The game is afoot – and this time around, it pits marketing automation tools against data science driven data products. Specialized digital marketing service providers against dyed-in-the-wool data geeks. Campaign management tools versus correlation driven, random forest, gradient boosting, data products.

Marketing automation tools have, in their short history, focused on delivering specialized services (serving up display advertising, managed paid search ads et al). But over the last few years, these tools have broadened their reach and gained access to considerable data – emerging beyond their specific channel of interest. Tools such as Tag Management Systems, with their data layer, seek to become the data-broker of record. Offerings such as Data Management Platforms (DMP) integrate deeply into re-targeting platforms as well as with first party data and deliver fine-tuned audience segmentation and other behavior profiles in near real-time which can be acted upon immediately to serve better content and deliver richer engagements with the visitor.

Data Scientists in the digital realm have often prospered by:

  • A cross-channel online focus – bringing together online data that, until now, was siloed and typical marketing automation tools had no visibility to
  • Combining online and offline (company owned) data sources to generate insights that an online-only focus will not be able to deliver
  • Adding third-party data (frequently purchased) to further embellish information about their customers and using the same for yielding further insights

The new wave of marketing automation tools are beginning to step into the first of these areas – by beginning to combine data across multiple online channels (website, mobile, social media, email et al). Offerings such as Audience Stream from Tealium are an example of such a product.

The marketing automation tools are also beginning to tap into the third space – bringing in third-party data to combine with company owned data – though the scope is presently limited to third-party online behavior of the visitors the company is interested in. This is the specialization that DMP from companies such as BlueKai offers.

How long before these marketing automation tools provide a method for pulling in offline data to significantly improve the analysis they can provide? And once the data is available, several push-button models can be added on top to deliver interesting insights. Some variation of this is beginning to happen already and by 2020, we may well be dealing with marketing automation tools that cover multi-channel online data as well as online + offline data – with all of it leveraged by push-button models that yield interesting new insights.

So then, where to for the Data Scientist of the Digital proclivity?

For now, there is plenty of gap still remaining that the home-grown (or consultant-driven) Data Science team can deliver insights through the gaps identified above. But then, the team has to continue to expand focus – both onto new data sources (in the world of IoT), in discovering new relationships (graph like approaches to discover and ask more interesting questions), processing larger amounts of data to generate new insights (using new statistical approaches as Math begins to catch up with Big Data), and really spending more time answering the frequently asked, but seldom answered, questions (“what is the customer’s intent when they arrive at a site”, “how best to move the customer along the conversion funnel”).

The age of marketing automation has arrived – coinciding with the increased burden on digital marketing to generate revenue producing leads. The scope and reach of marketing automation will continue to grow and will continuously challenge data science teams to move up the value-chain and deliver deeper insights and focus on answering the harder questions for the marketer.



Sri Srikanth

Advanced Data Analytics & Strategy, Senior Data Scientist, Cisco Digial