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Deception vs authenticity: Why the metaverse will change marketing forever

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If we strip away the hype, the metaverse can be defined as “the large-scale societal shift from flat media viewed in the third person to immersive media experienced in the first person.” While this hones the concept down to just its core features, the implications are still profound. That’s because the metaverse will fundamentally change the role of the user from an outsider peering in to an active participant having firsthand experiences.  

The rapidly approaching shift to immersive media will impact almost every industry, but few will be transformed as dramatically as marketing. That’s because the tools, techniques, and tactics of digital advertising are currently rooted in flat images, documents, and videos. In the metaverse, the core marketing methods will change to immersive experiences that are far more natural, personal, and interactive.  This will hold true in both virtual and augmented worlds. 

The Metaverse represents the largescale shift in digital media from flat content viewed in the third person to immersive content experienced in the first person. 

Because of its deeply personal nature, Immersive Marketing has the potential to be far more persuasive than traditional methods. It also poses significant risks to consumers, as immersive tactics can easily be abused through predatory practices. In the paragraphs below I describe the two core techniques likely to dominate marketing in the metaverse, Virtual Product Placements and Virtual Spokespeople, outlining the uses of each and the dangers that could emerge.  

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Virtual Product Placements (VPPs)

In the metaverse, advertisements will be deployed as promotional artifacts and activities that are injected into immersive environments on behalf of paying sponsors. These VPPs will be narrowly targeted at individual users, meaning they will be encountered by specific people at specific times and places. For example, if you are a sports fan of a particular age and income level, you might see a simulated person walking near you down the street (in a virtual or augmented world) wearing a shirt that promotes a high-end sports bar two blocks ahead of you. 

A picture containing text, person, outdoor, sidewalk

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Image created by Louis Rosenberg using Midjourney

Because this is a targeted VPP, others around you would not see the same promotional content. Instead, users near you will encounter different promotional artifacts customized to their profiles.  A teenager might see people drinking a particular brand of soft drink, while a child might see a group of kids playing with a particular toy.  Some of these encounters might be highly stylized, while others will be so accurately integrated into the virtual or augmented world, that they will not be easily distinguished as advertisements. VPPs can therefore be defined as follows: 

Virtual Product Placement (VPP) is a simulated product, service, or activity injected into an immersive world (virtual or augmented) on behalf of a paying sponsor such that it appears to the user as an integrated element of the ambient environment.

Such advertising can be extremely impactful because consumers will encounter the promotional content as organic experiences integrated into their daily life. For the same reasons, VPPs also have the potential to be abused by advertisers if not regulated. That’s because Virtual Product Placements will become so realistic and well-integrated into immersive worlds that they could easily be mistaken for authentic experiences that a user serendipitously encounters. If users cannot easily distinguish between authentic experiences and targeted promotional content, advertising in the metaverse could easily become predatory, deceiving users into believing that specific products, services, or activities are popular in their community (virtual or augmented) when in fact they are observing a promotionally altered representation of their surroundings. 

Avoiding predatory tactics

Taken to an extreme, you could imagine walking down a virtual or augmented street filled with political posters and banners supporting a particular candidate.  You might believe that this community is highly supportive of that candidate and not realize that what you are seeing is targeted propaganda.  In fact, you might be entirely unaware that other people walking on that same street are being targeted with posters and banners for alternate candidates. This is the danger of promotionally altered experiences, as it could amplify social divisions, driving people from their current information bubbles to entirely separate but parallel realities.  

For these reasons, consumers should be protected from predatory uses of virtual product placements in the metaverse. A simple but powerful protection would be to require that all VPPs look visually distinct from organic experiences. For example, if a virtual product is placed in your surroundings as a targeted advertisement, that product should be visually distinct such that it cannot be confused with authentic artifacts that you serendipitously encounter. The same is true for injected activities and other targeted promotional experiences that could be confused by consumers. 

If regulations are put in place to require visual distinctions, consumers would be able to easily tell the difference between authentic encounters and promotionally altered experiences. This is obviously good for consumers, but it’s also good for the industry, for without such protections users would likely cease to trust anything they encounter in the metaverse as authentic.  

Virtual Spokespeople (VSPs)

In the metaverse, promotional content will go beyond inanimate objects or silent characters to AI-driven avatars that engage users in promotional conversation on behalf of paying sponsors. While such capabilities seemed out of reach just a few years ago, recent breakthroughs in the field of Large Language Models (LLMs) and photorealistic avatars make VSPs viable in the near term and likely to be deployed widely in metaverse platforms.  It can be defined as follows:

Virtual Spokesperson (VSP) is a simulated human or other character injected into an immersive world (virtual or augmented) that verbally conveys promotional content on behalf of a paying sponsor, often engaging the user in promotional conversation.

VSPs are likely to target users in two distinct but powerful ways — (1) by passive observation or (2) by direct engagement. In the passive case, a targeted user might observe two virtual people having a conversation in the metaverse about a product, service, or idea. For example, a simulated couple could be placed near a targeted consumer in a virtual or augmented establishment. The target may assume these are ordinary users, not realizing that a third party injected those virtual people into the environment as a subtle form of advertising. 

For example, the targeted user might overhear the couple discussing a new car they purchased, touting the features and benefits. The user might perceive those comments as authentic views of other users and not agenda-driven promotional content. Similar tactics could be used to convey any promotional message from touting products and services to delivering political propaganda, or even overt disinformation. And because metaverse platforms will likely collect detailed profile data about each user, the overheard conversation could easily be algorithmically crafted to trigger very specific thoughts, feelings, interests, or discontent in targeted users.  

