Ben Davis: Get existing tech right before focusing on the future

Given the most hyped technologies of 2017 have failed to make an impact this year, marketers would be wise to perfect customer experience on incumbent tech like mobile before shifting focus to blockchain, VR and voice.

Business transformation consultants who spend too much time on LinkedIn, agency sales folk who need to pad a presentation, or Marketing Week writers who have to hit their word count – all are fond of bandying around a bit of Heraclitus: “Change is the only constant”. Hmm, yes, lots of nodding.

The most refreshing thing, though, that has happened this year is that all the usual talk of disruptive tech has been noticeably less feverish.

And with the publication of the latest Gartner Hype Cycle, it’s as if the accreted technological bullshit of the last couple of years has just gently sloughed off at some point in the past few months. It probably happened while we were all enjoying ourselves outside in the alarmingly warm weather – perhaps we’ve all realised talk of the future may be somewhat presumptive.

Over on the Econsultancy blog, Rebecca Sentance has already done a better job than I can of dissecting the Hype Cycle and its press coverage. But in summary, the most hyped technologies of 2017 have failed to make an impact this year. None have inched close enough to Gartner’s so-called ‘plateau of productivity’ to make the average marketer prick up their ears. Blockchain is not a quick fix to enable transparency in advertising, smart homes and smart workplaces are definitely not a thing yet, and VR headset sales are sluggish to put it mildly.

Among marketers, I’ve heard plenty of scepticism about all these technologies. Just search Google for “blockchain – solution looking for a problem” and you won’t be surprised there are pages of results. Take voice search and smart assistants, too – most marketers I know are frustrated by the parroting of spurious stats, or at least stats taken out of context. Apparently 50% of searches will be carried out using voice technology by 2020. That stat was a reasonable prediction by Andrew Ng about the Chinese market – where voice is a lot quicker than typing – and referred to image and voice search combined, but it has been shared thousands of times and unsurprisingly with none of its nuance intact.

If you’re a marketer with a big budget and you don’t focus on absolutely top-notch mobile experiences for your customers, what have you been doing with your (professional) life?

I could bash new tech all day long, or at least marketing’s obsession with it, but I want to focus on one tech that has hit maturity. Mobile. There’s a bit of irony (I think) in the fact that for a number of years marketers talked incessantly about “the year of mobile” and a bunch of other marketers mocked the former just as incessantly. But now we have all forgotten about that debate because mobile has fairly suddenly been taken for granted – it is, therefore, no longer strictly “technology”.

Look at what happened this year in mobile. Google rolled out its mobile-first index in March. The search engine now uses the mobile version of a page for indexing and ranking, to better help its – primarily mobile – users find what they’re looking for. “Historically,” a Google Webmaster blog post said, “the desktop version was indexed, but increasingly, we will be using the mobile versions of content”.

It’s over three years since Google said that mobile searches had overtaken desktop searches, and depending on what sources you read, mobile is now responsible for between 50% and 55% of all web traffic. It has been two years since mobile surpassed 50% of ecommerce traffic. You have to go back to 2013 for the first time the majority of Amazon’s shoppers used mobile. In February, eMarketer reported that more than 75% of worldwide video viewing is now mobile.

Do I have a point? Well, yes. If you’re a marketer with a big budget and you don’t focus on absolutely top-notch mobile experiences for your customers, what have you been doing with your (professional) life?

Forget blockchain, VR and voice, and make sure you are at least level with your competitors on mobile. If I had to back a horse when it comes to the next big thing in martech, of course I’d go for AI. But unless marketers focus properly on customer expectations of incumbent tech, the robots will just be a convenient excuse to get rid of those humans who have been unable to see the wood for the trees.

Ben Davis is the editor of Econsultancy.

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