We have seen it happen many times throughout the years in our industry -- a rush to the newest, greatest toy, which is usually some newfangled technology. Given that a whole host of folks in our industry came up through the technology ranks, this should come as no surprise. But beware, while some technologies might be fun to play with, they may not work as promised and may even hurt your brand or business.
Advances in technology are quick and even more so in our industry. As Jody Pirello, VP of technology at Netplus, said, "If you are not passionate about web technology, you can be left behind in an instant. It changes on a daily basis."
What makes our industry particularly unique is how technology interfaces with marketing and advertising. Marketers drool over how new technologies can help them better reach, engage, drive, and track new customers, which can help contribute to their overall bottom line. But just because a new technology is cool or smart doesn't mean it will apply to marketing objectives or create new ideas.
So what are the risks with jumping into emerging technologies? How can you mitigate those risks and make smarter decisions?
While some digital marketers have evolved their marketing skills along the way, there are still folks in digital marketing who may have no background in technology or digital. Yes, we all know that's true. And that creates a whole other set of challenges. Folks come to digital from all backgrounds, and the potential for essential gaps in knowledge flows mightily. Technologists don't quite see or appropriately evaluate the marketing implications, and marketers don't fully understand how the technology works. And for those with no digital experience -- well, then it becomes a total crapshoot.
The expanded role of technology in marketing exposes many to a multitude of potential bad decisions. Those bad decisions tend to fly more under the radar, but while the burn may not be as public, it can hurt just as much. To help avoid making a bad decision, make sure you are well informed about the service or tech product you are reviewing.
Understand the technology
Often times, sales folks who represent new emerging technology have no idea how it really works, they are just selling marketing speak. They are sales people. They present a sales deck, promo material, perhaps even a demo, but when you actually subscribe, buy, or deploy, it doesn't work as described. This happens -- a lot. It gets worse if you bragged about it to your boss, or promised a client it could do what you were told it would. And then it doesn't.
Then again, the technology could work exactly as promised but it's not grounded in sound marketing principles, so it never actually hits the right note with your customers or your business.
To avoid making these mistakes, make sure that you have access to the technology staff at the provider you are evaluating, and not just the sales people. Make sure you have someone on your end who also understands the technology and can ask the tough questions. Know what the benefits are as well as the risks, and have contingency plans in place.
Is it the real deal?
It can do this, it can do that, but will it have value or benefit for your customers? Many emerging technologies race out of the gate and the hype drives some level of usage. But the longer-term appeal is just not there -- maybe not yet, maybe never. The product could be too complicated, not very useful, or not even appealing to your target market.
Many emerging technologies promise to deliver more sales, better targeting, and increased capabilities. Marketers must often navigate through tons of technology and select, determine, and deploy those that work to advance their marketing objectives and prove value. Conceptually, theoretically, and even in presentation, an emerging tech may appear to be able to deliver, but who can really know for sure? It takes more than a savvy marketing mind to know.
How to avoid getting burned
Accept that there is no guarantee that you won't get burned. You have to accept that notion and prepare for it. However, there are opportunities to minimize your risks. On the financial side of things, emerging tech companies are often open to reduced fees or even no fees in exchange for publicizing the results of your test of the new product or service. You, however, have to be a brand that has high credentials -- large enough and recognizable enough to warrant press attention and give credibility to the emerging tech company.
If part of your brand promise is to be a market leader or risk taker, sometimes jumping on the latest and greatest item without a thorough test drive can work and not even hurt your brand. Even if you fail, it's usually easily forgiven.
Burger King, 1-800-Flowers, and French Connection have a track record at stepping in first. For example, French Connection did the first YouTube "store," and it was also one of the first to do a campaign using Chatroulette.
"Generally speaking, we have a brand history of being provocative and daring. Chatroulette fits in with that," Jennifer Roebuck, head of e-commerce and direct marketing at French Connection, said.
Chatroulette is a great model in terms of an emerging technology and the potential risks. Chatroulette launched in late 2009, and had rapid growth peaking around March 2010. Since then, there has been a significant drop in traffic. It is relatively well known that there was an overwhelming amount of pornographic content.
Risks to your brand should be evaluated by how your customers or the market might view a failure, as well as how your association with an emerging technology company and the nature of their business might reflect on your brand.
Burger King took a bit of a different approach with Chatroulette in an attempt to manage the X-rated content. It used the platform to promote its Steakhouse XT giveaway by distributing coupons. The King banished anything obscene, and the average chat lasted about 60 seconds.
The folks who are leading the charge to emerging tech have the full support of their senior management and a certain level of accepted risk. They reap the benefits of a halo of marketing leadership with their courage and increase their odds of a big hit. But whether or not this contributes to the bottom line is often a hit or miss.
So here's the deal. You can really get screwed if you are not smart about how you select and deploy emerging technology. Every emerging technology has its own risks and considerations.
Do your homework, acknowledge your risk tolerance, know your brand and your customers, and evaluate the benefit to your business. Do you really need an app? And make sure to get under the hood. If you haven't used the service, played with the technology, or tried the tool, how can you even consider it? Seriously.
Denise E. Zimmerman is president and chief strategy officer at Netplus.
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