We talk all the time about what the future will look like, and this past week I heard some fascinating conjecture about the future of smart devices and the ‘Internet of things’ during a jaunt across the pond to London for an IAB UK event. That kind of discussion is what fuels most of us in this business because we feed on the promise and excitement of what’s coming. But the question remains whether or not each of us will be ready for it when it arrives. To embrace the future requires a change in behaviour, and that’s not always easy.
One of the themes of a presentation I saw from the CMO of a company called Evrythng was how consumers will have more direct relationships with brands, cutting out the middleman and engaging with them directly. For example, your car will text you when the gas or battery is running low and needs to be refilled. Your refrigerator will proactively develop a recommended shopping list. These are futurist examples that could certainly be achieved in the next few years because neither of them requires too much advanced technology. They solve existing problems and make things easier.
Another example that was further off, but also realistic, given the state of current technology for 3-D printing, would be the ability to order a new pair of sneakers online and then print them at home. Even further down the line was the idea of being able to Google a search for your missing car keys, and your phone will then tell you where they are! Really, no more far-fetched than doing a video call when you’re looking at the Thames and your kids are at home, 7 000 miles away. To my grandmother, this is magic. To us, this is everyday life.
For these advancements to take hold, the consumer has to be ready and the manufacturer of the solution has to have planned ahead. Internet adoption was not immediate – it took 10 years to get to critical mass. I find that as I get older I start to truly understand the term ‘generation gap’ much more than I did when I was younger. The difference inherent in age and perspective can bleed into the willingness, and even the ability, to change behaviour.
For new technology to be adopted, it has to do two things. First, it has to be easy. Second, it has to solve a problem, not just make an existing solution faster.
Ease is a no-brainer. The iPod was easier than the Nomad and the other mp3 players that came before it. The iPhone was easier to use, while also providing a wider array of services than just calling and texting. When things are too complicated, the general audience passes.
You have to provide a solution that is easy to understand. Navigation systems in cars today are much easier to use than they were six years ago. Voice-activated commands are easier than typing. Time and time again proves that making something easy can translate to wider adoption. When something is easy, consumers are willing to change their behaviour to integrate new technology into their lifestyle. Younger minds tend to be early adopters because they aren’t so set in their ways and they recognise “easy” quicker. Old minds are more set in their ways, but they recognise when something saves time — and in their eyes, time is money!
But easy doesn’t always do it. You have to solve a real problem that needs solving. You can’t just offer something new when the old solution works great and everyone still loves it. If you offered a new mousetrap that improves on the old one by making the mouse kill completely clean, no fuss — but everyone has the old mousetrap and it already works great, kills 100% of mice with little to no clean up and has 100% market share, then nobody will buy the new mousetrap. You need easy and you need an existing challenge to be solved, rather than something looking for a challenge.
I bring up this point today because I want you to think about how technology gets adopted and how it affects your daily life in business. As a marketer, I spend a lot of time talking about benefits rather than technology because I think people don’t buy products, they buy benefits. Consumers don’t buy products simply because they’re cool, but because they solve a challenge (this applies to most everything except high-end handbags like Louis Vuitton, which I will never understand but that’s a whole ‘nother article).
So the question remains: When the future arrives, will you be ready? Will you see a product that you identify as solving a problem and will that future provide solutions that are easy and desired by consumers? Can you direct that kind of success in the products and services you are working on?
Cory Treffiletti is senior vice president of marketing, BlueKai, and is a founder, author, marketer, and evangelist. This post was first published on MediaPost.com