The emergence of AI-powered martech has given marketers a lot to grapple with the last couple of years. Some have voiced fears of being replaced by automation. Others are excited by the potential time and cost savings.

But with all the hype around new technology, we may have overlooked the most exciting part of the AI revolution.

As traditional marketing shifted into digital marketing over the last decade, we’ve drifted further and further away from the human-to-human interactions that defined customer experience in prior decades.

We’ve turned people into prospects. Views into impressions. We’ve commoditized customers by automating our funnels and flywheels. By scaling our digital activities, we’ve lost a bit of the human touch.

It takes a ton of time and lots of tools to manage a digital marketing campaign. We have to leverage automation to drive results. But the machinery we build can feel cold and impersonal and end up damaging the customer experience.

AI promises to streamline our efforts, automating the repetitive tasks we grind through today, performing massively complex calculations so we don’t have to.

By replacing the technical grind of digital marketing, AI will free marketers to focus on the part of the job that requires the most humanity – engaging and serving customers.

Conversational marketing, data-driven personalization, AI and other trends predict a future where marketers have the time, and the mandate, to focus on real human interactions again. What a time to be a marketer!

Soapbox is a special feature for marketers in our community to share their observations and opinions about our industry. You can submit your own here.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.

About The Author

Nathan Binford is the vice president of marketing at MarketChorus, producers of AI-powered solutions for content marketer and publishers. Find more from Nathan on the MarketChorus blog and his personal blog, Inbound Marketing Best Practices.


Europe’s GDPR took effect in May 2018, but 2019 was the year privacy got real for marketers in the U.S. There was a convergence of legal, technological and cultural factors that forced brands, publishers and tech companies to confront privacy head-on in ways they’d been trying to avoid for years.

CCPA comes into sharp focus

The California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) was passed in 2018 and came into sharp focus this year, as January 1, 2020 has approached. As we draw closer to that implementation deadline, the IAB, DAA and a host of software companies have introduced “compliance frameworks” and tools to help marketers and publishers address the requirements of the act.

However, there’s still considerable corporate foot dragging and uncertainty. That’s consistent with what happened with GDPR compliance. Indeed, many companies operating in Europe are still not fully compliant more than a year and a half later. With CCPA, there won’t be any enforcement actions before July 1, 2020, giving affected marketers some additional time to get in line.

For much of 2018 and early 2019, big tech companies and industry trade groups criticized and fought CCPA — trying to weaken it with unsuccessful amendments – because of anticipated compliance costs and fear that more limited access to data would harm revenues or disrupt the ads ecosystem. That very much remains to be seen.

The war on third-party cookies and ‘bad ads’

In September, Firefox launched Enhanced Tracking Protection, which included default third-party cookie blocking. Apple updated Safari’s Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP) to strength anti-tracking and cookie blocking capabilities and rules:

  • ITP now downgrades all cross-site request referrer headers to just the page’s origin. Previously, this was only done for cross-site requests to classified domains.
  • ITP will now block all third-party requests from seeing their cookies, regardless of the classification status of the third-party domain, unless the first-party website has already received user interaction.

Google Chrome, which controls 64% of the global browser market, also expanded third-party cookie blocking, claiming it was doing so in a smarter way (than Apple). And in July, Chrome rolled out ad filtering on a global basis. All ads that fail Better Ads Standards are now potentially blocked.

The rise of ‘surveillance capitalism’

This was also the year when the ominous term “surveillance capitalism” entered the digital lexicon and became mainstream, appearing in books and news articles, culminating in a December 21 NY Times editorial “Total Surveillance Is Not What America Signed Up For.”

China is the leading example of the dark side of digital technology, in the service of domestic surveillance. But in some ways, America isn’t that far behind. And mobile-location tracking is at the center of the debate over privacy and personalization in this country.

Technology companies, which went from being seen primarily as job creators, innovators and purveyors of social good, have been increasingly vilified. Facebook, in particular, stumbled badly in addressing privacy and data scandals it confronted over the past few years, captured in the Netflix documentary “The Great Hack.”

But most technology companies, for reasons that aren’t entirely clear, have failed to educate consumers and the broader market about the value of their services and methodologies. As a result, often sensational journalistic pieces filled the void and helped fuel popular distrust.

Consumers are now highly concerned and even fatalistic about technology and privacy. It’s to the point where 90% of consumers said they would click “do not sell my personal information” under CCPA. We’ll see if that actually happens.

