New tech for old problems: how to keep up with the disruptors
A view from Harry Lang

New tech for old problems: how to keep up with the disruptors

Can marketing innovate alongside era-defining brands, asks integrated marketing consultant Harry Lang.

It's getting to the point where no tech company feels it can be taken seriously unless it's disrupting something. Anything. Just finding an old problem and solving it with a simple, intuitive solution.

This newfangled trend for exposing the limitations of an industry by inventing a solution through the use of technology, and rapidly dominating it until a multibillion-dollar IPO, is all we read about in the pop-up blogs of TechCrunch, Forbes and LinkedIn.

And it’s great – really it is. Even for this wizened hack of a marketer (who spurns Apple products as plug-in jewellery for tweens and can’t work a satnav).

We marketing types are normally quite handy when it comes to adopting innovation: PPC, the commercialisation of social media, helicopter banners and the T-shirt cannon, to name but a few random examples. However, with this recent glut of disruptive firms dominating the headlines (and yes, Airbnb, Uber, Salesforce, Snapchat, Deliveroo – this includes the likes of you lot and your clever workforces), the marketing industry has yet to act as the innovator-in-chief when it comes to marketing tactics, strategies and attribution.

Steps toward successful disruption can be loosely outlined as follows:

  1. Find a sector that has high revenue yield, low barriers to entry and is dominated by a limited number of low-tech suppliers.
  2. Come up with a consumer solution that delivers a product or service to your chosen segment’s consumers at lower cost, with less hassle or in less time (preferably all three). It will also help to iron out any bugs or potential sticking points before going to market, something more easily achieved by looking at where early adopter businesses in the sector have come a cropper.
  3. Deliver this solution through a free app or website and market the bejesus out of it. Celebrity aficionados and a viral/ UGC element certainly won’t harm your chances.

If we use the three steps suggested above and overlay them onto marketing channels (which in turn will act as the ‘sectors’ in point 1), it might allow the marketing industry to catch up with the disruptive firms and become thought leaders, rather than service providers.

We’ll start with a big one – as far as many marketing budgets go, at least:

ATL advertising  

Currently advertising comes in two packages – brand and direct response. Both require creative, a media plan/buy and measurement KPIs (plus the capability to actually measure success – more of that shortly). But what if traditional TV media was planned and purchased in the same way as PPC (pay-per-click)? You’d have a more accountable spend (which finance directors like) and more targeted advertising (which consumers like) leading to less wastage and a more efficient spend.

"But how the hell would that work?" I hear you splutter into your lattes.

That’s the thing – with the current tools, reliance on agency analytics management and data availability from Sky, ITV and the like, it can’t be done. But imagine if you disrupted this model – say by tapping into real-time viewing analytics from the proliferation of 4G TVs and a real-time bidding platform, so your media team could buy and place ads (and then optimise them) with pinpoint accuracy to hit the most ideal consumer segments? There would still be wastage, for sure, but it would be significantly less than the current state of affairs, and attribution/success measurement would be done in real-time – which would facilitate even more effective digital spending.

Online and social display

No one said disruptive ideas had to be wholly original – in fact, the very way in which Uber has grown to be a phenomenal success owes as much to late-night cab firms as it does to its booking interface. So, looking at one of the major flaws in regular online display, you’ll see that most ads are ignored. This is, after all, a high-volume, low-return channel in which a 5% click rate is hailed a breathtaking success in some industries. Which makes you wonder, how have other disruptors made content more appealing?

Like eBay…

If consumers saw a skyscraper, MPU or page takeover that gave them the opportunity to bid the price or offer they’d be willing to go to for the item in question, it’s a tautology that click rates (and sales) would go up. Now, you’d need to work out what price you’re prepared to suffer to ensure the sale remains commercially viable, so maybe you offer a selection of promotional deals instead? Tailored, time-sensitive, consumer-generated pricing. Sure, there are holes as big as Elon Musk’s garage in that one, but it’s different, customer-centric and value-driven – so there’s potential.

PPC

PPC analysis has become as ubiquitous to marketing meetings as dodgy biscuits and brown loafers. Google’s search behemoth is not only accountable, but even the most technophobic marketing director can log into their Adwords and GA accounts and see their spend in action.

The most recent disruptive technology in PPC is programmatic advertising, where big brands (with independent trading platforms like Xaxis and Rocket Fuel) and agencies (such as Essence and MediaCom) can create automated bidding strategies for keywords. 

Sensory marketing

To date, reading and listening have been the greediest senses as far as marketing goes. But that’s ignored touch, taste and smell. Now there’s a very good reason for this – the analogue and latterly digital space doesn’t have the capability to disseminate smells, flavours or touchable experiences. However, the introduction of the home 3D printer will allow consumers to touch product shapes at home – and as for smell and taste, just imagine what you could achieve with those.

From washing powder manufacturers to vintners, Ben & Jerry’s to Ann Summers, consumers would have an incredible interaction with products in three or even four dimensions before deciding to purchase.

If you’re looking for inspiration about the capabilities of sensory marketing, get to the Tate Sensorium, an immersive display featuring four paintings to stimulate your senses showing until 20 September at Tate Britain.

Online video

YouTube remains the second-biggest search engine in the UK, but its ad platform remains wedded to Google’s bidding protocols. However, this status quo is ripe for disruption. In fact, the opportunity to empower a media-owner’s content is already in hand via companies like Grabyo, which allows rights-holders to capture bite-sized clips from any live video feed and share them instantly across social platforms complete with ads and links from sponsors.

"The viral nature of social video, particularly real-time video from premium sports or music-rights holders, means that sponsors can reach tens of millions of consumers from a single clip without any paid media buy," says Gareth Capon, chief executive of Grabyo. "Brands are enjoying engagement on a scale that was previously unavailable outside of television."

Mobile and apps

The tablet and mobile revolution is nearing climax, and getting eyeballs on your offering in these tiny pieces of real estate has become even more challenging. So how far are we from a tipping point for advertisers where supplying a free smartphone to consumers in exchange for their loyalty becomes a commercially viable decision?

If Tesco could, for example, have a contractual guarantee that a family of five would do its weekly shop with Tesco Online for the next three years, what would that be worth? An iPhone? A smart TV? Lease payments on a family car? I strongly suspect that affiliate extensions into a micro-affiliate sphere (taking cashback models to the next level) will be the norm within the next year or so.

So will all this happen? Certainly not exactly as described above, or I’d be expecting Sir Martin Sorrell on my doorstep with a bouquet of flowers and an offer letter. But what is certain is that the marketing world is no different a commercial animal than any other industry, and if you find a tech solution to an old problem that makes things simpler, easier, cheaper and more effective, then you should go ahead and do it – you’ll be onto a winner.

After all, Airbnb is really nothing more than a lettings agency with a dating site algorithm at its core and good backing, isn’t it? How hard can it be?