Introduction and Background
My lifelong passion is the impact of technology on all aspects of human life, and the work I have involved myself in has primarily revolved around how disruptive enabling technologies have shaped our personal and commercial relationships.
I was born in 1949, and my generation has become known as the “Baby Boomer” generation because of the large number of people born after the Second World War. I, and many people I know from this generation, regard ourselves as the most fortunate generation in human history because we have lived through some of the most unprecedented developments in civilization. These developments have seen improvements in longevity and quality of life for large sections of our global population and, for people like myself, the absence of war or international conflict.
This article looks at the exponential changes brought about by the digital revolution and the consumerization/democratization of technology, and the challenges and opportunities it creates for marketing.
My 5 Marketing A’s
My career in marketing began in 1979 when I joined the General Systems Division (GSD) of IBM as a Marketing Executive. With no previous selling experience and a quiet personality, I soon realized the importance of personal relationships in sales and marketing.
“People ultimately choose to do business with people they like, and everyone likes someone who appreciates them.”
In those days, there were no Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems within IBM, and most people relied on ”Roladex” card file systems to keep track of meetings and information about clients. The sales and marketing training at IBM was very highly regarded, but it was very much focused on optimizing the face to face contact, and it used the research done by the Huthwaite International “Spin” (Situation, Problem, Implication, Need) approach to progress the sales process.
Today, the digital revolution has led to CRM systems being a vital component in marketing practices. In organizations of all sizes, these systems help ensure that relationships with customers and prospects can be developed within every customer contact situation.
One of the biggest challenges in today’s digital media world is identifying and targeting prospects, turning them into customers, and retaining them to deliver ongoing revenue. This challenge has driven the marketing technology innovations that I want to cover in this article.
Today’s disruptive digital technologies enable individuals and organizations to optimize every one of these factors in ways that can significantly enhance marketing productivity and the customer experience in the following ways:-
Understanding the target customer’s specific circumstances is key to Alignment – which means how closely aligned your products and services are to customer needs and expectations. Access to relevant data about the customer profile, demographics, and behaviors combined with technologies that identify and prioritize well-matched customers and prospects helps to focus sales and marketing attention. These technologies can also help in the development of new products and services.
Raising awareness of products and services is critical to effective marketing, and digital technologies and applications have revolutionized the marketing channels used to raise awareness. These changes are discussed in more detail later in this article.
Awareness and alignment are essential factors, but these need to be presented to target customers in the most attractive way to be effective. Innovative uses of digital media described in this article can enhance the value proposition.
Successful use of digital technologies to address alignment, awareness, and attractiveness can bring the prospective customer to the point of wanting to purchase, and the use of digital technologies to reduce and/or remove barriers to affordability can also enhance marketing productivity.
Accessibility is the final component that can be enhanced by digital technologies. Accessibility technologies transform the customer experience and make the process of completing a sales transaction available at any time and from anywhere.
Case Study Examples
1. Disruptive Technologies of the 1840s – Steam Power and the Railway Network
The Thomas Cook Story
Thomas Cook, the founder of modern-day package holidays and inventor of the traveler’s cheque, provides a good case study of how a disruptive communications technology created a new marketing opportunity and a whole new industry. The success of Thomas Cook can be analyzed in the context of how the use of technology can be applied to the five marketing A’s.
Thomas Cook in the 1840s believed that ordinary people’s lives were degraded by alcohol abuse and that this problem was primarily due to the fact that traveling to new places and experiences was beyond the means of most people. Travel outside of their communities was neither affordable nor accessible.
The disruptive impact of steam power and the rapid development of the railway network created a marketing opportunity based on the quantum change in the affordability and accessibility of consumer travel. It was the human intelligence and entrepreneurship of Thomas Cook that created the awareness and attractiveness of leisure travel that aligned so well with people’s lives in the 1840s.
The opportunity created by this disruptive communications technology also brought challenges to the Thomas Cook’s empire expansion as it ventured into international travel. The challenges of foreign currencies and languages were solved by the invention of the travelers cheque and the use of tour guides, leading to the marketing strapline “Follow the Man from Cooks.”
2. The Digital Revolution and the Birth of Mini-Computers and Data Networks
The Unichem Story
Around 140 years after Thomas Cook held his first railway excursion in 1842 and transported 600 people by train on a 12-mile railway excursion from Leicester to Loughborough, the computer mainframe giants such as IBM, ICL, Burroughs, and NCR were being challenged by new entrants to the market such as Hewlett Packard, DEC, and Wang. This challenge was driven by the birth of the mini-computers, which did not need special air-conditioned rooms and teams of computer staff.
Developments in mini-computer technology made computers more accessible and affordable to small businesses, and it was this use of technology that opened up marketing opportunities that focused on raising awareness of the benefits to business and the attractiveness of accounts automation that aligned well with the needs of the target market.