Conclusion: Privacy is your friend

A cultural and legal Rubicon of sorts has been crossed. Privacy will now be a central feature of the user experience going forward. Privacy-conscious consumers will reward companies that are more transparent and shun those that are opaque or manipulative. One could argue the failure of Facebook’s Portal smart display is a byproduct of a lack of trust in the company.

Ethics and trust will also be critical features of a brand’s long-term value. Indeed, there’s early evidence that privacy is becoming a competitive advantage. The way forward for marketers involves a wholehearted embrace of privacy and the creation of genuine value for consumers in exchange for their personal data. There really is no other alternative.

About The Author

Greg Sterling is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He writes about the connections between digital and offline commerce. He previously held leadership roles at LSA, The Kelsey Group and TechTV. Follow him Twitter or find him on LinkedIn.


It has been a heck of a year for email marketers – not just professionally but for the industry at large. I’ve worked with an amazing collection of clients from disparate industries, from a direct-mail firm to a massive health care business to start-ups and established businesses.

They all have one thing in common: a continuing, constant yearning to get better at email for their companies and their customers. This gives me hope for 2020, not just in the email space but in our professions as marketers.

I’m closing the books on the year with two thoughts.

1. Thank you for being a marketer!

This year, I’ve spoken with hundreds of marketers across the United States. What continues to impress me is that we are a dedicated, driven and insightful group of people. 

Whether you’re in email or social media, direct marketing or programmatic, a trainee or the CMO, pat yourself or a fellow marketer on the back for the life direction you chose.

It’s not easy being a marketer. We’re all dedicated to advancing our companies’ goals and brands and that takes a special kind of person. You can create something great, like an amazing abandoned-cart program, a tweet that goes viral beyond expectations or a video that elicits compliments from your CMO.

And then the next time you send an email campaign, you misspell the subject line. You’re down one day, then up the next when you see that the flawed campaign generated 20% more revenue than you expected.

You can feel proud of the job you’re doing. Keep doing it, and you will keep getting better at it.

I’m not all “email’s great, rah, rah, rah” here. We all have to check ourselves no matter where we are in the corporate structure. We need to keep learning, whether it’s by finding a podcast that inspires us, a conference that connects us to each other, or an article with new viewpoints.

Don’t go into this thinking you need to find the time to improve your skills. You have to make the time to learn. The only way you’ll do better is to admit you have to learn from others.

And that leads me to my second thought.

2. Share what you learned with those who come after you

That’s one of the things that makes a great marketer: the willingness to pass on what you’ve learned to people whose shoes you were in not too long ago.

Teach others what made you successful and what you failed at. One thing I do as a fractional CMO is to point my clients in the right direction so they don’t keep making the same mistakes or find themselves going down the wrong path. That’s all done by teaching.

This isn’t just about personal gain or helping your company grow. Everything you do to educate yourself and push harder to do email better also helps our industry grow.

I don’t have hard data to prove this, but I’ve believed for a long time that email has not innovated as fast as other channels because an email marketer’s lifespan in the job is one to three years. When people leave those front-line marketer positions, they’re ready to get out and move on to another company or take another position within the company.

When they move on, all that institutional knowledge gets lost. That means our industry resets itself every one to three years.

I can’t blame anybody for getting into email and then aspiring to greatness. It’s a responsibility to our craft and to the industry at large for email marketers to take on more responsibility and assume authority.

Congratulations if you just landed a new job. But, do one thing before you pop that farewell champagne or head out to your going-away party: Document everything!

Write down which tests worked, what you learned and how you used it. What shortcuts, workarounds and tricks have you learned about working with your various marketing platforms? What do they need to know that they won’t learn from the employee handbook?

Start a master document called “Mentorship,” and write things down as they occur to you. This is not a long, drawn-out report or an FAQ. Think of it like a page full of tweets or Facebook/Instagram/Snapchat posts where you communicate what you’ve learned, the goals you achieved and anything else that will help your successors get up to speed quickly.

Maybe you’re thinking, “Nobody did this for me. If I had to learn everything on the job, so should they.” Now, remember your first six months on the job. How scared were you to push the “Send” button on your early email campaigns? How scared are you still?

If you’re staying at your company but moving into a new job, offer to become a mentor to your successor. Help them as needed but also give them space to make their own successes.

When we all band together, we’ll accelerate the learning curve.

Wrapping up

In previous Marketing Land articles, I have urged you to celebrate your successes with your team. This time of year, email is a slog. You’re in a fierce battle for the success of your program and the goals you have achieved.