Persuasive (but not undercover) VSPs

For these reasons, regulation should be considered to protect consumers from predatory tactics. At a minimum, regulators should consider requiring that promotional VSPs be visually distinct from authentic users (or avatars controlled by authentic users). This would prevent consumers from confusing overheard conversations that are targeted promotions with authentic and unaltered observations of their world.     

Of course, VSPs will be most persuasive when directly engaging consumers in promotional conversations. The verbal exchange could be so authentic, the user might not realize they are speaking to an AI-driven conversational avatar with a pre-planned persuasive agenda. As mentioned above, recent advances in LLMs have made authentic conversations with AI agents viable in the near term, especially when discussing casual topics.  

In addition, it’s important to stress that these AI-driven conversational agents would likely have access to detailed profile data collected by metaverse platforms about each targeted user, including their preferences, interests, and a historical record of prior promotional engagements. These AI agents will also have access to real-time emotional data from facial expressions, vocal inflections, and vital signs of targeted users. This will enable the AI agent to adjust its conversational tactics in real-time for optimal persuasion.

Custom crafted VSPs

Even the visual form in which these AI-driven virtual spokespeople are presented will be custom crafted for maximum persuasion. It is likely that the gender, hair color, eye color, clothing style, voice and mannerisms of VSPs will be custom generated by AI algorithms that predict which sets of features will most effectively influence the targeted user based on their previous interactions and behaviors. I depicted this 14 years ago in my cautionary book about the metaverse, “Upgrade.” The characters in the graphic novel were targeted by VSPs that were made to look more and more sexualized by an AI system that determined the tactic to be an increasingly effective form of influence. While this was written as ironic fiction over a decade ago, without regulation I fear we are now very close to it becoming reality. 

For all of these reasons, the potential for predatory advertising tactics is significant and likely requires regulation. At a minimum, regulators should consider requiring that virtual spokespeople be visually distinct from authentic users within immersive environments, thereby alerting consumers that the conversation is targeted promotional content rather than an authentic encounter.  In addition, it could be a dangerous practice to enable AI systems to custom-target the appearance and voice of virtual spokespeople for optimum persuasion on specific users. This type of AI-driven manipulation should be regulated. 

Regulation: Imperative

In the past, experts have expressed doubt that AI-generated avatars could successfully fool consumers, but recent research suggests otherwise. In a 2022 study, researchers from The Proceedings of Natural Academy of Sciences showed that when virtual people are created using generative adversarial networks (GANs), they are indistinguishable from real humans to average consumers. Even more surprisingly, they determined that users perceive virtual people as “more trustworthy” than real people. This suggests that in the not so distant future, advertisers will prefer AI-driven virtual spokespeople as their promotional representatives. 

Whether you’re looking forward to it or not, the metaverse is coming and will impact society at all levels. Marketing tactics will become deeply immersive and will employ AI technology for optimal persuasion.  For these reasons, we must consider regulation as a means of protecting consumers from predatory tactics. For example, regulators should consider requiring that VPPs and VSPs be visually distinct from authentic products, services, and persons in immersive worlds. 

I don’t come to this recommendation lightly, as I’ve been involved in virtual and augmented reality for over thirty years, both as a researcher and as a founder of multiple companies. I’m a true believer in the potential of immersive media. But without meaningful regulation, nothing would protect users from immersive promotional encounters that are mistaken for authentic experiences. In addition, I firmly believe consumer protections would be good for advertisers and platform providers, for without sensible guardrails, users in the metaverse would be unable to trust the authenticity of any experience. That would damage the industry at all levels. 

Dr. Louis Rosenberg is a pioneer in the fields of virtual and augmented reality. His work began over thirty years ago in labs at Stanford and NASA. In 1992 he developed the first mixed reality system at Air Force Research Laboratory. In 1993 he founded the early VR company Immersion Corp (public on Nasdaq). In 2004 he founded the early AR company Outland Research. He has been awarded over 300 patents for VR, AR, and AI technologies and is currently CEO of Unanimous AI, the Chief Scientist of the Responsible Metaverse Alliance, and the Global Technology Advisor to the XR Safety Initiative (XRSI). 

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Iterable optimizes AI to hyper-personalize marketing and predict future purchases

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With people living on their phones and constantly deluged by messages, emails and notifications, so-called “batch-and-blast” emails, targeted web ads and word-of-mouth are no longer adequate when it comes to customer outreach.

“We’re online more than ever before, acutely aware and concerned with how our personal data is used and, importantly, we demand to be valued and recognized for what makes us unique,” said Andrew Boni, CEO of customer engagement platform company Iterable

Marketers must then achieve the “extraordinary task” of reaching as many customers — and in as many hyper-personalized ways — as possible. And, matching each consumer with “a personal marketer and targeted message at every touchpoint” is impossible without artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), said Boni. 

To this end, Iterable today announced its new AI Optimization Suite. The tool is equipped with new predictive goals with explainable AI capabilities to help drive individualized brand-consumer communication, said Boni. 

The company will officially unveil its new platform to the public at its Activate Summit North America in September. 

“Understanding the inner workings [the ‘why’ and ‘how’] behind the system gives marketers the clarity and confidence to improve and refine the predictions they create, design goals that fit their unique business needs, and implement fresh ideas about how to approach customer-first campaigns,” said Bela Stepanova, senior vice president of product at Iterable. 

Iterable treats customers as its most valuable asset

Most brands have access to customer data and a goal in mind for connecting with their customers. But the magic formula is often missing: Building true customer knowledge — and acting on that. 

