Key Takeaways from IBM Amplify 2016

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Conference season in the marketing technology world is in full swing and this week was IBM's turn to dazzle marketers. IBM Amplify--the company's key conference for marketing, sales, e-commerce, and merchandising--was fragmented, however. As the company bets on cloud computing, cognitive systems, language processing, and other areas for future growth, it remains unclear if the company can pull its many investments into a coherent offering.

Conference season in the marketing technology world is in full swing and this week was IBM's turn to dazzle marketers.

IBM Amplify--the company's key conference for marketing, sales, e-commerce, and merchandising--had many positive points but was ultimately underwhelming. As the company bets on cloud computing, cognitive systems, language processing, and other areas for future growth, it remains unclear if the company can pull its many investments into a coherent offering.But we'll start with the bright spots.

IBM Watson + The Weather Company
Melanie Butcher, program director of UX Design Studio, gave an onstage demonstration of how IBM Watson can help marketers create an ad. Using phrases like "Watson, use the attributes for commuter bike events" and "Watson, suggest products for cool or rainy weather," Butcher demonstrated how the cognitive supercomputer can respond to natural language and populate ads with text and images related to the current weather.

Using data from The Weather Company, Watson can identify 4,863 locations with below-average temperature or areas with more than a 50 chance of precipitation to help marketers decide whether they should update the campaign by adding content related to stormy weather conditions. Watson can also pull in CRM data as well as social media and third-party data to further target the ads. This was just one example of how marketers can better leverage data insights to make more informed decisions in engaging audiences.

Data-Driven Insights
Unlike last year, when IBM launched its Marketing Cloud and the Universal Behavior Exchange, this year's news was largely centered on upgrades and enhancements. "Analytics is IBM's sweet spot" and remains "laser focused on cognitive insights," maintained Stephen Mello, vice president of strategy and offering management for IBM eCommerce and merchandising. During a keynote address, Mello unveiled enhancements to the company's Marketing Cloud.

The new features include cognitive technologies that provide retailers with a real-time view of how products and categories are performing. For instance, with the cognitive-powered category sequencing capabilities, a website will strategically display products on a web page based on consumer demand and inventory and rearrange the products as sales and inventory levels change.

Additionally, new Real-Time Personalization and Cognitive Rule Adviser features use cognitive technology (i.e., Watson) to offer marketers suggestions on rules to implement to deliver the right message at the right time to customers.

Based on the understanding that a person's preferences change over time, the Cognitive Rule Adviser analyzes patterns to make recommendations on the offer and message that should be shared with each visitor. It then discovers which segments are responding best to each variation based on factors such as age and geography, and through self-learning algorithms and analytics fine-tunes the experiences over time.

For example, a sporting goods retailer may have a customer whose profile indicates he or she is interested in taking up cycling. Based on the customer's website activity and the content he or she posts on social media, the Real-Time Personalization engine determines that the customer is a novice cyclist and shows the customer content that is fit for beginners, such as riding tips or offers on a helmet. Over time, the system notices that the customer's interests may have changed and adapts by serving up content on long-distance rides and other higher-level information.

While these new features are useful, IBM faces stiff competition from other companies that offer data-driven marketing clouds. Additionally, no announcements were made about IBM's investments in increasingly hot marketing topics like virtual reality and the Internet of Things, even though it has created an IoT business unit headed by Harriet Green who was essentially the emcee of the conference.

It also remains unclear whether IBM's emphasis on cognitive computing and cloud-based services will be enough to power the company's future growth. Even though quarterly revenue from its cloud and analytics businesses grew 14 percent year-over-year and now represents 37 percent of the company's revenue, last month IBM reported its overall quarterly revenue falling for the 16th-straight quarter.

As a 105-year-old company, IBM is no stranger to reinvention but whether Big Blue can pull its many investments together to meet the needs of today's marketers is still a question.

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