Technology has always been a driver of substantial change. Irrigation tools and techniques caused the Agricultural Revolution in the Fertile Crescent, navigational instruments and innovative accounting techniques spurred the Commercial Revolution that laid the foundation for the world economy, and machine tools and interchangeable parts powered the Industrial Revolution, bringing us into the modern era. These historical examples seem irrelevant to us marketers, but understanding the role of technology in these great changes can provide useful insights into the current state of marketing and where we’re headed. In each example, those who made the effort to adopt and creatively implement new technology boomed — those who didn’t, went bust.
Technology is both opportunity and obstacle…depending on your ability to adapt
Digital technology has clearly changed the world of marketing. No one denies that. However, what many marketers, myself included, often forget is the extreme nature of these changes, because they don’t happen overnight — while technological innovations may be quick in a historical perspective (think of your Netflix access on your tablet today compared to the 13 channels on your TV 25 years ago), the effects of such technological advancement are mostly gradual, which often leads us to play down the significance of these changes and miss major opportunities.
Don’t believe me? Here’s an example of how one technology changed the world. For over a millennium, small kingdoms and city-states comprised the geo-political and economic arena in Europe. This all changed when muzzle-loaded cannon hit the scene; in the 15th century, the time it took to successfully siege a castle decreased from several months to several hours. This technological advancement in the use of gun powder initiated a domino effect that is known as the Military Revolution. The consequences: vast investment in technology (guns and fortifications) to stay competitive; new architectural style throughout Europe to withstand cannon bombardment; large, standing armies to besiege these new fortification types; the development of nations consequent to acquisition of smaller kingdoms/states that couldn’t compete; and far greater investment in trade and colonial expansion to acquire the wealth to pay for wars, which led to Columbus’ expedition.
Marketing is currently in the midst of a domino effect that began a couple decades ago with the advent of the internet. The web gave customers far greater agency in their quest for information — no longer did they depend on the expertise of sales reps to learn about products and services. Customers now had search engines for open information, customer and expert reviews for open communication, and websites and apps for on-demand experience. As Scott Brinker remarked in his recent eBook: “These three forces…coalesced into the perfect storm. Superstorm Internet. And it’s the marketing department who ended up right in the center of it.” With this newfound responsibility to ensure that brand info, communications and experiences appealed to the customer, marketers needed greater understanding and access to the technologies that controlled these forces, and as a result: “Within a decade or so, marketing went from being one of the least tech-dependent businesses to being one of the most.” The rise of marketing operations as a role is evidence of this.
However, we’re just now witnessing the opening salvo of the MarTech Revolution. Marketers know they need technology, but many aren’t quite sure exactly what they need it for or how best to leverage it. This is underscored by a recent Regalix survey that listed “Ease of Use” as the No.1 consideration for marketing automation evaluation. And another recent survey by David Raab and VentureBeat found that using “Feature Breadth” as a key consideration in the selection process and thoroughly evaluating multiple vendors and systems led to much higher customer satisfaction. David Raab notes: “These findings all point to concluding that the primary driver of marketing automation success is careful preparation, which means defining in advance the types of programs you’ll use in marketing automation.” If careful preparation, feature breadth and ease of use are the most pivotal considerations for success, then it’s safe to say that marketing is far from boasting technical expertise.
The MarTech Revolution has just begun. Staying abreast of tech solutions and striving to use it in innovative ways is what will drive long-term success. Complacency in matters of technology has been detrimental to entire countries, let alone marketing departments (see the example of Argentina, which was the 10th wealthiest nation in 1913). Just yesterday, Joanna O’Connell of AdExchanger commented on how technological complacency is resulting in the bleeding of top execs from ad agencies as agencies struggle to adapt to the “programmatic media buying revolution sweeping the industry.” As marketers in this post-digital age, we should strive to think of the creative use of technology like compound interest — it’s slow at first, but once it gets going, it’s a juggernaut that’s tough to stop.
And it all starts with a mindset of change. It isn’t good enough to just cursorily invest in new tech. You need to understand it, how it relates to your workflow, current systems and objectives, and then be innovative in the ways you use it. Remember that technology is supposed to help; it’s supposed to make things easier and more effective. I often hear customers lament about how implementing new technology will only give them more work to do — new logins they must remember, different interfaces and tools they must learn, new tactics they must create to use it, etc. But remember: If your tech is only giving you more work, or making things more difficult, then it’s either not the right solution or you aren’t leveraging it correctly. Sure there may be new tasks to perform or tactics to implement, but each one of those should supplant two or more old tasks or processes, or at least provide a better result for the same amount of effort. You’ll only know if a new marketing technology solution will do this if you fully understand its capabilities and the specific ways in which you plan to use them. This requires initial effort, but so did forging those cannons that raised entire castles in a matter of hours.
If you don’t have the mindset to continually test both new tech and tactics, you’ll fall behind the competition. Your competitors are investing in marketing tech too — what will put you in front is the innovative ways in which you leverage new marketing tech to adjust to new opportunities.