Think Technology Will Bring You Closer to the Consumer? Think Again

Why a Chasm Is Growing Between Consumers and Marketing

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Oren Frank
Oren Frank
Intuitively, it makes sense to believe that we all live in a post-digital age, and that we're all fully matured, "digital" consumers. We now assume that technology is an abundance instead of a scarcity, and that the computing grid will be there for us wherever and whenever we want it -- just as we expect the light to turn on when we flip the switch. Although, as consumers, most of us live in 2010, when we look at ourselves as marketers and agencies, many still inhabit a parallel and irrelevant universe. Although common sense would suggest that the gap between marketers and consumers is shrinking, I believe that it is actually growing wider.

Look at the iPad launch as an example: The iPad, along with other readers, is possibly one of the last lifelines for the publishing industry, yet almost all big publishers still massively under-leverage this phenomenal device. The NYT, News Corp. and most others have yet to launch a decent application for the iPad, and most of the ones that did (yes, even Wired) basically launched branded and half-baked PDF readers. In a world where being first to market is probably the key success factor, I believe that this could be the last iceberg some of these organizations will see in the future. (Anyone mention Newsweek?) Unsurprisingly, it's the smaller, nimbler developers that managed to quickly launch clever applications that demonstrate the true potential of the iPad and its interface; Look at Pulse, Moodboard, Godfinger or even Gilt as a few examples.

There is a simple explanation for this: The acceleration of technology and the growth of digital networks are obeying Moore's and Metcalfe's laws, both of which are playing nicely together in the silicon sandbox of exponential growth. In other words, acceleration itself is accelerated and becoming exponential. This is not a mathematical or a theoretical discussion, but a practical one concerning our lifestyles. Where it differs significantly from the past is that very same acceleration delivering new technology also makes it simpler, easier to use and much more intuitive than ever. When we look at modern mobile devices, computers and the internet, we notice that consumers -- young and old, geeky and geek-chic deficient -- all are adopting it faster than ever, and now really "need" a new gadget every few months rather than years.

As modern consumers, we have an intuitive and natural ability to integrate and synthesize information, communications and services, and reduce it into a coherent view of the world. But, as marketers, most of us still work at siloed organizations that are built in a hierarchical and vertical way, reflecting an ancient management paradigm. Such structures can only change (if at all) in a linear and slow way. The perfectly logical conclusion is that, when consumers are changing exponentially with technology, and marketing organizations don't, the gap between us as consumers and "us" as marketers is growing wider. Not sure? Try running some research following the behavior of your "young and friendly" CMO as a consumer, and compare it to her or his media-spending allocation. It's as if we follow two separate sets of rules.

Alvin Toffler said that "the illiterate of the 21st century will not be the ones that cannot read or write, but those who cannot learn, un-learn and re-learn." I believe this perfectly encapsulates the zeitgeist: As marketing professionals operating in an industry where change is a constant, we must commit to learning as a part of what we do. Please allow me to spell it out: Anyone not following a couple of dozen feeds hasn't got the slightest chance to keep with the pace and remain relevant -- let alone be ahead of the curve.

To be truly competitive, we must build innovation-driven, shape-shifting, super-fast and customer-centric organizations -- and that's just the price of entry. Beyond that, it's all about investing in people who love change and learning as a part of their personality. Add an open approach, a passion for innovation and technology and an ability to truly collaborate with others, and we're on our way to painfully and slowly narrowing the gap. How many such people does your agency or marketing discipline employ today?

Oren Frank is global chief creative officer at MRM Worldwide. During his career, Frank has worked with such brands as Honda, Volvo, Microsoft, Yoplait, Heineken, Axe and McDonald's.
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