It’s been more than ten years now since I sat in a small office at a supercomputing research facility wondering what path to take. Technology was certainly advancing. Or so it seemed from inside those walls that housed massive computer power. I could stay and pursue my dreams of a lifelong education on the cusp of advancing research or leave to pursue the new – but rising – star of Internet technologies.
While I still marvel at the technologies available in that day – Netscape, Pine, Gopher and the ever present Unix shell, I remain more impressed by how far we’ve come. There is no doubt that we live in a special time. We are currently living in one of those moments that history looks back upon. Everything is changing, and what hasn’t is still up for grabs. Culture, politics, technology, education are all shifting. Like the time of the Greeks, Romans, Renaissance, Wild West and Industrial Revolution, our future is yet to be determined – controlled by a handful of smart minds that have yet to craft the attitudes future generations will take for normal. And while this change seems a foregone conclusion, there has been little said about what is driving this change.
As marketers, a greater understanding of what is driving this shift in culture and technology today can only help better market to consumers. Yet, terabytes of data are being devoted to explaining individual technologies and calculating social ROI.
There are two forces at work today – advancing technology and changing customer behavior. Whether technology has changed customer behavior or whether changing behavior has driven advancing technology lies at the center of the debate on what is causing change. While it may seem a little like a chicken or egg idea, an understanding of the root cause of change can help create more successful tactics moving into the next year.
Let’s start with consumers. Consumers today are demanding more from their products and services than ever before. They expect products to be available where and when they are needed. They expect services to fit nicely into the flow of their chaotic life. Consumers value, well, value over all else. A combination of features, quality and convenience compliment price to create compelling propositions. When disappointed, they have plenty of avenues to turn in which to vent frustrati0n.
Or are customers truly more demanding? Has there really been a change in what customers are asking for? Perhaps, digital technologies have just given consumers a broader and stronger voice.
Technology is creating opportunity where none existed. Amazon and Ebay have been able to introduce consumers to products that would otherwise not been considered. Discussion boards and product reviews have changed the ownership of the value propositions to consumers. No longer can a product cast promises on television without digital support to back up the claims. One bad experience can result in a negative post from a consumer. That post can be extended to thousands of networks resulting in millions of bad impressions.
The most frightening aspect of today’s advancing technologies are the simplicity with which they are created. Anyone with the desire can create digital content. Consumers are outpacing brands in both the creation and adoption of technologies. Not only do the customers own a product’s voice, but they also now own the channels through which they are communicated.
So what is pushing change? Is it the technologies or the changing attitudes and expectations of consumers?
Today, it’s a combination of the two. That’s not really going out on a limb and is truly an answer expected from a strategist. However, at the onset, I believe change was driven by consumers. They have always demanded more from the products and services they spend their money on. Technology was only the facilitator early on. As the expectations began to grow, attitudes changed forcing technology with it. Thus, today we have a combination of ever increasing expectations with ever advancing technology driving change at a breakneck pace.
If successful marketing is to be exceeding your customer’s expectations, marketers must embrace digital technologies. Simply keeping up with competitors will not be enough. When a Zappos brand can come on the scene and take significant share, other brands should take notice. It’s no longer good enough to be better than the competition. Today, companies need to be better than their consumers. They need to drive the technology and provide value beyond cost and convenience.
One of my favorite successes is Mr. McGroovy’s. Rather than sell cardboard fasteners, this site sells plans to build exotic playsets for children out of cardboard. Rather than be the best cardboard fastener seller in the market, the site created a new market. You can call it Blue Ocean or whatever other term happens to be hot in literature, but in the end, this site harnassed the power of digital technologies and fused it with advancing customer expectations to create something powerful. It’s only a rumor, but I’ve heard they ran out of cardboard rivets last Christmas.