We’re close to the end now, but don’t forget to encourage everyone you work with. Go out for a drink after work or for dinner. Celebrate all the good things that happened in 2019, and let your ideas for 2020 creep in during your moments of rest.

You can do it. I believe in you!

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.

About The Author

Ryan Phelan is co-founder of Origin Email and brings nearly two decades of worldwide online marketing and email experience. Ryan is a respected thought leader and nationally distinguished speaker with a history of experience from Adestra, Acxiom, BlueHornet, Sears Holdings, Responsys and infoUSA. In 2013 he was named one of the top 30 strategists in online marketing and is the Chairman Emeritus of the EEC Advisory Board. Ryan also works with start-up companies as an advisor, board member and investor.


Account-based marketing tactics are set to account for a growing share of marketing budgets in 2020. Nearly three-quarters (73%) of marketers who are using account-based marketing (ABM) tactics plan to increase their ABM budgets in the coming year, according to a study by Information Technology Services Marketing Association (ITSMA) and the ABM Leadership Alliance. On average, the ABM-practicing marketers said they dedicated 29% of their budgets to ABM in 2019.

The report, which surveyed 196 marketers from B2B technology and business services companies, found that 71% of the companies saw greater ROI within their ABM efforts compared to their traditional marketing initiatives.

Majority of companies still experimenting with ABM. Of the marketers surveyed, the largest share (43%), fit into ITSMA’s “experimenting” category, meaning they are beyond “exploring” ABM strategies and are now piloting, measuring and refining their approach. ITSMA’s ABM adoption model is made up of four levels: Exploring, Experimenting, Expanding and Embedded.

A total of 73% of the survey participants were either experimenting or expanding — with 30% categorized as “Expanding” or looking to increase account coverage via ABM. Seventeen percent were categorized as “Embedded,” the most evolved stage of ABM adoption (marketers who have evolved their ABM strategy to drive strategic growth for their business).

Most popular ABM tools: Email, website, CRM and social. More than 70% of the respondents said they rely on their website, email marketing, CRM and social to implement ABM campaigns. Most are using analytics, account insights and marketing automation.

Less than 30% are using tools like chat, data management platforms, content activation tools, CDPs or predictive analytics.

What the ABM all-stars are doing. When looking at the most effective ABM programs, the top marketers were more likely to be using analytics, account insights and engagement insights.

The report also found that the top-performing ABM marketers use two or three different ABM programs (either one-to-one, one-to-few or one-to-many). “More companies will try multiple types of ABM in a blended strategy to keep up with demand from their sales and account teams if they started with One-to-One ABM, or to increase their focus on their most important accounts if they started with One-to-Few ABM or One-to-Many ABM,” said Bev Burgess, the senior VP and ABM practice lead for ITSMA.

Of the survey respondents, 63% were currently practicing only one tactic — with the largest share (25%) focused on one-to-few ABM programs. Twenty-two percent were practicing at least two tactics, with the largest share in this group implementing both one-to-one and one-to-few programs.

What’s to come in ABM. More than half (51%) of the marketers surveyed said they plan to blend their ABM approach in the coming year by using more than one type of ABM — adding either one-to-one, one-to-few or one-to-many tactics to their existing program.

Sixty-four percent of marketers said they plan to increase their ABM staff in the coming year. As far as how much businesses plan to increase both their ABM budgets and staff, on average, marketers reported they plan to increase budgets by 21.3% and staff by 19.3%.

When asked where the budget increases will be spent, 21% said they plan on investing in their ABM platform and adding predictive capabilities to their ABM technology stack in the next 12 to 18 months. Only 13% planned to invest in account insights and 12% in engagement insights — even these technologies were most often used by companies with the most effective ABM programs.

Why we care. Of the marketers whose ABM programs were categorized as “Embedded” (those with the most elite ABM efforts per the ITSMA adoption model), 45% reported their ABM initiatives drove revenue growth. Seventy-five percent of the top performers saw significant improvements within their account relationships and 59% saw an improvement in brand reputation.

Burgess says ITSMA has witnessed a sharp rise in interest in account-based marketing for more than five years now, with no signs of it slowing down. Three-quarters of the top performers reported significant improvements within their account relationships, and 59% saw an improvement in brand reputation.

“ABM will continue to influence the way we do our broader marketing too, such as One-to-Few ABM principles shaping vertical marketing and One-to-Many ABM shaping ‘always on’ offering campaigns,” comments Burgess in the benchmark report.

