On 30 June marketing, technology and data analytics experts from some of the world’s leading companies including EBay, General Assembly, HSBC and L’Oréal convened at Saïd Business School, University of Oxford for a conference held jointly by analytics firm Teradata and the School. The conference was part of the Oxford Future of Marketing Initiative, which was founded at Oxford Saïd by Associate Dean of Research and L'Oréal Professor of Marketing Andrew Stephen in 2016. The initiative brings together luminaries from both academia and industry to share insights, knowledge and research.
‘We’ve partnered with some amazing companies to help them address the challenges they face and also to learn from them, so they can help guide our research and teaching,’ said Professor Stephen.
One such company is the data and analytics technology firm Teradata, who have been trailblazers in their field for nearly 40 years. ‘Our journey with big data began with one of our first clients - an international bank,’ explained Martin Willcox, Director of Big Data at Teradata. ‘Their customers had become disintermediated by new technology, and they were no longer interacting directly with the bank’s staff. However, the bank still had to understand them, and that’s when data analytics came into play. We have been keeping ahead of the data technology curve ever since, and learning from academic perspectives is a fundamental aspect of this.’
Professor Stephen kicked off the day with a talk that focussed on the possibilities brought about by the increasing digitisation of previously analogue customer journeys. His real time example of L’Oréal’s makeup app amused the audience, but a serious message was underlying - companies that could not make intelligent use of the extensive data that these apps provided would soon fall behind competitors.
Martin Willcox then gave his personal perspective on the future of marketing as ‘the data guy who’s had two decades of experience in analytics.’ Willcox’s talk centred on the ‘fundamental shifts’ that have occurred, and in particular the challenges of controlling your brand in the era of social media. ‘We don’t own our brands like we used to,’ he said. ‘Social networks have led to their democratisation. Back in the day, if you wanted to be known as a premium company, a slick ad agency would probably be enough. But today, the three billion people using social network channels have a very public forum on which to discuss our products.’
Other highlights of the conference included a talk by Teradata’s Dr Yasmeen Ahmad, titled ‘Can creativity be automated?’ in which she explored some of the most exciting developments in the field of automation, including its use in applications previously thought to be ‘too creative’ for computers.
Looking to the near future, Bernd Schmidt, Professor of International Business at Columbia Business School, discussed our changing relationship with robots and what this could mean for marketing. His talk raised an uncomfortable question for the audience: if by augmenting ourselves with technology we are making ourselves closer to robots, while simultaneously making robots behave more like humans, will we soon reach a ‘point of singularity?’
A panel discussion moderated by Martin Willcox rounded off the event, and stimulated some fascinating debates about marketing ethics and regulation, and where the responsibility for data ownership should lie.
Closing the day, Professor Stephen said: ‘here we are in this 800 year old university, the oldest university in the English speaking world, and we’ve been talking about the exciting future of technology and analytics in marketing. That contrast is exhilarating for us, and the presence of so many fantastic companies here today is greatly appreciated by Saïd Business School. I look forward to welcoming you back soon.’
Andrew is the programme director of the Oxford Strategic Marketing Programme, where participants fundamentally redefine their approach to marketing. The next iteration is taking place 14-18 May 2018 and registration is now open.