The Consumer Electronics Show being held this week in Las Vegas has historically been a showcase for all the latest screens and devices coming soon and on the horizon.
In recent years, of course, it’s also become the first stop on the annual mega-events circuit for the world’s most influential marketers and the service providers who surround them.
Yet, for all its sizzle, it’s hard to escape the fact that, in the post-flatscreen, post-iPhone, post-Tesla, post-Spectacles era, consumer technology may be the least of any marketer’s problems.
The truth is, consumers now have the technology in their pockets, on their wrists, and in their living rooms, that’s capable of doing way more than most brands are capable of serving up to them.
What should be keeping CMO’s up at night is not consumer technology but the technology their own organizations use (or don’t use) in-house. And for that matter, how they manage, maintain and integrate all of them.
Where are all those magical apps that were supposed to update your dinner reservation automatically when you got stuck in traffic, or order you an Uber after imbibing too many cocktails? Why doesn’t every commerce app offer Amazon-like recommendations, and every content app remember you across screens?
It’s not a hardware problem. It’s a human resources problem, but one that’s solvable, at least in part, with the right infrastructure.
A few years back I wrote a blog post for HBR.org in which I argued the industry needed to invest more time and effort into designing analytics that would direct marketers’ everyday actions as clearly and precisely as a GPS issues directions.
Turn left there, go right there.
Enterprise software companies have made significant progress, in fact, moving from descriptive → predictive → prescriptive analytics. Yet, it’s turning out to still not be enough to keep up with the onslaught of data and the demand for better, more personalized experiences applying that data. This is especially true when it comes to time-sensitive decision-making. There are not enough marketers skilled at applying all this data to do so at scale, in a timely fashion, and even if there were, the engineering challenges of configuring the data and keeping up with all the new channels and tools is simply too immense.
The skill set shortages are particularly acute when you look beyond the web and CRM to app data, which is way more complex and diverse than anything any of us have seen in the past.
As one point of reference, we asked about 100 mobile marketers in a survey last year what prevented them from being more successful in their roles. The number one, two, four, and six most popular responses were all people related — with the first being “lack of engineering resources to implement tools.”
While they’re in Vegas this week, marketers would do well to skip the 3D TV’s and mojitos and spend some time with the makers of self-driving cars. Initially, these companies were focused on a gradual evolution, in which the car would make some basic decisions, like changing lanes, but still rely on people to step in every now and again when things get hairy. More recently, though, the industry has realized it’s a very bad idea to rely on humans — who are easily distracted — especially in fast-moving, high traffic environments. That’s why companies like Ford are skipping over the messy middle phase and are now aiming at full automation.
Marketers can learn from this.
It’s not to say that when it comes to writing email or advertising copy they should ignore the advice of their agency and just hire a bot. But when it comes to data infrastructure, at least, they need to abandon the manual, hacked-together reports and methods that have characterized advertising and marketing tools and reporting up until now. It is simply too dangerous to rely on engineers and a few skilled analysts to pull these together, and integrate them endlessly, in an environment that’s moving with velocity and variability of today’s mobile consumers.
Modern data infrastructure isn’t some sexy new report or marketing tactic. It can’t be shown off at a dinner party or played on the big screen at a board meeting or company retreat. Yet, it’s what’s actually needed today, and will make all the difference.