About The Author

Amy Gesenhues is a senior editor for Third Door Media, covering the latest news and updates for Marketing Land, Search Engine Land and MarTech Today. From 2009 to 2012, she was an award-winning syndicated columnist for a number of daily newspapers from New York to Texas. With more than ten years of marketing management experience, she has contributed to a variety of traditional and online publications, including MarketingProfs, SoftwareCEO, and Sales and Marketing Management Magazine. Read more of Amy’s articles.


Marketing is one of the fastest-changing professions today. And like fashion trends (glad that bike shorts with blazers phase is over), as a marketer, you don’t want to find yourself “oh, so last year!” Read on to hear what’s hot for marketers in 2020 and how you can get ahead of the game.


Much like the plaid miniskirt trend, micro-campaigns are short and sweet. If you haven’t heard of a micro-campaign, no worries — 2020 isn’t here quite yet.

Micro-campaigns are small pieces of a larger campaign and these bite-sized campaigns are released to customers earlier.

For example, you have a new product launch for athletic shoes. In the 2019 way of working, you’d spend a few weeks (or months) planning the campaign from beginning to end. It would include sponsorships, blog posts, social contests, in-store promotions, etc., with every last detail for the entire campaign planned in advance.

In 2020, you’re going to try the micro-campaign approach. Instead of detailed campaign planning, you start with a goal. Let’s say your goal is to increase awareness of a new shoe for teens in the Southwestern United States and to have these shoes purchased as a second pair in a BOGO offer when a parent purchases the first pair.

The goal says what you’re striving for, not the marketing that you’ll do to get there.

The marketing team then meets to brainstorm campaign ideas and prioritizes them into a marketing backlog. The backlog is different from the project plan because the work moves up and down in priority but just as importantly, it isn’t promised. Work may or may not happen based on how customers react.

Let’s say that your first piece in the micro-campaign is a YouTube video featuring teens wearing the shoes.

The YouTube video is a low-cost effort that you can get to market relatively quickly. While you plan to do more marketing, your first micro-campaign allows you to launch something much sooner than if you were to spend the upfront time planning everything.

In this scenario, instead of a large upfront planning phase, you focus on your goal, work as a team to brainstorm campaign ideas, decide which one you’re going to try first, and voila, it’s in the hands of your prospective customers!

The reason micro-campaigns are the new way for marketers to work is that campaigns don’t do any good in a planning phase. Many companies spend endless hours planning out intricate campaign details only to learn that the finally agreed-upon message doesn’t resonate with potential buyers.

Micro-campaigns are a quick, low-risk way to test the market and see if your campaign is on the right track.

In this case, your YouTube video was a viral sensation, your messaging was spot on and you can go ahead and try the next piece in your micro-campaign. Maybe you’ll nail it; maybe you won’t. Micro-campaigns allows marketers to adjust quickly and build on the momentum from your audience, not what your boss thinks your customers’ need to see.

Data-driven, rapid feedback loops

While rapid feedback loops have been around for a while, they are becoming more and more data-driven. If you haven’t incorporated feedback loops into your marketing yet, don’t worry – it’s not too late.

Regular old feedback loops can happen in many different forms, but they’re easiest to do when you’re running micro-campaigns.

Let’s take your YouTube video promoting the new athletic shoes. Your feedback in this scenario can come from seeing how many views you receive, reading comments and learning what about the video resonated with the audience.

This is a very non-techy way to incorporate feedback, but it’s still good. You can get this kind of feedback in a few days if you launch your video first. If you wait until you’ve perfected all of the campaign elements, this feedback is meaningless because there’s nothing you can do with the information.

To take your feedback to another level, marketers in 2020 will incorporate tools that automate a lot of this work to make it easy.

There are endless tools to experiment with and here are a few you may want to check out this roundup from mopinion.

Mass personalization

If you’re a GenXer like me, you probably learned about mass marketing in college. If you kept that old 1995 college marketing textbook, you may want to throw it off the 100th floor of a very tall building! Or you can take what it says and do the exact opposite because in 2020, customers want marketing to be very personal and all about them. After all, there are millions of websites and social platforms people can turn to, so if your messaging isn’t resonating with customers right away, they’ll go elsewhere.

Companies no longer have the luxury of pushing messaging that is self-serving. No one cares that you want to sell shoes. In fact, hard-selling in any way, shape or form is just so 1995!