This has provided a significant opportunity and rapid growth in AI-powered customer engagement platforms. According to Markets and Markets, the global customer engagement solutions market will grow to $32.2 billion by 2027, representing a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of nearly 11%. 

The global market for retail omnichannel commerce platforms will reach $16.9 billion by 2027, as forecasted by ReportLinker.com. This represents a CAGR of 16.4% from 2020 — growth largely propelled by the COVID-19 crisis, according to the firm. 

Companies competing for that market share include Adobe Marketo Engage, HubSpot Marketing Hub, Pega, Blueshift, Braze and MoEngage. 

And Iterable is rapidly increasing its presence: The 9-year-old series E “centaur” company that now serves more than 1,000 customers — including DoorDash, Calm, Jersey Mike’s Subs, Zillow and SeatGeek — has surpassed $100 million in annual recurring revenue (ARR), and has recently expanded into Latin America and Asia Pacific territories. 

Ingest, centralize, activate

Iterable’s AI Optimization Suite helps brands “ingest, centralize and activate” customer data and use real-time information to craft individualized campaigns, said Boni. 

Its predictive goals functionality allows brands to establish goals unique to their business needs and predict how their customer base might respond. They can then use those predictions to establish customer segments and tailor messaging to maximize conversion. 

The explainable AI feature within the predictive goals functionality allows marketers to pinpoint the data points that contributed to forecasts. This provides an “under the hood” look at AI and further insights that can inform future campaigns, said Boni.

Furthermore, marketers can understand behaviors that drive predictions, ranked in order of importance, according to Boni. They can also assess the quality and reliability of a goal using a predictive strength tool and receive insight into correlated variables that make outcomes more or less likely. 

Building a ‘What to Do’ journey

As an example: A travel company is looking to drive incremental purchases and increase rental car revenue. 

Predictive goals creates a list of users most likely to book a rental car within the next 30 days. Brands can then score that list and select and target the highest propensity users with cross-channel messages triggered after an airline ticket purchase, explained Boni. 

Using Explainable AI, the travel company can then go a step further by identifying the attributes that target those high-propensity customers — browsing a “Tours and Activities” section of their website after booking a flight, for instance. These gleaned insights can be used to create a “What to Do” journey for airfare purchasers. This might highlight tours and other activities in their travel destinations, wrapped together with rental car promotions, said Boni. 

The company plans to expand the platform to help marketers understand how goals perform over time, he said, as well as allowing them to more deeply analyze cohorts and optimize individual user experiences with journeys and experimentation.

“By setting goals and measuring outcomes, marketers can lean into strategies that are working and adjust any that aren’t,” said Boni. 

He marveled that, “we can make predictions about the future. This is where the world is heading. It is less about looking into the past and making a guess, and more about (establishing) future behavior.”

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Microsoft launches cloud-powered marketing, supply chain, and retail solutions

Beyond updates across Azure, this week at its Ignite 2021 conference, Microsoft has announced additions to its Dynamics 365 business app and industry portfolio, including Microsoft Customer Experience Platform, a marketing solution that is aimed at helping customers personalize, automate, and orchestrate customer journeys. Another — Microsoft Connected Spaces — is designed to let organizations leverage observational data to produce predictive insights, while Supply Chain Insights aims to proactively mitigate supply chain issues.

“[W]e are announcing innovation across the Microsoft Cloud that will allow every organization to build a hyperconnected business, providing the agility and flexibility for organizations and employees to thrive now and into the future,” Microsoft’s corporate VP of industry, apps, and data marketing Alysa Taylor said in a blog post. “In order to be successful given these trends, every organization must move beyond ‘business as usual’ and toward a new model of hyperconnected business.”

Microsoft Customer Experience

Microsoft pitches its Customer Experience Platform as a service to “deliver personalized and connected experiences from awareness to purchase.” Leveraging assets from the existing Microsoft Customer Insights and Dynamics 365 Marketing products, the goal is to understand and predict intent to deliver the right content on the right channel and at the right moment, the company says.

To the company’s point, Epsilon found that 80% of consumers are more likely to make a purchase from a brand that provides personalized experiences — marketing or otherwise. Moreover, according to a Smart Insights survey, 63% of consumers will stop buying from brands that use poor personalization tactics.

Customer Experience Platform’s Consent-enabled Consumer Data Platform (CDP) feature, currently in preview, enables chief data officers to use consent data to build customer profiles, manage known and pseudonymous aliases, ensure consumer data practices are compliant and protect the data with privacy and security controls. The complementary business-to-business CDP combines customer data from all sources — including customer relationship management software, email, websites, point-of-sales, partner systems, and social networks — and performs identity resolution at the contract and account level to generate profiles for people and companies. The AI-suggested content creation and delivery tool automatically generates a set of “content snippers” to serve as inspiration for customer emails.

Taylor says that customers including Home Depot, Chipotle, and agency partners like VMLY&R and Kin+Carta are already using Customer Experience Platform in their organizations. “Many [businesses] struggle to manage, organize, and gain insight from the vast quantity of data available to them, and for marketers that challenge is even more acute,” she added. “[C]ustomer data is the key to personalized, relevant, timely customer experiences.”

Connected Spaces

Another new service joining Dynamics 365, Connected Spaces, lets organizations “gain a new perspective” in the way people move and interact in nearly any space, Microsoft claims. With it, companies can monitor safety in high-risk areas and observe queue management, ranging in environments from retail stores to factory floors.

“With Connected Spaces … organization[s] can harness observational data with ease, [using] AI-powered models to unlock insights about [their] environment and respond in real-time to trends and patterns,” Taylor added.

