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This month’s Fresh Thinking event was all about one of our favourite topics – martech and how brands are using it to create more impactful conversations.

It’s a complex area – but an industry that is booming:

  • There are now over 7,000 different martech platforms available
  • The average large organisation already invests in 91 different platforms
  • CMO’s are now spending more of their budget on martech than on labour
  • And marketers selecting agencies rank expertise in martech as the most desirable skill

And with 29% of marketing budgets now being dedicated to martech it is no surprise that there are so many recent mergers and acquisitions:

  • Salesforce recently acquired Tableau for a whopping $15.7bn
  • Adobe netted Marketo for an impressive $4.75bn
  • IPG media settled at $2.3bn for Axciom
  • And Dentsu Aegis Network recently bought Merkle for $1.5bn

There are three main reasons behind the rapid growth:

  1. Brands wanting to offer customers more personalised experiences across all touchpoints
  2. Businesses recognising the opportunity to reduce cost through more automation
  3. And, most importantly, customers expecting more relevant conversations.

In a recent Experian survey, 87% of customers said they were happy for brands to use their data to personalise communications as long as what is being said is relevant to them.

The problem is that marketers are struggling to keep up with customer (and the CEO’s) expectations. They’re not yet making the most of the personalisation opportunity and so aren’t reaping the rewards personalisation can bring.



As a result, many marketers are feeling buyers remorse – as pointed out in a recent Drum article:

Buyer’s remorse. You know the one, it all sounded so good on paper and you signed on the bottom line, only to find your shiny new system is causing havoc with all your creaky old ones, it’s not doing what you thought it would and there seem to be large lumps of functionality you’re not even using. The CFO is asking uncomfortable questions and it’s all looking a bit shaky.”

It seems that the vendors are being blamed for selling an impossible dream.  But, as the Drum article goes on to explain, this is probably unfair and the problem seems more to do with a marketers time, knowledge, short term goals, ability to collaborate with other departments and failing to adopt new ways of working…

“Contrary to what you might read, there really are very few martech snake oil salesmen out there. What there are, are lots of unsure marketers who haven’t fully explored the true martech needs of their organisation, understood how it needs to fit in with other users and departments, had little or no time to make an informed decision and who are now getting to regret it at their leisure.”

Those brands that have embraced and implemented new technologies successfully to deliver better customer conversations are showing the others that it does pay off.   Here’s some of the best recent examples:


Netflix uses machine learning and algorithms to help break viewers’ preconceived notions and find shows that they might not have initially chosen. To do this, it looks at nuanced threads within the content, rather than relying on broad genres to make its predictions. This explains how, for example, one in eight people who watch one of Netflix’s Marvel shows are completely new to comic book-based stuff on Netflix.

Netflix also found that if customers have to search for a movie for more than 90 seconds they then are likely to give up. By using AI to improve their search results, Netflix prevented frustration and customer churn… and saved $1 billion/annum in potential lost revenue.  More than 80% of TV shows people watch on Netflix are now discovered through it’s recommendation ‘black box’.


Recommendations for bots now account for 35% of Amazon’s sales


Ralph is Lego’s chatbot which assists customers by helping them find a gift their child would love by asking for information such as a child’s age, the budget and the type of sets they’re interested in


Sephora developed a custom experience for teens within their bot on Kik, filled with prom-specific content, including makeup tips, style inspiration, and custom video content. Sephora engaged Helen Phillips, the Sephora Collection National Artist to broadcast a prom makeup tutorial to fans—and answer any questions teens might have—in real-time via Facebook Live. The Facebook Live also featured a social media influencer as the moderator and tutorial subject. The influencer shared the news about the Facebook Live and sweepstakes on her social channels as well.

Sephora’s -Augmented Reality visual artist tool has also change how make up is bought


Zalando uses deep learning to improve the search experience.  It developed and trained a neural network to be resilient to common misspellings in several languages.  It can now parse 300,000 products in 2 seconds to deliver product suggestions despite inaccuracies.


To help improve product discovery throughout a buyer’s journey, Boohoo used image recognition technology to allow users to upload their photos and discover the most visually similar products in stock.

Boohoo saw an 85% increase in conversion rate for customers who used the Camera Search function versus those who didn’t


Amazon’s voice-activated Alexa software can determine, based on a shopper’s order history, when a customer says “Alexa, add flour to my Ocado order,” they mean add a kilo of their favourite brand.

Ocado has invested significantly in its technology capabilities particularly in machine-learning techniques – interestingly their technology team now takes up c.10% of its 1300 workforce


In a recent campaign, Zara left their window displays completely bare. No mannequins, no clothes – just an empty space. This created intrigue, and quite simply demanded passers-by to download the Zara AR app so they can point their smartphones at the shop windows and enjoy an AR experience of top models talking and moving around while sporting Zara’s latest Studio collection.

Zara made it easy for shoppers to download and install the app by providing dedicated store Wi-Fi networks, QR codes, as well as making it available via Following the AR viewing, users could then purchase the modeled ensembles immediately from the app, or in the store itself. In addition, online shoppers were able to hover their phones over a package delivery and view an AR experience of their purchases being modeled by a miniature figure on top of the box.

As we often explain – technology is now giving brands (and 121 conversation specialist agencies like T19) the opportunity to do all the things we’ve wanted to do and more.  The rate of adoption certainly differs hugely across different business, but with 100m consumers predicted to be shopping using AR by 2020 and AI bots powering 85% of customer service interactions in the same period we can all look forward to better, more personalised and relevant conversations with our favourite brands.