So what’s a modern marketer to do? It’s really about testing and learning. We don’t know what’s going to resonate with our customers and prospects until we try out a few different approaches to see what resonates.

So this leads us right back to steps one and two: micro-campaigns and data-driven rapid feedback loops.

With micro-campaigns, we can succeed or fail with our personalization quickly. And with rapid feedback and supporting data to back it up, we can be agile and switch gears.

So what is being a marketer in 2020 really going to mean? It’s about learning-by-doing, backing up what we do with data and making our marketing about our customers, not our company.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.

About The Author

Stacey knows what it’s like to be a marketer, after all, she’s one of the few agile coaches and trainers that got her start there. After graduating from journalism school, she worked as a content writer, strategist, director and adjunct marketing professor. She became passionate about agile as a better way to work in 2012 when she experimented with it for an ad agency client. Since then she has been a scrum master, agile coach and has helped with numerous agile transformations with teams across the globe. Stacey speaks at several agile conferences, has more certs to her name than she can remember and loves to practice agile at home with her family. As a lifelong Minnesotan, she recently relocated to North Carolina where she’s busy learning how to cook grits and say “y’all.”


As the marketing technology landscape and capabilities continue to evolve, organizations are on an ongoing quest to update and improve their technology stacks. In fact, the vast majority (83%) upgraded at least one martech application in the past year, according to our MarTech Replacement Survey 2020 published Monday.

To better understand the frequency and motivations behind organizational martech updates, we surveyed 398 digital marketers in October. Several interesting trends emerged.

Organizations are moving away from in-house solutions. In a striking find, many companies are migrating away from marketing technologies developed in-house. Respondents were nearly as likely to have upgraded or replaced a homegrown technology (49%) as a commercially available solution (51%), with many of those replacing homegrown tech moving to commercial applications.

The number one reason marketers said they shifted from in-house technology was that available SaaS software had better features, with 49% of those who switched to a commercial solution citing that as a reason.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is MarTech-Survey-Upgrade-2-800x422.png

Nearly one in four said their homegrown system was being replaced because management decided their enterprise was “not a software company,” and nearly one in five because their homegrown system was too expensive to maintain.

New martech adds new people. Fear of job losses caused by machine learning and AI-based technologies may be unfounded — at least when it comes to the need for human oversight and management of marketing technologies.

With new martech features designed to increase efficiencies, a surprising 43% of respondents indicated that they hired a new team to support their new tools. One in four said they combined retraining existing staff with news hires, while another 25% said they retrained exclusively.

Martech replacement trends in 2020. The findings of this report hint at several trends we expect to see in the coming year. Organizations will continue to focus on maximizing the return on their marketing technology investments — whether through ongoing upgrades and new hires or retraining. Rather than a threat, new technologies present opportunities for marketers who keep their skills relevant and transferrable as technologies evolve and change.

As SaaS products improve — and natively support integrations with other solutions — it’s becoming harder to justify developing or maintaining homegrown applications. We can expect to see more acquisitions by martech vendors as well as integrations as providers aim to give marketing teams more comprehensive, one-stop-shop solutions.

To read more findings, insights and key takeaways for marketers, click here to download The MarTech 2020 Replacement Survey.

About The Author

Jennifer Videtta Cannon serves as Third Door Media’s Senior Editor, covering topics from email marketing and analytics to CRM and project management. With over a decade of organizational digital marketing experience, she has overseen digital marketing operations for NHL franchises and held roles at tech companies including Salesforce, advising enterprise marketers on maximizing their martech capabilities. Jennifer formerly organized the Inbound Marketing Summit and holds a certificate in Digital Marketing Analytics from MIT Sloan School of Management.


“MarTech” isn’t just shorthand for “marketing technology.” It’s a community of forward-thinkers responsible for devising creative solutions to the most pressing marketing and marketing operations challenges. Possibilities fire their imagination. Silos disappear. Agility increases. And customer satisfaction soars.

Connect with this community of senior-level marketers at MarTech®, April 15-17, 2020 in San Jose.