At a high level, Connected Spaces provides analytics and trend information about people, places, and more. For example, in a store, Connected Spaces can monitor foot traffic patterns, cashier queue lengths, dwell times, and product display engagement. Microsoft says that Mattress Firm has piloted the technology to measure the effectiveness of its in-store promotions.

While the purported goal of products like Connected Spaces includes health, safety, and analytics, the technology could be co-opted for other, less humanitarian intents. Many privacy experts worry that they’ll normalize greater levels of surveillance, capturing data about workers’ movements and allowing managers to chastise employees in the name of productivity.

Microsoft did not detail the steps it’s taken to prevent the potential misuse of Connected Spaces. Once the service comes to preview, further details regarding this are likely to be disclosed.

Supply Chain Insights

The launch of the aforementioned Supply Chain Insights (in preview) comes as companies face historic supply challenges. According to one source, only 6% report full visibility on their supply chain. And 38.8% of U.S.-based small businesses experienced supply chain delays due to the pandemic.

“Customers like Daimler Trucks North America can gain new visibility into their supply chains across multiple tiers of suppliers. They can get data in near real-time, allowing them to assess risks and mitigate problems before a massive disruption occurs,” Taylor continued. “Supply Chain Insights also enables customers to enrich their own supply chain data with external signals like global weather data to predict its impact on shipments, putting increased intelligence and predictive power at their fingertips.”

With Supply Chain Insights, companies can reconcile data from third-party data providers, logistics partners, customers, and multi-tier suppliers and create a “digital twin” simulation of the supply chain — generating insights powered by AI. Digital twin approaches to simulation have gained currency in many domains, for instance helping SenSat clients in construction, mining, energy, and other industries create models of locations for projects they’re working on.

Supply Chain Insights also enriches signals with external constraints like environmental disasters or geopolitical events that could affect the supply chain. Beyond this, the service can automate and execute actions through existing enterprise resource planning and supply chain execution systems, according to Microsoft.

Microsoft Cloud

Manufacturing

Building on the release of Supply Chain Insights, Microsoft is introducing Microsoft Cloud for Manufacturing, the newest entry in the company’s Industry Cloud lineup. Announced in February and now available in preview, Cloud for Manufacturing brings together new and existing capabilities across the Microsoft Cloud portfolio in addition to partner solutions to connect people, assets, workflows, and business processes.

According to a 2020 PricewaterhouseCoopers survey, companies in manufacturing expect efficiency gains over the next five years attributable to digital transformations. McKinsey’s research with the World Economic Forum puts the value creation potential of manufacturers implementing “Industry 4.0” — the automation of traditional industrial practices — at $3.7 trillion in 2025.

“Cloud for Manufacturing … connects experiences across the end-to-end product and service lifecycle and lighting up the entire Microsoft Cloud with capabilities specifically tailored to manufacturing,” Taylor said. “Customers including Johnson & Johnson are working with Microsoft on their digital manufacturing transformation with tools like Azure, AI, and Microsoft Cloud for Manufacturing capabilities.”

Nonprofit, Sustainability, Financial Services, and Healthcare

Microsoft Cloud for Nonprofit, a collection of tools, apps, cloud services, and infrastructure geared toward nonprofit scenarios, is now generally available following a preview earlier this year. Built for fundraisers, volunteer managers, and program managers, and other roles unique to the nonprofit segment, it’s designed to help address challenges ranging from constituent and supporter engagement to program design and delivery.

The closely related Microsoft Cloud for Sustainability, previously in private preview and now in public preview, aims to bring greater transparency and data sharing, agreement on common taxonomy and methods of measurement, and standard practices for tracking and reporting data on carbon emissions. The solution uses a common format to connect data from various sources and get a company’s carbon footprint as well as provide insights to understand data, measure progress, meet regulatory and reporting requirements, and identify actions needed to reduce the footprint.

Meanwhile, Microsoft announced that Microsoft Cloud for Financial Services — its collection of solutions for the financial industry — is generally available, with new capabilities across Microsoft Azure, Microsoft 365, Dynamics 365, and Power Platform to help enable retail banks to “enhance customer and employee experiences.” Alongside this, Microsoft Cloud for Healthcare — which launched last year — has received several updates, including:

  • An enhanced patient view that allows providers to associate one patient record with other patient records (in preview)
  • A new waiting room for Microsoft Teams (in preview).
  • Integration of Microsoft Forms with Microsoft Bookings (in preview)
  • A scheduled queue for virtual visits in Microsoft Bookings (in preview)
  • Virtual Visits Manager, a standalone Teams app to facilitate reporting about virtual consults (in preview)

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Marketing automation is key to reducing workloads, Zapier says

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From calendar events to email management, automation plays a major role in workflows across industries. A little more than half of marketers used automation in team communication, according to a recent poll by Zapier.

About 42% of marketers reported using automation to identify and target customers. More than a quarter of them used it to schedule emails, and about a third used marketing automation to send tailored messages, manage a subscriber database, or notify their team members of events. Automation saves marketers about 25 hours per week, according to Zapier.

Zapier took a look at how various professionals use automation in their roles. It polled 1,500 workers in marketing, IT, accounting, human resources, and sales or customer service in small to medium businesses across the U.S.  Zapier released its report on Monday.

In IT, 51% of the workers polled used automation to manage emails. Many also used it to communicate with colleagues (46%), update project lists (42%), meet deadlines using a calendar (39%), and test proof of concepts (33%). They save about 20 hours a week, Zapier said.

