The rate of technological advancement has been staggering, growing exponentially over the last four decades. Even simple things, like regulating room temperature, have undergone tech-rich reinvention. Today, Nest brand thermostats and other such artificial intelligence devices can do the work for you, learning about their environment as they maintain ideal temperature levels with minimum energy expenditure. Technological advances like these are being embraced widely by consumers in their homes.
For business leaders, the evolution of technology means the creation of digital businesses that operate more effectively and efficiently. It’s about much more than their operations and business models. Marketers have only scratched the surface of how they can use technology to drastically boost the bottom line.
Why, then, aren’t more industry leaders taking advantage of the benefits available to them?
While nearly everyone sprints to grab hold of new technologies that arise for personal use, the adoption of technology in the arena of business has been markedly slower. The cycle of evolution and implementation, which has taken decades, has revolutionized business. However, statistics show that, for a host of reasons, business leaders are often less apt to adopt technology. For example, a 2016 research study by Capita found that, while 90 percent of business leaders believed that using big data was valuable, only 36 percent were actually taking strides to integrate such technologies into their practice.
Though the adoption of business tech hasn’t occurred at warp speed, we have witnessed a measure of meaningful implementations in the last several decades. Chief financial officers (CFOs), chief information officers (CIOs), chief talent officers and supply chain officers have, in some measure) all capitalized upon new tech breakthroughs. While marketers have leveraged digital, they have yet to fully capitalize on the art of the possible. Let’s take a quick journey through history before looking forward to what the future of business technology holds.
It was the 80s, and both pop culture and tech thrived. “Every Breath You Take” by The Police was a favorite on the music charts. Every week, television viewers pulled up a virtual barstool and tuned in with the gang on Cheers. Moviegoers packed theaters to see the Brat Pack’s latest film, The Breakfast Club. And kids and adults alike became one with their Atari controllers, opening the door to a whole new world of tech-enhanced excitement.
In the realm of business technology, CFOs led the way, reaping the benefits of development.
The 1980s saw an explosion of new technology that redefined how this executive role fulfilled its accounting and compliance responsibilities, as PCs replaced typewriters by the end of the decade.
The rise of integrated, back-office software systems produced by the likes of SAP, JD Edwards and Oracle, gave CFOs access to and control of information like never before. With these developments, CFOs could better manage buyouts, more effectively coordinate outsourcing and more efficiently oversee global operations.
The 90s gave us Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” our favorite “show about nothing,” Seinfeld and laptops that would make computing mobile.
Meanwhile, CFOs everywhere were handing off business tech dominance to their vice presidents of sales.
With PCs now commonplace, along with the birth of the internet, smart business users were growing ever more keen to reap their technological benefits. Services like Oracle’s Siebel revolutionized sales-force automation, allowing business leaders to perform and track their duties faster and better; and server-based systems by Citrix and others were on the rise. The ready availability of data transformed the ways in which VPs of sales could manage and manipulate sales, improving top-line growth and alleviating communication challenges. The reach was so significant, in fact, that by 1999, 96 of Fortune 100 companies were actively using Citrix applications.
As Y2K dawned, The Sopranos were capturing the attention of TV viewers, Cameron’s Avatar took us to Pandora in 3D, and first-generation iPods were cranking Eminem’s “Lose Yourself.” The turn of the millennium also saw the public finally able to set aside cumbersome paper maps and navigate with ease thanks to new GPS technology.
At the same time, the business world was seeing an explosion in the hiring of chief information officers (CIOs).
Though the term “CIO” technically dates back to the 1980s, it was rarely used even as late as the mid-90s, asserts MIS magazine co-founder Graeme Philipson in a 2013 interview with CIO.com. That all changed in the 2000s.
Not only did the availability and reach of technology mean that there was more information for CIOs to gather, it also meant that they could gather it more easily. During this decade, companies like Citrix and VMware allowed for data collection and management on a scale and at speeds that would have seemed like pure science fiction a mere decade earlier.
