B2B marketing – the movie – part 6: Datapocalypto

Welcome to the latest instalment of B2B marketing ‘the movie’, in which I tenuously link topical B2B issues to classic movies. While some of my past instalments have been entirely lighthearted (see The Life of B2Brian or Bridget Bones’s To-Do List, for example), this one has somewhat of an ominous edge…Firstly I’ll share the B2B marketing tale ‘Datapocalypto’ – which pays homage to Mel Gibson’s provocative masterpiece Apocalypto – before I then turn to a number of equally provocative digital marketing articles that inspired me to write it.

If you are involved in digital marketing, I hope you’ll find something of interest in this prophetic tale…

Datapocalypto – Movie synopsis

Paul Jaguar is the superstar Digital Marketing Manager at Mayan Enterprises, a B2B logistics brand specialising in the import and export of goods between South America and the rest of the world. 

Business at Mayan is prospering. They’ve been successfully hunting down their targets for years, they’ve been socially responsible – with a stated purpose to protect the forests of Central and South America – and they’re even about to give birth to a brand new product line. And their success over recent years has, in part, been fuelled by a significant investment in digital marketing, all led by the unstoppable Paul Jaguar…

Mayan’s mobile and search-optimised website is brimming with killer content and killer analytics. An investment in buyer intent data and also marketing automation, with A/B testing and lead scoring ‘baked-in’, has improved lead identification and nurturing at a fraction of the cost. Mayan have also built an incredible social media community and replaced old school ‘spray and pray’ online advertising with personalised, data-driven, programmatic advertising and retargeting. The right people now see the right Mayan content at the right time. Working closely with media and digital agency ‘Zero Wolves’, Paul can now track and contextually target his customers wherever and whenever he wants. Goodbye inefficiency and hello guaranteed lead pipeline.

From a standing start, in just three years, Paul’s web traffic has more than doubled. He knows exactly what his prospective customers are looking at online, which is bringing more fresh data insights to his business than ever before. And if all that’s not enough, the reports he receives from his media agency Zero Wolves prove his advertising messages are receiving sky high view rates at a fraction of the cost of traditional advertising – which impresses Paul’s Chief Financial Officer no end. His job an idyllic paradise, nothing can get in Paul’s way. Until, that is, the sky starts to darken…

Wind the clock forward to early 2019 and something has gone badly wrong. Like the introduction of syphilis to the Americas by European invaders, something equally nasty has infected Paul’s digital ecosystem and brought it to its knees.

Firstly, it transpires that much of his web traffic growth has not come from people, but rather from bots – much of it fake, malware-generated traffic used by fraudulent publishers to artificially inflate viewing figures, and therefore artificially convincing brands that their advertising investment was paying off.

To make matters worse, agency Zero Wolves turn out to be murkier than expected. Their reports of glowing, super-high online advertising viewable impressions turn out to glow about as much as capybara sh*t. It turned out the viewability rates they reported didn’t mean Paul’s ads had been viewed at all. If the ad was partially presented somewhere on a web page but was never actually seen by a web visitor, then it still counted as a viewable impression. Which Paul had paid for.

And worst still, Paul’s handsome investment in advertising had simply lined the pockets of a myriad of unknown, unseen adtech middlemen – all of whom took a cut of Paul’s advertising spend for use of their technology.

It all added up to one big, uncertain – and almost certainly wasteful – investment. In fact, the most notable moment in Mayan Enterprise’s fated programmatic advertising experiment was when one of their adverts was spotted on a site that also featured some fairly nasty race-hate material – not entirely in keeping with Mayan’s positive cultural positioning.

And that wasn’t the only complaint that Paul received. A slew of protests came in from irate customers when Mayan’s online advertising followed them ceaselessly around the internet, the product of an excessive retargeting strategy, also proposed by Paul’s agency – Zero Wolves.

With complaints flooding in, Paul’s Board starts to take a bit more notice. They start to ask some big questions. Questions like…

“It’s great that we’ve got all this click data, but does it tell us what underlying problems are actually keeping customers awake at night?”