About 43% of accountants use automation to import hours into payroll, according to Zapier. Around 40% used it to communicate with their team, collect receipts, and streamline purchase and budget approvals. This saves them about four hours a week.

Meanwhile, about four in 10 sales and customer service professionals used automation to message their team members about a lead or a customer, message a lead or a customer, and collect invoices and payments. About a third used automation to forecast sales and for CRM hygiene.

Automation saves sales representatives about four hours a week and customer service representatives about 16 hours a week, according to the poll.

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Multichannel marketing platform Iterable raises $200M

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Iterable, a cross-channel platform for customer experiences, today announced the close of a $200 million series E that values the company at $2 billion post-money. Iterable says the funds will be spent on hiring, marketing, and R&D initiatives, with an eye toward geographic expansion.

Only 30% of marketers are highly confident in their ability to deliver a multichannel strategy, according to a survey by Invesp. This being the case, 95% of salespeople say they consider multichannel marketing important for customer targeting, and an estimated 51% of companies use at least eight channels to interact with customers.

That’s why in 2013 Andrew Boni, who worked at Google on AdSense, teamed up with former Twitter engineer Justin Zhu to found Iterable, a startup developing a platform that enables brands to create, execute, and optimize cross-channel campaigns. Iterable’s tools leverage big data analytics to analyze users’ behavior and optimize the time, channel, and frequency to engage with them. The tools automatically suss out the best time for conversion — gleaned through event data — and designate the channels users are most likely to convert in.

“Iterable was built to give every marketer, regardless of technical skill or business size, the opportunity to build meaningful relationships with their customers. The platform is designed to enable anyone with the will to reach customers a way to actually reach them,” a spokesperson told VentureBeat via email. “The brands that are winning in this post-pandemic world are the ones that made the jump to digital — and are able to continue meeting rapidly expanding and evolving customer expectations. Iterable, having already adopted the digital- forward and customer-first ethos, helped our customers evolve — and continue to connect with customers — during the uncertainty of the pandemic.”

Iterable

From Iterable’s dashboard, marketing managers can orchestrate welcome campaigns and trials, targeted sales, promotions, and product updates across mail, mobile push, SMS, in-app, web push, and direct mail channels. They’re able to deploy cart abandonment flows and define rules-based triggers that kick off post-purchase, as well as renewal sequences. Using Iterable, salespeople can also build cross-channel segments with drag-and-drop filters and schedulers.

An analysis module called Iterable Insights lets clients drill down into real-time user, behavioral, and event data from up to millions of people. Marketers can measure and fine-tune campaigns with an experimentation and A/B testing tool, dynamically segmenting customers, thanks to support for profiles spanning hundreds of demographic and custom event data fields.

AI and machine learning

Iterable says it’s investing in several sales-focused AI technologies, reflecting the desire of its enterprise customers.  In a survey Iterable conducted of business-to-consumer marketers in the U.S. and U.K., 83% of respondents shared that they had plans to integrate AI into their marketing plans in 2021.

Other data bears this out. When McKinsey surveyed 1,500 executives across industries and regions in 2018, 66% said addressing skills gaps related to automation and digitization was a “top 10” priority. And in its recent Trends in Workflow Automation report, Salesforce found that 95% of IT leaders are prioritizing workflow automation technologies like chatbots, with 70% seeing the equivalent of more than four hours of savings per employee each week.

One of Iterable’s newer AI-powered products is Brand Affinity,  which automatically calculates a score based on a customer’s recent interactions with a brand through email and mobile engagement signals. The signals are converted into affinity labels like “loyal,” “neutral,” or “negative,” enabling marketers to classify how their audience feels about a brand and create campaigns in response.

Iterable also offers a feature called sent time optimization (STO), an AI-powered sending tool that automatically determines the time to send an email for engagement based on a user’s historical behavior. Analyzing patterns in historical open and click behavior, STO personalizes the send time of an email for each recipient, aiming to reach their inbox when they’re most likely to engage.

Over 300 customers have used STO to send more than 2 billion messages from more than 100,000 campaigns, according to Iterable.

“Our AI tools complement the work of today’s modern marketers. Iterable’s AI processes manual tasks, surfaces customer insights, and automates the routine decision-making processes that consume bandwidth,” the spokesperson said. “Our product team is focused on delivering our customers the future of marketing, so they can [meet] high customer expectations with smart technology now. For Iterable, the future is now and AI is here.”

Growth year

The global omnichannel retail commerce platform market is expected to grow from $2.99 billion in 2017 to $11.01 billion by 2023, and Iterable isn’t the only startup vying for a slice of it. There’s Punchh and 6sense, which in April 2019 raised $27 million for its cloud-hosted marketing and sales predictive analytics tools. Another rival, RedPoint, offers similar products that analyze customer data with AI.

But despite the fierceness of the competition, Iterable has made a name for itself, attracting over 800 customers, including DoorDash, Fender, Calm, Box, and Cars.com. The company says it plans to expand its workforce from 450 employees to 600 by the end of the year.

“At Iterable, our goal is to strengthen the relationship between brands and their customers by empowering marketers to create personalized and inclusive digital experiences. An important component of this relationship-building — and a top priority for customers — is trust and transparency,” Boni told VentureBeat via email. “To make memorable and personalized experiences possible while building trust, first- and zero-party data are more important than ever. This type of data has always been a priority for our product, and at the core of Iterable’s mission and values, and in light of recent regulations and restrictions around third-party data, brands need to learn the utility of this data so they can [use] it strategically, for the benefit of their business and audience. There’s a gap in the market for a company that can harness and deploy the power of customer data and complement, not replace, the work of today’s marketers.”

