Marketing teams everywhere are experiencing a profound disruption. It’s a change in thinking, planning, analytics and platforms unlike anything that we have experienced previously. And while the changes happening to us as marketers are unsettling, far more troubling are the changes happening around us as marketers, business people and consumers. We are living on the pinhead of a transition that is sweeping all before us and swallowing the past as it goes.
Living in a platform age has changed the dynamics of our lives. What was personal has become professional and what was “work” has become, well, less clear. Less defined. After all, we can now “work” from home, from a coworking space or shared office. Even a cafe around the corner from your home can serve you VPN access with a steaming hot cappuccino. We are an always-on, digitally connected, wifi enabled workforce that can transform from knowledge worker to connected consumer faster than Snapchat can forget that selfie you posted to your network of faux friends and friendly foes.
And the platforms have come a long way, taking advantage of four transformative technologies – social, mobile, analytics and cloud. The SMAC model. For years, technology companies have known about the power of platforms – using SMAC to create competitive advantage and commercialising the value across networks. Startups have known this too – though often without clear and incisive strategy. They’re too busy moving quickly across the platforms to harness their potential for scale.
But this is changing. All businesses are changing.
These days, any business can become a technology business. What was once my consulting business – Disruptor’s Handbook – has become a technology business. We are deeply technology enabled – from CRM to lead and opportunity nurturing, communications management, planning, collaboration and execution right through to business analytics and financial management. The intellectual property that we have created has been downloaded thousands of times and is being put to use in 25 different countries including the UK, China, South Africa, South Korea, Japan, India and Mongolia.
This can only happen because we have embraced the SMAC model. We have apps in the cloud, integrated using pieces of string, chewing gum and a raft of zapier zaps, API calls and pre-made plugins. It means we rely on a dozen services rather than a single suite, but it holds together and works almost flawlessly. Until it doesn’t. But it provides a scale that would otherwise be difficult to achieve without a significant technology budget.
And if we can do it, you can too.
Swallowing the past
Just when you start to feel comfortable with your technology choices, the rubber bands and sticky-tape that you use to hold it all together, the worst possible thing happens. Well not exactly the worst, but modern marketing’s closest equivalent. A new technology is released. Or an upgrade or a patch. And this new thing is so bright and shiny, you feel like Cory Hart in a film clip straight from the heart of the 1980s. You can’t help but to download it. Sign up. Trial. Share it with friends and colleagues.
And this one new thing makes you question all that has gone before it. Imagine Facebook before it bought Instagram. Or Google before it bought Urchin. These companies are moving so fast, transforming their user experience and brand promise so quickly that we hardly remember what life was like before the change occurred. These platforms are swallowing the past moment by venture-funded moment.
But where do we start? In the marketing technology field alone, Scott Brinker estimates that we are dealing with over 2000 technology choices across almost 50 category areas. In each of those categories we face a dazzling array of choices, capabilities and technologies. So much so, that we often elect to do nothing. As marketers we are suffering from one of our own invented marketing conditions – decision paralysis. We refuse to take a step forward out of a fear of being wrong-footed.
Yes, the future is bright and it is long, yet we are living a constant present.
Marketing technology – it’s not a footstep but a journey
Traditionally, marketers have always had their eye on the customer. But in the rush to transform their approaches, update their skills and stay ahead of the competition (all while still delivering ROI), many of us have been blinded by the technology light. The problem is that this is not a light. It’s a train and it’s heading in our direction. Marketing technology has put us on a set of rails that are almost impossible to escape from.
But there is a way.
Rather than following in the digital footprints laid out in front of us, we must consciously choose an alternative – the customer journey.
When we start with our customers and their journey it changes the game for us. Rather than generating campaigns, leads and opportunities, we are seeking to understand our customers’ needs, expectations and path to purchase. It’s less about how we sell and more about how they buy. And when we understand this, we can then select the technologies that help us deliver that experience.
How do we do this?
Clearly it requires new thinking and new skills.
Agile marketing and the new world order
In many agencies, agile marketing has been the order of the day for sometime. Building on the old “traffic management” model popularised in publishing houses, digital agencies have been adopting agile methods and approaches to deliver their marketing solutions for years. But in this world of constant change – with a need to swim upstream to where the new sources of business value lie, client side marketers are having to adapt their own ways of working. Out are the old metrics and in are the new. Same with skills. Creative. And technology. Many of our marketing platforms have already been superseded – yesterday’s cutting edge marketing cloud is already burning like acid rain.
Our increasingly complex world is expecting increasingly complex solutions. We can’t just work in broadcast or print. It needs to be omni-channel. Mobile. We need the best of social and the power of analytics. We need predictive modelling and on-demand forecasting. There are so many new acronyms that we need a new urban dictionary just to keep up. I have been exploring these topics on the Firebrand Talent blog – seeking to match the changing landscape a framework for marketing renewal.
In fact, I am finding my work in innovation is meeting my work in marketing. They complement and reinforce each other. And in the best instances they catalyse and accelerate each other’s effectiveness.
These days the modern marketer has no choice but to create a new world order. Gone are the certainty of ratings and public statistics. Gone are the guaranteed budgets and elastic ROI figures. In are hard numbers, data analytics and real time bidding. It’s like working with an armful of tactics while building strategy on the fly. We can do it, but we do need to ask – is it best for the business and best for the customer? Is it brand-wise?
The time has come to shift not only our thinking but our practice. It’s time that we recognise that customers are not going to buy something just because we interrupted their continuously connected life with the right offer in the right place at the right time. We need accept that we need to build new products for new conditions, not just create new campaigns to spruce up a tired offering. It’s time we stopped talking about “agile” and started “being” agile. We need a marketing system for the disruption that we are all living.
But what is it going to cost? I hear you say.
It’s not a cost. Modern marketing is an investment. And innovation is the price of getting a seat at the customer’s table.