Here’s what attendees said about their MarTech experiences:

“Outstanding event! Great and energetic speakers, great vendors/solutions and honestly the food was some of the best I have had at an event.” – Correy Honza, Senior Director of Consumer Marketing, Healthgrades

“There was a good mix of high-level content and case studies, as well as slightly more in-depth content. All topics were relevant.” – Ashley Cover, Marketing Technology Leader, Ciena Corporation

“This year’s sessions were spot on with what our Marketing Technology / Operations teams are facing today. Very poignant.” – Kristoffer Mize, Manager Marketing Application Delivery, Publix Super Markets, Inc

“Loved the blend of leadership, tech, analytics, and marketing focus.” – Sean Foote, Director of Digital Marketing, Wilton

“Great presentations, especially from the keynote speakers. So much valuable information!” – Christine Clymens, Corporate Strategist, South Shore Bank

“MarTech was a good opportunity to meet a large number of emerging vendors in one place.” – Mark Blessing, Partner, Altus Alliance

“After going two years in a row, I still plan on going for a third year. The content is varied, I met new vendors, and met new people. Keep up the great work!” – Justin Shine, Director of Marketing Operations, Slalom

“It was a great conference, truly honed towards marketing operations professionals, and applicable globally (I traveled from the UK for it).” – Daniel Trillo, Head of Marketing Operations, Contino

“Knowledgeable speakers, great content.” – Mary Healy, VP of Strategy and Insights, Opus

If you missed us in Boston, meet us in San Jose — we’d love to see you there. Book now to take advantage of the best rates on all pass types!

See you in San Jose 🙂

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.

About The Author

Scott Brinker is the conference chair of the MarTech® Conference, a vendor-agnostic marketing technology conference and trade show series produced by MarTech Today’s parent company, Third Door Media. The MarTech event grew out of Brinker’s blog,, which has chronicled the rise of marketing technology and its changing marketing strategy, management and culture since 2008. In addition to his work on MarTech, Scott serves as the VP platform ecosystem at HubSpot. Previously, he was the co-founder and CTO of ion interactive.


It’ll take less than 10 minutes and the All-Access pass is worth nearly $2,000.

  • More

If you’re an e-commerce marketer, we want to hear from you. Marketplace platforms like Amazon, eBay and Walmart/Jet are building their ad businesses, giving product advertisers a chance to target active shoppers as they make their purchase decisions. We’d like to quantify the impact of this shift by asking you (and your peers) a few questions about your or your clients’ spend on these platforms.

For just 10 minutes of your time, you can opt-in a drawing to win an All-Access Pass to any Search Marketing Expo (SMX) event taking place in the U.S. over the next two years. We’ll also send you the results and will be sharing our analyses at SMX West 2020 in our digital commerce marketing track.

Please click here to complete the brief Amazon Advertising survey!

About The Author

Pamela Parker is Senior Editor and Projects Manager at Third Door Media’s Content Studio, where she produces Martech Intelligence Reports and other in-depth content for digital marketers in conjunction with Search Engine Land, Marketing Land, MarTech Today and Digital Marketing Depot. Prior to taking on this role at TDM, she served as Content Manager and Executive Features Editor. Parker is a well-respected authority on digital marketing, having reported and written on the subject since its beginning. She’s a former managing editor of ClickZ and has also worked on the business side helping independent publishers monetize their sites at Federated Media Publishing. Parker earned a masters degree in journalism from Columbia University.


In case you don’t follow gaming, the first Fortnite Worldcup came to a glorious end a couple of months ago and the numbers alone were staggering: 40 million qualifiers, 20,000 fans in attendance, 100 finalists and total prize money of $30 million. And with gaming becoming a central part of our collective identities, from the brands we interact with to our social lives, it might be time for marketers to start paying attention.

Full disclosure: I’m no stranger to gaming. Even so, I’m convinced that gaming could hold the key to fixing attendance issues plaguing the worlds of real-life retail and experiential marketing. Games have seemingly perfected the engagement puzzle. Meanwhile, real-world brand experiences have been suffering under the same endemic symptoms driven by a lack of excitement and an experience formula that doesn’t provide enough distinction from digital brand channels. 

With my controller in hand and hours of relentless gaming, I stepped into the players’ POV and took a closer look at successful in-game mechanics and tactics that could help brand experiences drive endless engagement and ongoing revenue.

Tell unexpected, non-linear story narratives

Non-linear gameplay, also known as “Sandbox” or “open-world play,” permits gamers the absolute freedom to explore and finish a game on their own terms and style. This game mode is not a one-way-to-play type approach. Instead, endless side quests and subplots open up hours of open exploration even after beating the game. 

