I recently wrote a post about how marketers will need to learn to rely less on judgment and intuition in the era of big data. It’s a controversial subject, especially since many marketers pride themselves, in fact have built their careers, on having a reputation for instinct.
So I expected a certain amount of pushback, but instead many people seemed to think that I was arguing that technology was diminishing the need for creativity in marketing. This is clearly not the case. So let me set the record straight.
Technology does not quell creativity, in fact, there’s a great deal of evidence that suggests that technology enhances creativity. Certainly, we are expected to be more creative in our working lives than a generation ago. The truth is that by expanding possibilities and automating part of the creative process, we can all be more creative and productive.
The modern world can be a dehumanizing place. Long gone is the sweet little old lady at the drugstore counter, replaced by big box retailers, brand logos and barcodes. We’re more often“handled” than serviced, calculated, rather than cared for.
That’s about to change in a big way. When I recently spoke to Bernie Meyerson, IBM’s Vice President of Innovation, about trends for the next five years, he repeatedly stressed personalization as one of the most important things the company is working on.
Yet, instead of the sweet little old lady behind the counter who has known you for years, the new personalization will come in the guise of a stranger armed with learning algorithms. That’s quite a bit different and not without its problems. As big data opens up a new world of possibilities, we’re going to have to come to terms with what we really want.
When the Arab Spring erupted in 2010, one of the first things people noticed was the very visible role social media seemed to play. Many began to call the series of political uprisings “Twitter Revolutions” and a lively debate broke out about the importance of the new technology.
Malcolm Gladwell quickly moved to downplay the effect of social media and pointed out that organized action requires hierarchy. Twitter’s Biz Stone fired back and argued that Gladwell simply didn’t understand the principles of self-organizing systems.
Having had some personal experience, I found neither compelling and said so at the time. Yet, now we can do more than speculate. The current Euromaidan protests in Ukraine are, in many ways, a continuation of the Orange Revolution in 2004—before social media existed—and offer unique insight into how the world has really changed.
“There’s a time for work and a time for play.” “Work hard, play hard.” “Once you finish your homework, you can go out and play games.” Most of us were brought up to believe that there is a stark divide between play and productivity.
Yet it’s becoming evident that the distinction isn’t as clear-cut as we were made to think. Games, after all, are simulations that stimulate us and help us to build skills. The fact that they are fun increases, rather than diminishes, their effectiveness.
Marketers have learned to use game mechanics to engage customers, particularly with loyalty programs. But if games can be useful in getting us to buy more stuff, why can’t they also help us to build new skills and lead happier, more productive lives. A slew of new startups are attempting to do just that and it may prove to be a powerful model.
Ask anybody who manages a business and they will tell you how important it is to hire the right people. Top companies recruit at the most selective schools, offer excellent pay packages, generous benefits and a comfortable work environment.
Unfortunately, it seems that even the best firms are facing a widening skills gap and it will only get worse. McKinsey recently released data outlining a fundamental mismatch between the demand for skills and the supply of workers who have them.
Clearly, if businesses are to remain competitive, they need talented people, the right skills and there is growing evidence of a new productivity paradox, in which automation is rendering old skills useless. So even if your workforce is highly qualified by today’s standards, they might not be tomorrow. We need to rethink how we manage talent.
My first media job was in New York, where I learned the radio business. My company, Katz Media, had an outstanding training program, where for three months we were drilled in the basics of radio formats, research techniques, sales skills and marketing strategy.
So when I first arrived in Poland in 1997, I felt well prepared. Surely, in a newly capitalist economy, where the entire concept of a media business was novel, my experience and expertise would give me a leg up. Alas, I found that often the opposite was true.
You see, I had not only changed geographies, but business environments, with important structural, cultural and economic differences. I found that what I had learned as eternal truths in New York were often, in fact, principles derived from circumstance, not necessity. Today, every media business is facing a similar dilemma and everyone needs to adapt.
In his 1997 management classic The Innovator’s Dilemma, Harvard professor Clayton Christensen coined the term disruptive innovation. The central premise was that a change in technology can completely transform the basic economics of an business.
A key example was steel minimills such as Nucor. Originally, they could only produce the lowest quality steel and weren’t seen as a serious threat to the big integrated mills. Nevertheless, as the technology improved, they ended up disrupting the entire industry.
In the decade and a half since Christensen published his book, we’ve learned a lot about disruption and know the warning signs to look out for, such as a change in the basis of competition, new market entrants and new types of consumers. But what if disruption isn’t specific to an industry anymore? What if everyone gets disrupted all at once?
Galileo once said that “All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the point is to discover them.” Great marketers uncover those obvious, but unexpected truths to win consumers hearts and sell products.
Marketing is, after all, the art and science of discovering what people want and offering it to them. The right product, combined with the right message, can achieve wonders. It can transform even a mediocre enterprise into a dominant market leader.
Historically, marketers went on instinct. They would see an opening and pounce. Over the years, numbers crept in— research and quantitative analysis became basic tools of the trade. The next great shift, however, will be automation and it will require not just new skills, but a new perspective and that will be a much harder bridge to cross.
The most salient aspect of technology is its power to disrupt. The important innovations are the ones that change our world so profoundly that the previous order becomes not only untenable, but unthinkable.
Yet the true impact begins not with invention, but adoption. That’s when the second and third-order effects kick in. After all, the automobile was important not because it ended travel by horse, but because it created suburbs, gas stations and shopping malls.
In much the same way, over the next year we will to begin to feel the true impact of the “app economy.” In the past, open architectures have mostly been of interest to technophiles and status-conscious millennials. Now, however, they are becoming so pervasive that every business, large or small, will have to connect in order to compete.
Content is the big new thing. From blogs to videos to social media, everywhere you look organizations are vying to publish and engage their customers. Content is sexy and exciting and everybody wants in on the action.
Of course, publishing content isn’t new at all. Unlike other hot new trends, it’s literally centuries of years old and it’s something that is very well understood. The difference is that today everybody seems to want to be in the publishing business.
The hot new show Alpha House is created not by a major network, but Amazon. High brow consultants publish journals to show off their expertise. Consumer brands are investing in native advertising and YouTube channels. Yet for all the time and money that’s invested in content, very few are doing it well. Here are some rules to guide you.