Technology: Much More Than Just A ‘What?’
Technology. It’s all around us.
Here to (supposedly) make our lives better, both personally and professionally. Sometimes it does, and sometimes, let’s face it, it’s just a bad case of ‘shiny new thing syndrome.’
As we’ve been preparing the Technology Issue of Brand Quarterly, I’ve spent a lot of time considering what technology means to a brand, to a marketer, to the average person on the street. What the must-haves for the modern marketer are. What the next big thing will be. What my favourite piece of tech is. What the difference is between truly valuable technology and a ‘shiny new thing.’
…but then it hit me.
…that’s the problem.
…the ‘what’ is the problem
In reading through all of the submissions for this issue, narrowing it down to the final selection, a common theme emerged for me.
Agency-side, client-side, consumer-side, we need to stop obsessing over the ‘what’ of technology and start considering the who, how, when, where, and why.
It makes a whole lot of sense when you think about it.
Of course, there are some important ‘what’s to consider: What is the purpose of the tool/system? What is your required investment? What current systems does it make obsolete? And a few more.
These certainly deserve your attention, but a more holistic approach, factoring in some other aspects of technology’s role in an organisation, will pay big dividends.
But where to start? Well, in my books, starting with ‘why’ is a powerful way to shape and guide you through any evaluation process. Before you can decide what technology fits your brand’s needs the best, you have to understand why you actually need it.
This can offer you great insights into the remaining questions of who, where, when, and how.
Next, there’s the question of ‘where?’
Where does a particular system need to be deployed? Is it in-store? On a website? An App? Intranet? Or perhaps, in a factory or warehouse? Where does it operate, and where does it need to be accessed?
This can be an obvious deciding factor when you’re talking about cloud computing vs an onsite, dedicated system. But the nuances of different systems that service the same ‘where’ will be vital pieces of information when decision-time rolls around.
With physical technologies, there’s also the question of where units are manufactured, distributed from, serviced, and where on earth the spare parts come from. Reliable products – be they business tools or stock to on-sell – are key to a consistent and positive customer experience. So, thinking about supply chains, service procedures, and even ‘country of origin’ can make the difference for you.
Moving on from ‘where?’ we get to the question that gets an inquisitive mind like mine going – ‘How?’
You always ask what a new piece of tech can do; but do you consider how it actually does it? This is just as important. There are many paths to reach any specific goal, so you need to ensure that the path you choose is on-brand, aligns with (or improves) your current systems, and is as transparent as possible.
Think about it. If your customers knew exactly how your marketing stack operated, what would they think? Would you be considered innovative? Customer-centric? Transparent? Or would there be cause for concern? Privacy and the use of customer data is a very topical example of this. The end shouldn’t justify the means; it should be a reward for acting with integrity.
And, in no small way, how things work tends to affect who the technology is connected to. For example; your marketing tech is only as good as the data you feed it, and the people who operate it.
The printing press was a massive, world-altering, technological advancement for its time; and think of all you could achieve with it – if you had the right people on the job, who knew what they were doing. Now, I know plenty about designing for print (I’ve been around long enough to remember when it was print first, digital maybe), but give me a printing press to operate and expect wonderful results – not likely. Who is behind the technology is important.
This is also true from the perspective of working with technology vendors. Who you partner with can make a huge difference. Do they understand your business? Is their customer service up to par? Do you know who’s providing your product/service, or is it actually an unknown third party? These questions can be just as important as knowing what the system does.
Knowing your technology ‘when?’ is the final piece of the puzzle.
For me, the big ‘when?’ is knowing when to use that fancy new tech: to relieve people of everyday tasks (marketing automation); improve the customer journey (AI, chatbots); activate your brand champions (employee engagement systems); increase production ROI (streamlining and robotics); conquer social media (social intelligence); etc… and, to know when to step back, in the knowledge that by adding more tech, you’re only getting in your own way.
A second factor to consider is when the time to upgrade or replace this shiny new toy is.
Is it worth waiting a little longer for the next offering? Is it already obsolete by the time you get it? Or is it reasonably ‘timeless’ (for tech, at least), and a few quick and easy updates will keep you steaming ahead for years to come?
These are questions we all need to ask ourselves each time we look at any new technology offering – and perhaps looking at our current systems under this new light would be a good idea too; don’t you think?