“And does this click data reveal ideas for new product innovations that will actually differentiate us or help grow our market share?

Under a fierce spotlight and endless questions from his Board, Paul just comes up blank. His analytics data don’t answer all the questions his leadership is asking him. He knows what customers are doing, not why they were doing it.

With Paul fighting for his data-driven life, the bleakest news of all soon becomes apparent. Firstly, prompted by heightened security and privacy fears, companies start clearing cookies on a more frequent basis. And then an unstoppable epidemic of ad-blockers (plus a torrent of unsubscribes) spread across the internet like a torrent of piranha. Combined, those new developments not only eviscerate Paul’s ability to get his advertising seen by potential customers – they even start to impact the ability of his marketing automation and analytics platform to even track what contacts are doing on his own site. Paul just didn’t see it coming.

As heads rolled in the Mayan marketing team, Paul flees, his career eclipsed. As he escapes through the jungle (otherwise known as the marketing job market), our movie closes on Paul breaking into a clearing where he witnesses the new world of marketing writ large before him. A huge, digital billboard facially recognises Paul’s desperate look, and immediately displays a personalised advert…

Hey Paul, still suffering from chronic diarrhoea? Imodium’s got your ass covered‘.

Director’s notes

Just in case you were thinking ‘what the heck was that all about?‘, it’s a tale, written for fun, that takes an admittedly inflated look at some of the most widespread tools used in modern digital marketing, such as programmatic advertising, retargeting and lead tracking. Tools, alas, that bring both benefits and problems…

Digital marketing, the technology that supports it and the wealth of data that it generates, have gifted us B2B marketers with new ways to connect with customers, new ways to learn what tactics work or don’t work, new ways to improve the efficiency of what we do, new ways to innovate in customer service, and more. But (and you knew there was a ‘but’ coming), the new digital marketing economy has brought with it with some unhealthy side effects.

For example, excessive digital hype has, almost certainly, distracted marketers from some other priorities, such as brand positioning and figuring out how to minimise price sensitivity. It is almost certain that many people selling digital marketing tools and techniques have mis-set the expectations of many marketers (noting, of course, that they’re selling the same tools and techniques to each of our rivals). Further, tactics such as excessive tracking and stalking customers around the internet have and will continue to see a rise in privacy concerns and countermeasures. And then there is online advertising fraud, which is seemingly rife. These are all issues that us B2B marketers can not be myopic to.

To paint that picture, here are just a small selection of articles that inspired me to write this post – and which pay testament to the need for us marketers to be wary…

Recommended additional reading:

A happy ending

While it is clearly not all doom and gloom in the world of digital marketing, and it is inconceivable to me that we wouldn’t continue to embrace online channels, data insights and marketing technology to achieve our B2B marketing goals, I do believe B2B marketers need to have our wits about us and approach modern digital marketing hype with our eyes wide open.

The articles above remind us of the need to ask probing questions of tech vendors, agencies and each other as we refine our respective online marketing approaches. They also remind us of the need to reflect on the things that digital marketing and observable click data can’t necessarily do for our brands on their own – such as developing client empathy or protecting our pricing. And I hope that, by inference, they remind us of the need to take a broader, integrated and more strategic view of B2B marketing.

In closing, it is important, in my opinion, to reflect on both the good bits and not-so-good bits of all aspects of marketing – digital marketing included. Because if we’re working with imbalanced inputs, advice and opinions, we will end up with imbalanced outputs. And who wants an imbalanced (ie wobbly) B2B marketer?

All of that said, to end on a jovial note (and with a small hint of irony), I thought I’d re-post this fun, related video from martech provider Adobe… ‘Click Baby’ 🙂

More B2B Marketing ‘the movie’

  1. On the dystopian dangers of tunnel-vision in modern marketing: The Marketrix >
  2. On the dangers of forgetting the traditional aspects of marketing: B2Basic Instinct >
  3. On the dangers of jargon: Jason and the Jargonauts >
  4. On the ridiculous pressure many marketers are under: Bridget Bones’s To-Do List >
  5. On the dangers of ‘shiny new toy syndrome’: The Life of B2Brian >

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