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New Technologies

Marcus Birke
Regional Manager
AxiCom
Marcus.Birke@axicom.com

These days new technologies seem to pop up faster than ever before. As brand building professionals, we’re hardly worth our pay if we don’t scrutinize each of these for their applicability to marketing in general and brand building specifically. And to be sure, there’s a lot of good that can come from applying new technologies to marketing: the marketer of two decades ago would be agog at what’s now possible in the realms of segmentation, targeting, and measurement alone. New technology can offer marketers paths to greater opportunity, it can also present numerous speed bumps – or worse, dead ends. So, let me offer a few words of advice to prevent any new tech project from ending up in disappointment or disaster.

For starters, it is extremely important to take a realistic assessment of a technology’s capabilities. This can be difficult, especially if the technology in question is hyped, with lots of brands claiming to have already achieved great results. FOMO (fear of missing out) is forever lurking around the corner, and must be guarded against.

Take chat bots as just one example. Now, to be fair, chat bots have already featured prominently in a number of successful marketing campaigns. They can help tremendously with improving customer experience, a domain where a lot of brands struggle to find a cost-efficient solution. However, a chatbot based customer service portal will still need lots of properly organized human backup, as current bots are still rather limited in their capabilities.

Chat bots, you see, simply work with tables of questions and answers. They provide the answer that is written down in a table next to the relevant question. If the question is not written down in the table, they won’t be able to provide the correct answer – or any answer at all. They can be rather inflexible beasts, chat bots. In order for bots to even provide acceptable levels of performance, their required Q&A tables will need to be really extensive and constantly updated. Even then, handover to next-level human support will be a frequent occurrence, and needs to run smoothly in order to prevent customer dissatisfaction. You can see the danger here: that brands could – and indeed have – set up shiny new consumer-facing bots without managing the trickier, less glamorous business of safeguarding against their limitations.

Apart from a realistic assessment of an emerging technology’s capabilities, the other important thing is to always ladder back to a brand’s core purposes. Maybe this point seems self-evident. My experience, though, tells me otherwise.  With every new technology or communications platform, there is a tendency for brands to want to join in simply because they can or they feel they must. I have seen a lot of brands trying to jump on more bandwagons than is really wise for them: Anybody remember Second Life?

It’s here again that the dangers of FOMO appear. What makes FOMO an even more powerful force for marketers (versus your average professional who wants to stay on top of the latest developments) is that in the short term, simply adopting the latest technologies can help position the marketer’s brand as innovative. The decision, for instance, to accept bitcoins as payment means that for a time, your brand will be perceived as the kind of brand that accepts bitcoin payments -- which is to say, one that stays on top of current developments.

But that new-tech halo can easily fade without a considered long-term plan. It is of the utmost important that the adoption of a new technology is not perceived as a goal in itself but as a means to an end. For example, the question of whether artificial intelligence (AI) is the right means to achieve a specific goal will very much vary from case to case, and from (hopefully) well-defined goal to well-defined goal. Again, a realistic assessment of the technology’s capabilities and potential is crucial. According to the Dutch AI specialist BrainCreators, many of its potential clients (from within and without the marketing industry) want to try to solve their most challenging problems with the help of AI – particularly those problems that their own experts have not been able to solve for years. The catch, in most cases, is that AI does not (yet) provide this kind of superhuman capability. Instead, AI is good at automating relatively complex repetitive tasks that otherwise ask for a lot of human effort. AI is also good with pattern recognition and, when properly trained, can be used to classify huge sets of data, make predictions, and detect anomalies. The savviest brands, then, are turning to AI to improve processes they already have in place – not to work miracles.

The lesson to take away is that brands looking to apply new technologies should focus on those areas that make the most business sense, not those that make for the splashiest headline. The best opportunity areas will, in most cases, not involve a brand’s most demanding business functions, but rather those functions where there’s room to deliver a lot of savings. In sum: when it comes to the adoption of emerging technologies, go for profitable, not sexy!