Silver Lake, Adams Street, Glynn Capital, and Deutsche Telekom Capital Partners participated in San Francisco-based Iterable’s latest funding round, which follows a $60 million series D that closed in late 2019. Previous backers Viking, CRV, Blue Cloud, and Capital One Ventures also contributed.

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SugarCRM sweetens predictive AI engine for marketing automation

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SugarCRM tweaked its SugarPredict AI engine this month to help marketing teams with automated, predictive lead scoring. The cloud-based marketing automation software, first released as a sales tool for customer relationship management (CRM), now also facilitates “rapid and reliable marketing lead qualification and prioritization,” the company said.

SugarPredict is available on the Cupertino, California-based company’s Sugar Market platform for automating and assisting with marketing tasks. It was first introduced in January for SugarCRM’s Sugar Sell users. SugarPredict for sales is billed as an AI-driven way to intelligently enrich the customer data people enter into CRM systems to ensure quality and consistency for sales team users.

Sugar Market is a customer lead-cultivating platform that helps marketing teams with tasks like quantifying how website visitors interact with digital marketing materials; assisting in the creation of emails, landing pages, and forms; qualifying leads with lead-scoring models; and aligning with sales via automated hand-offs of qualified leads.

Leave the lead scoring to the machine

“The new smart scoring engine in Sugar Market saves marketing teams time by automating the creation and maintenance of lead scoring logic,” SugarCRM GM Christian Wettre told VentureBeat.

“By continuously adjusting the lead-scoring rules based on customer behavior over time, SugarPredict helps marketing teams stay on top of changing markets. SugarPredict adds velocity of interest as one of many new factors of a lead score. By including more factors than just the sum of clicks, marketing teams deliver more intelligently scored leads to sales teams,” he said.

Describing the current state of CRM as a “crisis for companies,” Wettre cited a recent SugarCRM-commissioned survey of global enterprises that found more than half of respondents believe their current CRM systems are costing them revenue. Some 58% of those surveyed said their sales and marketing teams lacked the training and skills to customize their CRM to generate better results, while 53% percent said time consumed with administrative CRM and lead generation burdens was hurting productivity.

Automatic for the people

SugarPredict is intended to help alleviate these sales and marketing pain points with automated processes like augmenting incomplete customer profiles with relevant online data the AI engine discovers and pulls in, Wettre said.

He described SugarPredict helping SugarCRM customers in a number of ways:

  • No blind spots: Instead of being limited to piecemeal views of the customer, you see all relevant information — past, present, and even future — instantly (with predictive insights).
  • No busywork: Instead of having to manually enter endless details, you get a platform that automatically captures data and presents it in context to everyone who needs it.
  • No roadblocks: Instead of all the standard limitations, you get a solution built around your needs and workflows.

SugarCRM was founded in 2004 and began as a developer of free open source CRM software. That was eventually discontinued as the company shifted to selling licensed CRM products. SugarCRM is owned by private equity firm Accel-KKR.

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  • up-to-date information on the subjects of interest to you
  • our newsletters
  • gated thought-leader content and discounted access to our prized events, such as Transform 2021: Learn More
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Tech News

These growth marketing courses can boost your Instagram brand to over 10K followers

This is the training to boost your brand to over 10,000 Instagram followers fast.

TLDR: The 2021 Instagram Growth Marketing Bundle can help novice Instagram brands become online marketing powerhouses, growing followers and profits from the social platform.

If you thought teenage girls, celebrity influencers, and overly enthusiastic grandparents were the only ones on Instagram, you haven’t been paying attention. Sure, pictures of celebrities doing their thing and every meal ever served fill typical Instagram feeds. But brands that aren’t paying attention to the Insta-revolution are missing out big time.

With more than 1 billion monthly active users, Instagram has become a marketing bonanza for brands ready to engage and reap the benefits. Over 80 percent of Instagram users say they use the site to research products and services, while over 90 percent follow at least one brand on Instagram.

With that many potential dollars in play, The 2021 Instagram Growth Marketing Bundle ($19.99, over 90 percent off, from TNW Deals) is a focused primer for businesses who want to take advantage of Instagram’s reach and boost brand awareness, engagement, and ultimately, sales.

Across six courses, learners can get an up-close look at how to navigate the Instagram platform, create compelling content, increase the number of followers, and hopefully turn interested passers-by into long-term customers.

For those struggling to even get off the ground, the Instagram Marketing for Instagram Business Beginners course is a prime launching pad to learn the absolute Insta basics. The step-by-step training can help brands identify the audience they want to find, communicate visually to those users, and build your reputation as an authoritative voice in your feed, all via Instagram posting.

Meanwhile, courses like Complete Instagram Marketing Course: From 0 to 10,000 Followers lay out a concrete gameplan for helping any Instagram account grow its following both organically and quickly. Then How to Turn Instagram into a Business and Monetize a Following explains how to translate that growing fanbase into profits, as well as how to turn that Instagram account into its own money-making operation.

There’s also the Instagram Marketing 2021 Master Class, which expands this training into next steps, including how to use special Instagram features only available to users with over 10,000 followers.

Valued at $1,200, the training in The 2021 Instagram Growth Marketing Bundle is now on sale at an incredibly low price, just $19.99 while this offer lasts.

Prices are subject to change.



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AI

Is poor data quality undermining your marketing AI?

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Marketing’s potential to deliver results relies on data quality, but data accuracy, consistency, and validity continue to be a challenge for many organizations. Inconsistent data quality is holding marketing teams back from converting leads into sales, accurately tracking campaign performance, and taking on the larger challenges of optimizing product mix and product/service revenue forecasts.

