Today, I read an interesting article on AdAge|digital titled, “CMOs Flock to Consumer Electronics Show to 'Get a Feel for the Pace of Change'.” In summary, the article talks about how an increasing number of marketing executives, not just digital executives, are attending this year’s show in order to learn about the new and varied devices that consumers are using more and more of in their daily lives.
The author of the article interviewed three marketing executives (Keith Weed, CMO at Unilver, Robert Tas, Managing Director-Digital Marketing at JP Morgan Chase, and Marc Speichert, CMO at L'Oréal USA) to find out why they were attending the show and, while each person gave interesting answers to the questions that were asked of them, there was one question and answer which really struck me. When Keith Weed was asked, "Is there a risk of getting too far ahead of consumers?” he responded by saying, “My principle is, I want to get to the future first and welcome consumers as they arrive. That way we don't have to chase them. There is nothing wrong with failing as long as you do it quickly and don't scale the failures.” Is that a brilliant statement, or what?
To me, this marketing philosophy, if it can be called that, or way to conduct business, makes a great deal of sense, especially when it comes to dealing with technology, but I don't believe companies and marketers themselves really think in these terms. For instance, with respect to print-to-mobile technology (i.e., QR Codes, augmented reality, NFC, etc.), my sense is that companies try the various technologies on the market and do so only for the cool or hip factor, and not because they truly want to "get to the future first," as Mr. Weed points out. If companies and marketers were serious about getting ahead of consumers, then I don't believe we would see as many print-to-mobile-based advertisement and interactive experience failures as we do. Instead, companies and marketers would fully understand each technology, application and/or device being used and develop campaigns accordingly (i.e., the experience is optimized for mobile, value and relevance is part of the scan resolve content, best practices are used, etc.).
By getting to the future first, and understanding how certain technologies, applications and/or devices are used before the mainstream, I believe, can help companies to 1) build and establish a comfort level for customers and prospects to interact and engage in, and 2) develop a strategic advantage among competitors. But, in order for all of this to happen, companies must be willing to commit to the technology, application and/or device in question. To merely jump on the technology/application/device bandwagon is meaningless and pointless. Instead, companies must fully commit time, resources, budget, etc., for 'getting to the future first' to really matter and make a difference. This has played out so many times with respect to QR Code campaigns, where an advertiser not only executes a campaign poorly, but there are no other campaigns to follow. One can see quite easily that there was no real and meaningful commitment made to using QR Codes, other than for its one-time use. And, what a shame, because no one wins; the poor execution reflects poorly on the brand and the consumer is no closer to taking the intended action or response.
Maybe, if companies and marketers embraced Mr. Weed's comment, "there is nothing wrong with failure as long as you do it quickly and don't scale the failures" then they would be less inclined to jump on the bandwagon, or be concerned about being cool and hip for a day, and really be able to make the commitment that I spoke about above. Marketing is not a perfect art or science and people (i.e., the C-Suite) need to realize this. Sure, marketers want to make use of objectives, metrics, analysis, etc. in an attempt to maximize marketing returns, but expectations need to be kept in check and part of managing expectations is to recognize that failures may happen along the way.
Lastly, I believe it needs to be said that with so many different technologies, applications, devices, etc, on the market, companies need to take stock in what makes the most sense for them and their customers, prospects, competitive environment, etc., and not to get caught up in believing that they must play in all of them. A perfect example of this would be with social marketing. For one reason or another, a company and its marketing team believes they must have a presence on and make use of Facebook, Twitter, etc., when, in actuality, this is the last thing they need to focus their energies and resources on. What's shiny and new is not always the most useful or necessary. Yes, a company and its marketers need to try and adapt to new things in order to "get to the future first," but to minimize the failures and wrong turns thought, analysis and common sense needs to be present as well.