In a real-world, experiential scenario, non-linear gameplay could be seen as the anti-Ikea strategy. Instead of controlling the customer’s journey, brands can implement experience modes that offer up various explorative paths through their retail and pop-up experiences. These could vary from fast-track purchase and pick-up options to highly educational and explorative modes. Over time, customers start forming preferences and choose their very personal modes based on their ever-changing retail needs and expectations. A most recent example is Nike’s app which switches to “store mode” once customers set foot into their retail outlets. This store mode puts control of the shopping experience back into the customer’s hands by featuring various options, from “shop the look” to “scan and try” to “instant check-out.” 

Present a new experience for every visit

In the past, entire game environments and characters have been manually generated solely by game designers’ imaginations. Nowadays, set mathematical algorithms assist in building infinite amounts of content while adding real-time randomness for less predictable and endless gameplay. Procedural Generation (PG), as this is commonly called, has been leveraged to randomize games, maps, levels and characters that are unique on each playthrough. In some game titles, AI is added to provide real-time intelligence to games by monitoring how gamers behave in a game and adjusting their opponents’ behavior, all while also curating the competitive level, gameplay and story. The combination of PG plus AI keeps players continuously engaged and is why people still play games months and even years after their release.

Real-life experiences often turn mundane and predictable quickly, struggling to lure customers back into the same experience or store environment. But Procedural Generation plus AI opens up a wide range of new exciting cosmetic and experiential possibilities. It could enable in-store lighting, sound and digital canvases to instantaneously change the look and feel of parts or entire store environments. With every return visit, the in-store AI could gather more insights, constantly evaluating customers’ familiarity with the brand, service and product, tailoring their in-store service and staff engagement. The more customers visit a location, the more their experiences will level up. For a health and fitness brand, leveling up may mean increasing the skill level of exercises, weight and repetition, while product and service brands could gradually unlock more advanced and premium in-store offerings. 

Reward frequent engagement

Loot boxes are part of a larger virtual economy that monetizes in-game experiences and generates ongoing revenue. Over the last few years, revenue models pivoted from steeper one-time purchases of franchise titles to virtually free games with ongoing subscription and in-game microtransaction models. Loot boxes are unlocked by players progressing in the game or through purchase, offering constant and newly generated content items ranging from customizable character skins (cosmetic upgrades) to rare game-changing equipment. The majority of loot items empower players to build out their status and advance faster within the game and often real-world funds are exchanged to purchase loot boxes. 

Looking at retail and experiential marketing, revenue is mainly evaluated by transaction data stemming from product sell-through. Yet, there is a great opportunity to charge for experiences and add-on services. For instance, Livraria Lello in Portugal the self-claimed most beautiful bookstore in the world charges 5 Euro for entry which can be redeemed against any in-store purchase. Going to an REI store is free but using the in-store climbing experience comes at a charge. Within a store environment, customers could earn credits that are redeemed for customization moments or go ahead and unlock service and product tiers that normally wouldn’t be accessible.

Let’s play

The truth behind all those colorful pixels and fun characters hides a brilliantly orchestrated and always adapting marketing machine. Top-tier game franchises have a full grasp on how to navigate and scale endless content and engagement resulting in global fandom while pocketing billions of dollars through pre- and post-game transactions.

While there are obvious limitations to the physical world, experiential marketing is poised to learn from the tactics of games. Experiential environments can show a new prolific level of adaptability and grow to become more unexpected. Brand revenue models could fundamentally shift from single transactions to clusters of micro-transactions so long as they always act in good faith when deploying revenue tactics that borderline on gambling mechanics. 

It’s only a matter of time before the ideas driving gaming make their way into other sectors. Unless marketers want to get left behind while others are leveling up,  it’s time to get to work.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.

About The Author

Stefan Tauber is creative strategist at Set Creative’s NYC office. Starting his career as an architect at O.M.A Rotterdam, he worked on a range of projects varying from the Qatar Foundation in Doha/Qatar to fashion shows for Prada and Miu Miu across Europe. Later he shifted his focus to experience design bringing established and emerging brands to life through digital and physical experiential moments and interactions. During that period, he became an integral part in leading the transformation and roll-out of the next generation Time Warner Cable stores across the U.S. At Set Creative, Stefan has built experiential platforms for clients such as BMW, Spotify, Verizon, Hilton and Google. Throughout, he continues to drive a consumer-first approach to experiences that goes beyond design aesthetics and principles. Most recently Stefan has been working on performance measures that add measurability and rigor to experiences with the intent to grow and mature this emerging marketing channel.


A trend among agile marketing implementations is to forgo the Scrum Master role and to absorb this into a single role that combines Scrum Master and product owner responsibilities into one “marketing owner” role. While this is what’s happening in the marketplace, let’s explore the pros and cons of this practice. 

