Not too long ago, I was one of the panelists at a major e-commerce conference. The topic was about the “Future of Marketing,” and naturally, the discussion went toward the futuristic technologies. The key question was, “How should marketers adapt to these rapidly evolving technologies?” Knowing that modern-day audiences have limited patience for long intros, I needed to get to the point fast. The bottom line? “Technologies change, but people don’t.”
Well, consumers actually do change over time, if you want to be technical about it, but the whole premise of predictive analytics (and the reason why it works) is that people are predictable. Hence the phrase, “Past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior.”
Even the manufacturers of products aren’t sure what is going to be invented in the near future. People, on the other hand, unless there are life-altering events such as getting married or having a baby, change “relatively” slowly.
For instance, new cool gadgets come and go, but the early adopters of technologies will remain in search of cool new gadgets and adopt them earlier than others and at a higher price point. Movie collectors will collect their old favorite movies in new super-duper-ultra-high-definition formats, conservative investors will continue to invest more conservatively. Fashionistas will care more about the latest fashion than others, and outdoors enthusiasts won’t be flipping channels on TV over the weekends unless they get injured doing outdoor activities.
So, if (more like “when”) some smart person – or a company – invents a new way to communicate among people, marketers should NOT create a new division for it (like a social media division, email division, etc.). If wearable devices, such as watches or eyeglasses, become really smart and ubiquitous, I am certain some marketers will simply see the new invention as a piece of real estate where they will put their so-called “personalized” ads.
From a consumer’s point of view, that would be the last thing that they would want to see on their new toy. You think that a banner is annoying on a computer screen? Try a 3D image projected out of your glasses, promoting random things.
The first thing that a marketer must face is that all of these new devices will be connected to a network for “two-way” communications, not one-way blasting. It doesn’t matter if it is a watch, eyeglasses, set-top-box or even a refrigerator. IoT is essentially about data collection, not about marketers’ new sets of billboards. And the price of spamming through such personal devices – especially ones that people will wear on their bodies – will be quite stiff. My advice? Don’t do it just because you can.
The second bit of advice is that marketers should not forget that they are NOT in control of communication. Consumers will cut out any conversation if “they” think that the message is irrelevant, intrusive, rude or simply uncool. Millennial’s are in fact less likely to be resistant to sharing their information on the Net, if “they” think such action will yield some benefits for “them.” The second that they decide it is a waste of their time or not worthwhile for that small space on their phone, they will mercilessly opt out and delete the app.
So, if a marketer thinks that all of these new devices will serve “them” as part of their multi channel arsenals, well, I am sorry to inform them they are just wrong. Call it any name you want, be it may personalization, customization, customer experience or whatever, the key is staying relevant at all times. The goal should be keeping engaged without being fired by the new generation of impatient and tech-savvy customers. In fact, marketers have lost control over this matter already; the sooner they realize that, the better off they will be.
Then there is the data part. All of these new technologies will yield more data for sure, as the very concept of “connection” is about knowing the who, when, what and where of every event, maybe with an exception for the “why” part (remember the age-old argument that correlation doesn’t automatically mean causation?).
That means that this Big Data thing will get even bigger. Currently, many companies don’t even know how to deal with transnational data or digital data properly, and they barely consume basic reports. Most don’t have any clue about how to convert such data assets into real profit. A few have some idea that personalization is the way of the future, but may not know how to get there.
Now multiply all of those data challenges by a million to gauge the size of the data-related issues when everything that consumes electricity will start spitting out some form data at us. Bless those electrons and charged particles; now they will soon know to how to talk to us (or, talk “at” us?).
How do marketers get ready for such a world? I think the way our brain works may provide a clue, though I am not getting into a new discussion regarding machine learning here. Our brains, basically, are programmed to know what to ignore; they simply do not process everything that we see, hear, taste or feel. Many spouses complain about their partners’ selective hearing, but in the age of abundant data, analysts must learn from those seemingly simple-minded people.
Big Data are big because we don’t throw away anything. Data that are useful for one purpose could be dismissed as worthless noise for others. Basically, Big Data must get smaller to make sense to the end-users.
There are movements in Silicon Valley to build a machine that would just provide answers out of mounds of data, much like the one in a satire movie called “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.” I dare you to say that even such a machine must go through some serious data selection/reduction/refinement processes first, in order to provide any useful and consumable answers.
Anyhow, even with such an omnipotent computer in a fictional world, the humans are the ones who need to ask the question wisely. If not, we will get answers like “42” for “The Question of Life, the Universe and Everything,” after 7.5 million years of calculation. That computer named “Deep Thought” in that movie actually pointed out that “the answer seems meaningless, because the beings who instructed it never actually knew what the question was.”Does this sound familiar?
So, how are we supposed to ask questions in the age of abundant data and ubiquitous connections? Let’s remember that ultimately, marketing communication is about pleasing other human beings by treating them right. If that is too much, let’s start with not annoying them through every device and screen ever invented, or will be invented.
Then, how do we become more selective? Invest in analytics, and start cutting through the data before it is out of control. Why? Because consumers are in control of all these devices, and they will cut out any marketer who doesn’t conform to their standards.
We may never really know why people do what they do, but let’s start with talking to them only when necessary with a clear purpose, and offering benefits to them when we do get to talk to them. Modern-day analytics can already provide answers to such questions with existing technologies. This is a matter of commitment, not technical challenges.
I really don’t think the future will be brighter just because we will have faster and cooler technologies. Imagine spams through every device that you possess as a consumer. Annoying customers in real-time is no achievement for marketers. I, for one, would give up a talking refrigerator and all the benefits that come with it, if it becomes even remotely annoying to “me.”
About the Author
Stephen H. Yu is the Practice Head, Advanced Analytics & Insights for eClerx. He is a world-class database marketer with a proven track record in comprehensive strategic planning and complete tactical execution, from data modeling to targeting and personalization based on advanced analytics.