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Is the lure of shiny new technology killing strategy?

Opinion, 16 June 2016

This guest post is by John Ounpuu who is co-founder of Modern Craft, a digital strategy agency . @jounpuu

Econsultancy recently published a detailed report on Marketing Budgets in 2016. According to its authors, the report is "a bellwether for the health of the marketing industry." This 54-page document contains the word "strategy" a grand total of (wait for it) once.

It's a sign of the times. Because, these days, strategy seems to be falling out of fashion. But why?

The modern, digital world offers marketers a constant stream of newness. New ideas, new tactics and, above all, shiny new technology. The rate of growth in the marketing technology space in recent years has been nothing short of astounding. According to chiefmartec.com there are currently more than 3,500 hundred technology companies targeting marketers. Five years earlier, in 2011, the total was closer to 100.

All of this newness is overwhelming -the pressure to keep up and avoid being left behind can be very stressful. But it's also extremely alluring. Entrepreneurs and VC's, after all, are the rock stars of the modern age. They're savvy opportunists who win by chasing the bleeding edge and getting in early. Couldn't that approach-the logic goes-work for brands too?

This potent combination of fear and excitement has lead many marketing leaders to increase their focus on new tactics and technology. And decrease their focus on the big picture. The long-term. The strategy.

Some see strategy as the opposite of the entrepreneurial ideal. Slow-moving and divorced from action. Others see it as too time-consuming-a major sin in an era where change is constant and time is precious. It's no wonder strategy has lost its luster.

But this shift towards new tech and away from strategy has a dark downside. In the midst of this mania for all things new, brands are losing sight of the need to serve their customers. Or worse, they're actually damaging the customer experience in their blind pursuit of short-term, tech-powered gain.

Consider these two glaring examples:

  • Research by ad-blocking firm Optimal indicates that the ballooning weight of ad tech on publisher web pages could be costing US iPhone users over $8 billion per year in additional carrier data charges. Yet display ad spending is on the rise.
  • A study by InSkin Media and RAPP found that more than half of consumers are put off from buying a product if that product follows them around the internet as a retargeted ad unit. Yet retargeting is on the rise.

Quite simply, we've lost our way. We've grown distant from our customers-become too accustomed to seeing them as targets instead of people.

And that's bad news. Because the same digital revolution that has yielded all of this shiny new marketing tech has also empowered our customers with more choice, more information and more control than ever. Yet instead of trying to earn their time and attention, we're chasing trends, taking shortcuts and spending more and more on tech. So much so that-according to a recent Gartner study-a full third of marketing budgets now go to technology.

Of course, all marketing technology is not a waste of time. Some of it is downright amazing. The real trick is sifting through the noise and finding the tools that are right for you. This is harder than ever with so many options to choose from. But here's the kicker: the best tool for this task is a sound strategy. As Harvard's Michael Porter has so eloquently put it, the essence of strategy is choosing what not to do.

Clearly it's time to right the balance between thinking and doing and re-introduce strategy into the equation. But how? Here are some tips to help you get started:

  • Say no to FOMO. Make a concerted effort to free yourself and your team from the relentless fear of missing out. Spend less time worrying about the latest hot trends new tech and more time focusing on the specific challenges facing your business. And the strengths and asset you can build on to address them.
  • Focus on customer needs. Use planning tools like customer journey maps to put customers at the centre of your planning process across all channels. Then let these tools guide you to the right tactics and tech.
  • Rethink your strategy toolkit. Update the way you practice strategy. Focus less on long-term roadmaps and more on decision-making tools that help your organization make smart choices assessing new opportunities an adapting to ongoing change.
  • Don't call it strategy. If the word itself sounds a sour note in your action-oriented org, call it something different. It doesn't matter what it's called as long as it's getting done.

John Ounpuu is co-founder of Modern Craft, a digital strategy agency specializing in unbiased advice on unifying and optimizing the full digital ecosystem.

About the author

Warc invites guests to post on its blog from time to time. If you have an issue or topic of interest to a global audience of advertising and marketing professionals, get in touch.