Let’s start with three reasons for not having a dedicated Scrum Master.

A Scrum Master is expensive

Many marketing departments aren’t able to justify the cost of hiring a Scrum Master. This role is not comparable to anything companies have ever hired before, so securing funding for a Scrum Master is particularly difficult because it is often misunderstood.

A Scrum Master is in high demand, and since the majority of the experienced ones come from the software industry, salaries are typically higher than most marketers are earning. According to, a Scrum Master earns a median salary of $90k. More experienced ones are earning well into the six figures. This is a big expense to justify for a role that doesn’t typically contribute to actual “output” of marketing campaigns. 

In order to justify the high cost of a Scrum Master, it’s important that companies take the time to really understand what the role does and evaluate the cost-benefit analysis to the company. If you’re confused about what value the role will add to your company, check out the ScrumMaster Checklist.

Team dependency

Some teams become too reliant on a Scrum Master. Without one, oftentimes teams will take on the “self-organizing team” role a little faster. A self-organizing team is what we strive for in agile marketing – it means that the team owns how they will accomplish the work, how they will work together and strives for continuous improvement.

In companies where there is a group of motivated self-starters with shared trust and a culture that encourages risk-taking and innovation, the self-organization may already be inherently there. However, a good Scrum Master can help the team become more self-organizing. There are times when relying on the team to do it themselves can backfire, especially if the company’s culture has been very traditional and top-down.

An already agile company culture

For small, nimble companies, the Scrum Master role may simply not be needed. The Scrum Master spends a lot of time teaching the organization how to run with agility, how to adhere to the principles and values of agile and helps to bring culture change to the organization. If the organization’s culture is already agile, a Scrum Master may not be worth it. 

Many companies still think the role of a Scrum Master is a replacement for a project manager but that couldn’t be further from the truth. The Scrum Master is there to empower the team and bring culture change to the organization. If you’re hiring a Scrum Master just to manage the team’s work, it’s time to change gears.

Now that we’ve explored three reasons why a dedicated Scrum Master may not be needed, here are three reasons why hiring a Scrum Master may be a good idea.

Company lacks Scrum knowledge

If your company is newly embarking on Scrum, you likely don’t have the experience and expertise in-house. Many companies try to convert existing roles to be the Scrum Master but they miss one very vital skill that a Scrum Master possesses – a deep understanding of Scrum. The role serves as an expert teacher of the Scrum framework and the agile principles and values.

Scrum Master evangelizes Scrum in the organization

When Scrum is new to the organization, a key role that a Scrum Master plays is evangelizing a new way to work throughout the company. This can be especially helpful if you’re a larger organization that is doing a major cultural overhaul. 

Companies that are new to agile marketing often think that the transformation is isolated to just marketing. In reality, it becomes a new way to work for everyone in the company. It’s called “business agility.”

Scrum Master keeps the team focused and removes blockers

Another benefit of hiring a dedicated Scrum Master is to keep the team focused and remove blockers. So what exactly does that mean? Here are a few examples:

  1. A manager swoops in and asks a team member to just squeeze in a small campaign for him. The Scrum Master would be there as a shield to the team saying that the team is already committed to work in the sprint and explains the Scrum way of working and how it goes into a prioritized backlog. This allows the team to just work and there is someone there to explain to the manager how a team works in Scrum.
  2. The team can’t get their campaign live because they are waiting on approval from a manager in the legal department. This is seriously inhibiting the team from getting their campaign to market. The Scrum Master would go to the manager in legal, explain the impact on the team and work towards a better process.

So, now it’s up to you to decide whether hiring a dedicated Scrum Master is the right thing for your organization. If you’re already small, nimble with an agile culture, it may not be necessary. However, if you work for a traditional company with a lot of hierarchy, a Scrum Master may be invaluable to your team and organization.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.

About The Author

Stacey knows what it’s like to be a marketer, after all, she’s one of the few agile coaches and trainers that got her start there. After graduating from journalism school, she worked as a content writer, strategist, director and adjunct marketing professor. She became passionate about agile as a better way to work in 2012 when she experimented with it for an ad agency client. Since then she has been a scrum master, agile coach and has helped with numerous agile transformations with teams across the globe. Stacey speaks at several agile conferences, has more certs to her name than she can remember and loves to practice agile at home with her family. As a lifelong Minnesotan, she recently relocated to North Carolina where she’s busy learning how to cook grits and say “y’all.”