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In 2011, there were perhaps 100 companies offering tech-based marketing solutions. In 2012, that jumped to over 350. And in early 2014, the number ballooned to almost 1,000 — and counting.

Something’s clearly changing here.

“Marketing’s changed so rapidly … more in the past five years than in the past 500 years,” Marketo chief marketing officer Sanjay Dholakia told me a few days ago. “We’re entering a golden age of marketing.”

Marketo was one of the top-ranking marketing automation systems in our recent VB Index report.
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We may very well be entering a golden age of marketing, but it’s not coming without some cost. That cost is a whole new learning curve for marketers, who are starting to have to be more and more technical, and technical people, who are having to learn more marketing.

That means the proliferation of marketing automation systems like Marketo, of course, but it also means mobile marketing apps and social monitoring tools and content marketing platforms and gamification efforts and multivariate optimization software and … the list goes on.

Spark by Marketo“There’s an enormous hunger out there by marketers to really understand this new world that they’re presented with,” Dholakia said.

A common theme through all those tools is understanding the customer, meeting the customer where he or she is, learning what the customer wants, presenting offers to the customer at the right time in the right place and on the right device, and maintaining state on your customer or prospect’s purchase readiness for weeks or months.

In other words, mass personalization.

Like many things in the marketing field, Amazon is the poster child. While the e-commerce giant has hundreds of thousands of SKUs, it doesn’t present them all to you, Dholakia told me. Rather, it gets to know you, understand what you like, and then communicate with you about things that you might want. And then, three months after you looked at the Nerf Blaster that would be perfect for picking off annoying officemates, Amazon tells you when it’s on sale.

“We’ve built the ability for every marketer to do exactly that,” Dholakia says. “To build one-to-one relationships at massive scale.”

The key is no longer demographic segmentation, which has little predictive power. Instead, the key is behavior segmentation. In other words, what you do is much more important than who you are. What’s important is what emails you open, what events you go to, the stores you walk into (and check into on Foursquare), the websites you visit, and the things you tweet and share about.

“The bane of marketing since forever has been measuring,” Dholakia says, mentioning Wanamaker, the marketing pioneer who complained that while he knew that half of his advertising budget was always being wasted, he could not figure out which half.

“Poor Mr. Wanamaker can now rest in peace.”

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