The latest analytics, Account-Based Marketing (ABM), CRM, marketing automation, and lead scoring tools all provide real-time data capture and analysis. How the tools ensure consistent data quality directly impacts the quality of the AI and machine learning models the tools use.

Inconsistent data drives opportunities away

Marketing teams can’t deliver on their goals with bad data quality. For example, inaccurate prospect data clogs sales pipelines by slowing down efforts to turn marketing qualified leads (MQLs) into sales qualified leads (SQLs).

Problems with data quality increase the odds of failure for AI initiatives such as predictive audience offers and promotions, personalization, AI-enabled chatbots for advanced service, and automated service recovery. A quarter of organizations attempting to adopt AI report an up to a 50% failure rate, IDC said recently. The leading causes of inconsistent data quality in marketing include problems with taxonomy and meta-tagging, lack of data governance, and loss of productivity.

No data consistency

The most common reason AI and ML fail in the marketing sector is that there’s little consistency to the data across all campaigns and strategies. Every campaign, initiative, and program has its unique meta-tags, taxonomies, and data structures. It’s common to find marketing departments with 26 or more systems supporting 18 or more taxonomies, each created at one point in a marketing department’s history to support specific campaigns. O’Reilly’s The State of Data Quality In 2020 survey found that over 60% of enterprises see their AI and machine learning projects fail due to too many data sources and inconsistent data. While the survey was on the organization level, it would not be a stretch to assume the failure rate would be higher within marketing departments, as it’s common to create unique taxonomies, databases, and metatags for each campaign in each region.

primary data quality issues

Above: Marketing departments face a variety of data quality issues. (O’Reilly, State of Data Quality in 2020)

The larger, more globally based, and more fragmented a marketing department is, the harder it is to achieve data governance. The O’Reilly State of Data Quality Survey found that just 20% of enterprises publish information about data provenance or data lineage, which are essential tools for diagnosing and resolving data quality issues. Creating greater consistency across taxonomies, data structures, data field definitions, and meta-tags would give marketing data scientists a higher probability of succeeding with their ML models at scale.

Up to a third of a typical marketing team’s time is spent dealing with data quality issues, which has a direct impact on productivity, according to Forrester’s Why Marketers Can’t Ignore Data Quality study. Inaccurate data makes tactical decisions harder to get right, which could impact revenues. Forrester found that 21 cents of every media dollar have been wasted over the last 12 months (as of 2019) due to poor data quality. Taking the time to improve data quality and consistency in marketing would convert the lost productivity to revenue.

Start with change management and data governance

Too often, marketers and the IT teams supporting them rely on data scientists to improve inconsistent data. It’s time-consuming, tedious work and can consume up to 80% or more of the data scientist’s time. It is no surprise that data scientists rate cleaning up data as their least-liked activity.

Instead of asking data scientists to solve the marketing department’s data quality challenges, it would be far better to have the marketing department focus on creating a single, unified content data model. The department should consolidate diverse data requirement needs into a single, unified model with a taxonomy rigid enough to ensure consistency, yet adaptive enough to meet unique campaign needs. Change management makes the marketer’s job easier and more productive because there is a single, common enterprise taxonomy. Data governance is key to solving this problem, and marketing leaders have to be able to explain how improving metadata consistency and content data models fits within the context of each team member’s role. After that, the marketing organization should focus on standardizing across all taxonomies and the systems supporting them.

The bottom line is that inconsistent data quality in marketing impacts the team by jeopardizing new sales cycles and creating confusion in customer relationships. The ability to get AI and ML pilots into production and provide insights valuable enough to change a company’s strategic direction depends on reliable data. Companies will find their marketing campaigns’ future contributions to growth are defined by how the team improves data quality today.

VentureBeat

VentureBeat’s mission is to be a digital town square for technical decision-makers to gain knowledge about transformative technology and transact.

Our site delivers essential information on data technologies and strategies to guide you as you lead your organizations. We invite you to become a member of our community, to access:

  • up-to-date information on the subjects of interest to you
  • our newsletters
  • gated thought-leader content and discounted access to our prized events, such as Transform 2021: Learn More
  • networking features, and more

Become a member

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Categories
Tech News

Automate creating on-brand marketing creatives for social media with this tool

TLDR: The RelayThat Design app automates all your graphic design work to unify project looks, create multiple versions, and generate agency-level creative ads and social posts in minutes.

If you’re a driven entrepreneur, you’re likely many things, from a grinding workhorse to a strong salesperson to a gifted marketer. With everything on your plate and all the skills you need to excel, design expert or artistic visionary isn’t always going to find a home on that list.

However, in our brand-centric world of digital marketing, your ads and social media posts have to look every bit as professional as anything from Apple, Coca-Cola, Nike, or any of the other global big boys. And maintaining a consistent look and tone to all that content across multiple online platforms is hugely important in crafting a concise, effective marketing effort.

RelayThat Design ($59.99, over 90 percent off, from TNW Deals) can run point on that effort for your project, sharpening and unifying any marketing message with eye-catching, professional marketing creative elements usable anywhere you need to be talking up your product or service.

RelayThat is a graphic design software app that automatically takes over a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to creating an ad, a social media post, a web graphic, or any piece of design art.

You start with your brand, maybe a logo and color scheme, and possibly a few key selling points. From that, RelayThat incorporates your key elements into one of more than 2,000 agency-level design templates, each resulting in perfectly sized and optimized graphics ready for posting to each social media channel.

