The Oxford Future of Marketing Initiative (FOMI) hosted its third annual research symposium in December.
FOMI welcomed a number of partners and collaborators to discuss the challenges faced by marketers at the start of a new decade. As well as reflecting on how much the marketing landscape has changed over the past ten years, delegates considered questions around data, advances in AI and machine learning, and the role that marketing should play in promoting sustainability within business and society.
Data, AI and machine learning
Professor Andrew Stephen (Saïd Business School), introduced the session by questioning ‘What do marketers need to be thinking about as we approach a new decade?’
Greg Stuart (Mobile Marketing Association), enforced how important it is to continue to consider the ethics around, and application of, data. He argued that ‘data, big data and the application to business is crucial to the future of marketing. Defining our ethics in application of data is the right thing to do.’
Lex Bradshaw-Zanger (L’Oréal), echoed this, encouraging marketers to pay close attention to channel and consumer shifts, and emphasising the importance of Machine Learning (ML) and Artificial intelligence (AI) in driving change.
Professor Melinda Mills (Department of Sociology, University of Oxford), drew these two points together within a discussion around the newly established Leverhulme Centre for Demographic Science. The cross departmental project is focused on understanding changing demographics and establishing ways in which we can identify key sources of big data.
Melinda acknowledged the implication the project may have for the Future of Marketing, with particular reference to AI and ML development. ‘What if we could predict where and when the next mass migration will occur? Accurately forecast the volume of neighbourhood-specific school and hospital places required in the next 5 to 10 years? If we can achieve this, we will be able to enlighten AI through Machine learning, and inform businesses of impending demographic shifts and consumers’ future needs.’
Julie Kollman (Kantar), agreed with this accord, however encouraged marketers to also refocus on the consumer. ‘Data is fantastic, but it only tells you what the consumer is doing, not why. Social Media doesn’t represent the opinions of the vast majority. As well as focusing on data collection, we also need to focus more on consumers’ needs and motivations – the "why." Marketers who invest the time to truly understand their consumers will have a massive competitive advantage if we adopt this.’
Ian Edwards (Facebook), recommended that growing businesses learn ‘to take a step back from data’ where they can, to allow machines to accelerate data collection. He spoke with particular reference to current targeted marketing practices.
‘It’s time to let go of old-fashioned targeting. With current targeting practices, marketers have optimised themselves into a corner. Understanding the consumer is still critical, but if you’re collecting the right signals you can then step back and allow the AI targeting to work.’