.

So what does this all mean for the future of Marketing Automation?

Based on our research at TopRight, we are expecting that Marketing Automation innovation will be shaped and governed by three significant shifts:

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  1. From Brand to Reputation Management

While you may think you or someone at your organization manages your brand today, it is really the external perception of the target audience that defines your brand. Making matters worse, social media channels give your target audience (and many others) an easy way to share opinions about your brand with thousands of others in an instant. This powerful and ubiquitous communication channel has the potential to put your brand in constant peril and make your firm’s reputation vulnerable to rumors and viral misinformation.

This raises an interesting question for marketers in 2020: how will you manage a brand in a world where so many of the success variables are no longer in the company’s control? The short answer is: you can’t do it using traditional brand management techniques – you’ve got to reframe the problem. Marketing Automation tools will continue to empower brand owners to actively monitor social media channels like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, as well as track blogs, forums and online communities where conversations about the brand may occur. Whether the conversation is positive, negative, humorous, or just sarcastic, you must track the sources of such content and gauge the sentiment and underlying emotions in order to protect and enhance reputation.

The key to making the transition from brand to reputation management lies on the examination of the company through a set of “filters” designed to gauge how you are shifting from a reliance on the traditional art of persuasion to the adoption of the disciplines of authenticity, as represented in the image below. Systems must be deployed to monitor, segment and target the peer-to-peer conversations that represent the highest opportunity and/or risk to brand reputation. When engaging a target audience member, marketing must be transparent with regard to their affiliation with the brand and authentic in their delivery and tone. Disingenuous party-crashers are quickly exposed and ejected from the dialog with serious brand reputation consequences.


This is where Marketing Automation will make a huge difference: unifying social media listening functionality with structured and disciplined customer response strategies. “Reputation filters” will be fully programmable – reflecting the values and voice of the brand and engaging the target audience with vulnerability, transparency and empathy. Keep in mind that true authenticity is not a destination or an end-state – it is a discipline that must be enforced day-to-day within a company and we believe that Marketing Automation will be a critical enabler for success.

  1. From Campaigns to Conversations

The multitude of channels and technologies for communicating with the marketplace will continue revolutionizing the work of marketing. Today, the effectiveness of conventional outbound marketing campaigns is limited. In 2020, building brands and driving revenue growth will require tools that enable marketers to facilitate continuous, relevant and meaningful conversations with customers.

Traditional outbound marketing campaigns demarcated by periodic sales seasons, budget cycles and responses to competitor moves will be insufficient to engage customers. If you keep thinking about marketing campaigns as your one-shot at broadcasting promotional content, you will miss the bigger opportunity to connect with customers. By contrast, conversations are continuous, adaptive, and ad hoc. They take advantage of the immediacy and reach of social media channels to communicate with an audience repeatedly and meaningfully, targeting messages by media type and inviting the recipients not just to listen, but to engage with and respond to your valuable content.


The goal of conversation is not just to promote the brand, but rather to engage the customer. What the company says in the conversation should stand out and make sense, but just as important is how well the company listens and makes sense of what the market is saying. We’ve stressed the contrast between campaigns and conversations to call attention to the challenges and opportunities associated with the latter. As a practical matter, the two should go hand in hand. Any marketing campaign today should incorporate and encourage ongoing conversation with customers and analysis of these conversations should reveal opportunities for innovative campaigns.

In 2020, brand owners will recognize that they can’t possibly control the myriad of conversations about their brands. Moreover, unlike campaigns, conversations are often not even initiated by the brand. The most successful marketers will expect their marketing automation tools to enable that conversation both internally and externally so they can engage their customers with the right things in the right way at the right time to drive results. To address this opportunity, Marketing Automation vendors will begin integrating Smart Bots and Intelligent Agent technologies into their platforms to manage continuous, real-time conversations with customers.

  1. From Rules to Algorithms

As anyone who spends a little time with it knows, Marketing Automation requires you to think like a software engineer and, given the complexity of ever-more-sophisticated multi-step campaigns and behaviorally-triggered decision logic — as depicted in the example below — things can get out of hand pretty quickly! As time goes by, we encounter more and more exceptions and start making more rules to keep exceptions under control. As Isaac Wyatt pointed out at last year’s MarTech Conference: “If you’re not careful, you end up with the equivalent of spaghetti code in your marketing”.


Fast forward to 2020, mature Marketing Automation leaders might find themselves struggling with unwieldy and cumbersome “rules management” processes – especially as the data changes faster than one can keep up with the rules. We see a tremendous opportunity for MarTech innovators to establish the best practices to tame this burgeoning complexity and then to fundamentally create a better solution. The introduction of Machine Learning will be a game-changer – giving Marketing Automation software the ability to learn, grow and change without being explicitly configured or programmed by users.

Simply put, machine learning will remove the manual task of classifying and tweaking rules each time new information is captured about a customer. Marketing Automation platforms equipped with machine learning will help marketers with real-time segmentation of customers, personalization of messaging, forecasting of customer lifetime value and prediction of churn.


Machine learning combines science, statistics and analytics to make predictions based on patterns discovered in data. As opposed to rule-based decision systems, which follow an explicit set of “if-then-else” instructions known by the developers in advance, machine learning algorithms are designed to analyze data and discover patterns that people cannot find by themselves. In other words, machine learning leverages the massive power and objectivity of computers to see things in big data that slow and biased humans cannot see, enabling the use of insights to accurately predict results.

Marketing Automation Enables Smarter Marketing

Without machine learning, it is simply too difficult to compile and process the huge amounts of data coming from multiple sources (e.g., website visits, mobile app interactions, purchase transactions and product reviews). However, when all of this data is made available to marketing platforms programmed to perform data mining and machine learning, very timely, accurate and profitable predictions can be made.

Marketing Automation Transforms Marketing

Today, Marketing Automation has proven that it can be an amazing set of tools for enabling marketing success. By 2020, we predict that Marketing Automation will literally transform how your customer experiences your brand, converses with you, and dynamically interacts with you.

Transformational Marketing, as the name implies, is about optimizing and mobilizing all marketing assets to create lasting preference for the brand, to activate customer purchase intent, and to accelerate organic growth of revenues and profits. To truly transform, marketing must get all 3S’s right: the right Story, the right Strategy, and the right Systems, all measured through the lens of Simplicity, Clarity and Alignment. To learn more, download our latest eBook Transformational Marketing: Moving to the TopRight.

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