While the RelayThat templates are all professional-grade, there’s also room for customization. RelayThat is home to a copyright-free stock image and icons library of more than 3 million elements for crafting just the message you want.

If you’re unsure, RelayThat is full of tools to help take the guesswork out of design work. That includes libraries of the top-performing color and font combinations, one-clock resizing to resize or remix layouts to perfectly fit any advertising or social media channel, and unified brand assets that will keep the same design aesthetics for a specific brand across any and all uses.

Everything is managed through the easy RelayThat portal, making it simple and efficient to collaborate with other designers, employees, or virtual assistants.

Right now, you can try out the time-saving advantages of the RelayThat Design app as part of this lifetime subscription deal. That takes the regular $720 price down significantly to only $59.99

Prices are subject to change.

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Tech News

Add these 10 in-demand digital marketing skills to your resume, now 50% off

TLDR: The collection of digital marketing training can optimize your online sales efforts, all at 50% off with the TNW Deals’ Semi-Annual Sale happening.

Knowing how to sell is one thing. Knowing how to sell online is another story entirely. Businesses have to engage with potential customers everywhere they may be congregating on the web. That means catching them on social media or Amazon, in Google ads, or a well-crafted email. And each of those venues requires different sets of knowledge to best convert more sales.

This collection features 10 different sets of digital marketing skills that any seller will want to add to their assortment of abilities. Not only are they vital for launching digital marketing campaigns, they’re also economical. Right now as part of TNW Deal’s Semi-Annual Sale, you can take 50 percent off the price of each item by entering the code “LEARNIT” during checkout for a limited time. 

1. Instagram Marketing

Want to know how Instagram influencers are turning the image-heavy social platform into a goldmine? These six courses with 16 hours of tips and tricks can lay out how some of the most influential brands are using the power of Instagram to become Insta-famous.

Get The 2021 Ultimate Instagram Influencer and Marketing Bundle for $17.50 after code LEARNIT (Reg. $1,194). 

2. YouTube Marketing

YouTube is the most visited website in the world — and this course explains how to build a YouTube channel that attracts viewers, engages an audience, and builds authority. Even if you’ve never posted to YouTube before, this beginner-friendly instruction can help get your channel off the ground.

Get the Complete Guide to YouTube Channel: 2021 YouTube Masterclass for $14.50 after code LEARNIT (Reg. $199). 

3. Video Editing and Production

Over six courses and over 30 hours of training, you can learn one of the most powerful video editing suites around to craft brilliant Hollywood-caliber videos. Users not only learn why video editing is so important, but how Adobe Premiere CC can bring it all to life with special effects, graphics, text, audio files, and more.

Get The Adobe Premiere Pro CC Video and Audio Production Course Bundle for $15 after code LEARNIT (Reg. $1,194). 

4. Email Marketing

Even in the social age, email marketing still has one of the highest returns in all of advertising. Over seven courses and more than 13 hours of training, users learn how to leverage the power emails, from writing stellar copy to creating effective email lists to tactics for converting email recipients into customers.

Get The Complete Email Marketing Bootcamp for $15 after code LEARNIT (Reg. $1,393). 

5. Music Marketing

Just because you know how to make music doesn’t mean you know how to sell it. This collection of seven courses can help talented musicians do both, featuring courses on music theory, songwriting, and music production to craft fantastic songs, as well as courses in music marketing to get your tracks in front of an audience.

Get The Music Marketing Master Class Bundle for $17.50 after code LEARNIT (Reg. $1,393). 

6. eCommerce

You can become a high-earning Amazon retailer selling your own private label products without any of stocking or shipping hassles. This 11-course, nearly 100-hour deep dive into the inner workings of Amazon explains dropshipping, how to launch your own digital storefront, and start creating your own unique products that can turn you into a serious online mogul.

Get The 2021 Complete Amazon Dropshipping and Private Label Master Class Bundle for $17.50 after code LEARNIT (Reg. $2,189). 

7. Pinterest Marketing

If you only thought Pinterest was good for vision boarding or pastry recipes, think again. These five courses explore the true power of harnessing followers on Pinterest, building a profile, crafting visual content around your brand and activating an audience to be loyal to your product or service.

Get The 2021 Pinterest Marketing and Growth Bundle for $10 after code LEARNIT (Reg. $995). 

8. Copywriting

Effective advertising always starts with strong messaging — and here’s where it starts. The five courses and 20 hours of instruction here can teach learners how to develop the mind of a copywriter, learn essential skills like effective headline writing, and build a portfolio of work that attracts potential clients and sells you as a force that can prompt customers to action.

Get The Premium Digital Copywriting Training Bundle for $12.50 after code LEARNIT (Reg. $1,000). 

9. Google SEO

Search engine optimization is what lands your business at the top of Google searches — and reaping the benefits of that placement. Over 11 courses, learners understand how to identify keywords, create SEO-friendly content, and leverage those keywords across YouTube, Amazon and more to attract better traffic and more leads, strictly from organic web searches.

Get The 2021 Complete Google SEO and SERP Certification Bundle for $15 after code LEARNIT (Reg. $1,994). 

10. Facebook Marketing

Facebook posting is great, but if you aren’t leveraging the power of Facebook as an advertising platform, you need to expand your vision. These nine courses explain everything you need to know about creating effective Facebook ads, buying them at the best possible prices, and tips for actually getting Facebook users to click on your all-important links.

Get The 2021 Ultimate Facebook Ads and Marketing Bundle for $15 after code LEARNIT (Reg. $1,800).

Prices are subject to change.

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