The 1980s was also a time when the early data communications technologies were coming onto the market, and it was this combination that led to what I believe was one of the first examples of technology-enabled marketing based not on process automation but on marketing innovation enabled by technology.
Unichem supplied pharmaceuticals to High Street chemists and pharmacies in the UK. In the early 1980s, it offered an innovative value proposition to customers who purchased a handheld bar code scanner linked to a communications device that could automate the replenishment of drugs on a 24×7 basis. This combination of disruptive technologies created a very attractive proposition that aligned with the target customers’ needs and was affordable and accessible. The collaborative partnership with the technology provider raised awareness within the market.
The Consumerization of Digital Technologies
The 21st century has seen exponential growth in the consumerization of digital technologies, and it is the impact of this consumerization that has created a diversity of challenges and opportunities for marketing professionals.
Whilst the 1980s saw the birth of business-to-business digital technologies, the 1990s heralded the internet era, leading in the 21st century to the phenomenon known as the “Prosumer,” which means consumers enabled by technology to become producers of content and services.
The Prosumer phenomenon is enabled by developments in the characteristics of technology shown in the above graph. This shows how digital technologies originally developed for use by professionals and proprietary, dumb and unconnected have, in the space of the last 20 years, became generic, intelligent, and connected. These developments have made technologies like smartphones, laptops, cameras, and sensors more accessible, affordable, and attractive.
It is no coincidence that these developments have seen the rapid emergence of new and powerful commercial forces like Google, Amazon, Facebook, and many other organizations that have raised awareness of value propositions that align with modern life and consumer aspirations.
The Impact of the Internet on the Supply Chain and Marketing Strategies
I have tried to visualize the impact of technology on marketing strategies over the last 40 years in the diagram above. Traditional trading relationships pre-digital involved human relationships adding value to market products and services at every stage in the supply chain.
Early use of digital technologies tried to use technology to create a direct link between the customer and manufacturer by rapid analysis of purchasing behavior at the point of sale, enabling manufacturers to adjust marketing strategies to align with customer demand.
The arrival of the internet and search engines empowered consumers to browse for products with the best combination of alignment, awareness, attractiveness, affordability, and accessibility, and these developments saw the beginning of search engine advertising and the emergence of early uses of AI to promote products based on the demographics of the customer. This also saw companies like Amazon beginning to use artificial intelligence to provide intermediary marketing services to manufacturers.
Today we see the major social media players like Facebook, YouTube, and Linkedin increasingly taking over a more significant role and influence in the marketing not only of traditional products and services from established brands but also acting as catalysts for rapid growth innovative and disruptive services such as Uber and Deliveroo.
The Impact of Artificial Intelligence on Marketing Technology Challenges and Opportunities
I began this article by reflecting on the old marketing adage that “people buy from people they like.” Throughout history, human relationships have been an essential part of commercial transactions. In many ways, this has formed the basis of the supply chain from manufacturing to physical distribution and retail. Each of the businesses in this chain has built customer relationships enabled in part by marketing technologies such as CRM systems and face-to-face contact.
The latest disruptive technology to emerge in this century is artificial intelligence (AI), embedded within almost all consumer digital devices. AI is used to personalize the user experience in devices such as smartphones and make them more attractive, accessible, affordable, and ubiquitous. These devices and technologies form an ecosystem that brings many opportunities and challenges to marketing professionals because of their potential value in the marketing process.
These developments have disrupted the marketing mix and have seen digital consumerization bring prices down, improve their accessibility via the internet, and provide tools to create increasingly attractive and immersive media. These developments have generated growth and new entrant market opportunities for innovative new products and services and have broken down barriers to entry.
The same developments have seriously challenged established brands and existing routes to market, resulting in the demise of many household names unable to take advantage of or respond to new technologies.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a relatively embryonic technology beginning to pervade all aspects of society as intelligent machines become better and more reliable than humans at performing tasks. However, human beings have characteristics that make them different to and arguably better than machines in interactions and relationship building with other humans.
The areas where I believe we will see the most significant challenges and opportunities for marketing professionals (and where AI is growing in importance) are in alignment and awareness.
AI, Alignment and Awareness
Finding and attracting customers with the closest match to your products and services can be significantly enhanced by using artificial intelligence and big data analytics. As we move towards a cashless society, every electronic transaction we make and every search we carry out on the internet is being recorded, analyzed, and is used to build a profile of our behaviors, interests, and purchasing patterns.
Those organizations best able to respond to these profiles have a significant marketing advantage, especially when it comes to raising awareness of products and services through personalized marketing.
Disruptive technologies throughout history have created opportunities and challenges for marketing. Today’s environment makes effective use of marketing technology more critical than ever as consumers have more choices. Human relationships are still vitally essential, but new phenomena such as “social influencers” (individuals with celebrity status and millions of followers on channels like YouTube, Facebook, and Linkedin) are constantly presenting new challenges.