As the second decade of the 2000s commenced, Adele had music lovers “Rolling in the Deep,” The Walking Dead fueled nightmares of a zombie apocalypse, and Leonardo DiCaprio delighted and confused in equal measure with Inception.
The corporate scene was shifting once again, as well. Across the globe, the chief marketing officer (CMO) became the newest role to capitalize on the capabilities of the latest business technology.
The concept of being able to gather vast amounts of information is no longer new. Now that business leaders have had time to adjust to the influx of data as the new norm, the savvy among them have set their sights on a new area in which they can use information to their advantage: marketing.
Over the course of this decade, the ways in which CMOs use technology have changed swiftly and dramatically. Previously, CMOs’ predominant use of technology was in the area of AdTech, which allows businesses to place banner ads on the screens of potential customers, or to target email blasts to people in a certain geographic area. And it wasn’t limited to personal computer screens; mobile applications are turning up everything from assumptive locations-based ads, such as, “Welcome to LAX. Stop by XYZ Luxury Motors on 10th Street” to post-visit surveys, “Thanks for visiting ABC restaurant. Please rate your restaurant experience.” While these types of ads were all the rage when they hit the market, AdTech is no longer revolutionary. And for many consumers, it’s not only severely outdated but considered intrusive and spammy.
Today, it’s all about AdTech’s successor: MarTech.
While AdTech enabled businesses to have the equivalent of a one-way conversation with their customers, MarTech radically improves upon this, creating opportunities for two-way exchanges. After all, how can you sustain a relationship with one-sided dialogue?
And it’s not simply the nature of the conversation that MarTech can influence—it’s the process businesses use to acutely target and engage consumers.
Through the use of MarTech, CMOs can generate more data about existing and potential customers, using this information to better understand what’s most relevant to each of these target audiences. Marketing executives are moving away from being mere data hoarders and toward the realm of becoming data scientists.
The later half of 2016 represents a time when hit-or-miss ads are no longer wise. By knowing where your customers are and where they are most likely to be in the future, you can deliver carefully crafted communication to the most receptive audience at the right time in order to influence buying decisions—both in real-time and in the future.
Yes, the technology to do exactly that is no longer just on the horizon. It’s here. And shrewd marketers are already using it—among them, perhaps, your own competitors.
There is a lot we don’t yet know about what’s to come in the decade ahead. From television offerings to the future of television itself as we know it, and from musical styles to movie stars, we’ll just have to wait and see.
We have some high hopes and compelling ideas regarding the types of tech that could soon be at our fingertips. From more affordable self-driving cars to brain-implanted microchips that can control devices, the future promises to be a tech lover’s paradise.
And as new technologies for personal use emerge, we can logically anticipate that the use of technology in business will continue to evolve, gaining increasing importance—especially in the area of marketing.
Regarding marketing, Apple CEO Steve Jobs once said, “Marketing is about values. This is a very complicated world. This is a very noisy world, and we’re not going to get a chance to get people to remember much about us. No company is. And so we have to be really clear on what we want them to know about us.”
This overwhelming amount of noise is what the shift to MarTech was designed to solve. But current MarTech is no paragon. By its very nature, evolution is perpetually moving things forward. What worked best in 2010 will be obsolete in 2020.
Given the powerful benefits of staying current as technology advances, it’s not surprising that forecasts predict an increase in tech-related spending among CMOs. In fact, a 2016 Foundation Capital Study provides insight into just how much money CMOs will spend, projecting that expenses will increase tenfold, from $12 billion to $120 billion within the next decade.
Much has changed since the days when horn-rimmed secretaries punched away at keys to produce mailable missives. And, though it may seem next to impossible, we will only continue to see an ever upward arc of development and innovation in business technology.
The shift is continually underway. Those not committed to riding the wave stand only to be swallowed up by it. What forces might be tempting your own business to cling to techniques of the past instead of adopting technologies for the future? If you suspect that your business is lagging in tech implementation, causing you to miss out on potential profits, perhaps it’s time to take a discerning closer look.