Most people are sceptical about the ever-exploding world of technology. They can’t be blamed for thinking like that. Technology, just like the Industrial Revolution has the power to overhaul the existing employment system. But as I see it, technology is more an enabler than anything else in today’s world. Taking marketing as an example, this essay tries to analyse how technology does more good than harm in bringing about the benefits to all the stakeholders associated with any business. In most fields, technology can be a complement rather than a substitute to the existing ways of doing things. Technology is not about supplanting the old ways of doing things; it’s about acting as a support mechanism to accomplish a better job.
Is Technology the real Pandora’s Box?
While the western world due to its longer association with technology seems more comfortable with it, most people are still wary of technology. By most people, I mean the common man who is more used to bearing the brunt than enjoying the fruits of technology. Things that the Westerners are almost addicted to, like Computers, Internet, online transactions etc. are seen with suspicious eyes in most third world countries. Technology is viewed as some terrible gangster waiting to prey on any hapless victim who happens to pass by. There is also another level of skepticism that afflicts these people. As in the case of industrial revolution, where mechanizations brought about the loss of many jobs, they fear that any new technology would do the same to them. As a huge section of the world suffered due to loss of jobs, destruction of cottage industries etc. during the Industrial revolution, a similar level of skepticism pervades technology, lest it takes away all their jobs and wages.
They can’t be blamed for thinking that way. Any new technology brings with it the issues of job loss, need for employee up-skilling, training costs etc. Slowly but surely, the jobs previously done by men are taken up the machines. During Industrial Revolution, the products manufactured in the 19th century European factories were so cheap that they destroyed all of the cottage industries and jobs that had previously existed, leaving people with few alternatives. Millions of people moved from the countryside into the cities. In the countryside they had farming, garden farming and cottage industry to sustain them economically. But they were evicted from their land and forced to work in factories or even forced into prostitution. While majority of the people in the countries were it took place suffered terribly, the scenario in the rest of the world was even worse with most countries getting subjected to colonization and exploitation. Somehow, the world got over it and technology evolved further. But technology was changing the world too rapidly for the common man to catch up with it. Soon enough, the automated assembly lines started rendering a lot of labourers (and factory workers) useless and unnecessary. No wonder their eyes look red with anger, fatigue and scepticism. But is technology all that bad?
The bright side of technology
Despite technology’s strong impetus to show its dark side, I have always believed that technology is an enabler. While most people are fixated on the negative side of technology, there have been situations where the use of technology has improved our lives. Consider medical field for example, where technology has helped man save a lot of lives by curing those seemingly incurable diseases. So the job losses due to technology interference in one field could lead to job creation in another. Additionally, the job losses could be curbed if a structured approach to “re-skill the employees who lose their jobs” is planned out well in advance. Blaming technology for showing its dark side may not be the right thing to do considering all the opportunities it creates for the progress of mankind. As an engineer with a background in marketing, I could argue the case of marketing, where technology is a complement rather than a substitute. Technology is not about supplanting the old ways of doing things; it’s about acting as a support mechanism to accomplish a better job.
Marketing as a discipline has undergone a lot of changes in the past decades. It has reached a stage where technology is about to take it to the next level. Technology cannot show its dirty fangs when it comes to marketing; it creates more jobs, more opportunities for growth and offers benefits to all stakeholders involved. To study the impact of technology in the field of marketing, it is only fair to start with what ‘Marketing’ is.
Marketing is the art of creating, communicating and delivering value to customers. Naturally, it involves a lot of interaction with customers and studying them. According to Dr Philip Kotler, an authority on marketing, marketing is technically a branch of economics, where a bunch of disillusioned economists started to believe that demand is dependent not on price alone, as the traditional economists would tell you, but it is also affected by other influences like advertising, retailing etc.. This led to the emergence of marketing as a discipline. The first marketing books were published between 1900 and 1910, and some institutional economists started to teach ‘Distribution’, later added ‘Advertising’ and then, ‘Promotion and Pricing’ .
Marketing involves a psychological study of consumer behaviour and intends to satisfy the current and prospective needs of the customers. I don’t think technology has fundamentally changed the way marketing works. We still need to talk to the customer to understand him/her; technology has just made our jobs more well-rounded by complementing our current way of doing things. We still need on-the-field market researchers, but instead of using paper questionnaires, they would now use electronic gadgets to record customer responses, even video or voice recording to give it more credibility. Technology can never, at least in the near future replace human intelligence, so we still need trained ‘human’ tasters to tell us the exact difference between two brands of jams. We still need psychologists to understand why the consumers responded to a marketing campaign in a certain way. We still need all these people; technology can only assist them in doing their jobs better and faster. E-commerce and digital marketing have also developed markedly and that’s where technology and tracking systems can tell us more about our online customers and how they behave online. And with that, jobs that had never existed before started flourishing, like data mining, data analysis and infrastructure/software development and support. But consolation comes from the fact that even now, hardly 10% of the global sales happen through online channels, and that our on-the-field marketing jobs are not going anywhere.
Marketing started evolving as a separate department within most companies after the sales people started adding 2 or 3 helping hands to get their extra jobs done, like finding leads, preparing communication and brochures etc. Slowly but surely, this team of 2-3 people grew into bigger teams and found bigger purpose in their corporate lives thereby forming an integral part of their organizations. If marketing could grow from such humble beginnings to become such an important field leaving Mr David Packard (co-founder of Hewlett Packard) to comment, ‘Marketing is too important to be left to the Marketing Department’, then it could definitely seek help from modern technology and grow further.
Technology helps marketers to get things done faster. A lot of data analysis tools are available today that help to understand the status quo and forge marketing strategies and tactics accordingly. It’s easier for marketers to understand the markets and get the pulse of the markets through tools and techniques like Sentiment analysis, Semiotics etc. They can now, at a reduced cost, pilot test their campaigns online to gauge customer response before rolling it out to the entire target audience. Similarly, there are inexpensive techniques to test out two different campaigns simultaneously and see which one works better.
For example, when the fashion retailer ‘GAP’ tried to redo their logo in 2010, they first put it up on a trial basis on the internet to see consumer reactions. In fact, the reactions were so negative that they pulled it off the internet and decided against changing the logo. The issue became such a big controversy that came to be known as the ‘GapGate’. It was followed by some psychological studies which revealed why the logo failed and what created such strong negative reactions towards it. Even here, though ‘technology’ helped ‘GAP’ to assess consumer reactions, the studies to understand the psychology behind it needed capable human beings at the helm of them. This implies that in the area of marketing, technology can only be an enabler and not a replacement to humans.
Another example would be TESCO, the British Supermarket chain, which to its credit has used customer data to draw insights that got them to the top of the industry. They developed a loyalty program that helped them truly stand out from the other grocery retailers like, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons etc. TESCO used its clever insights to change its business model to get its customers to buy more from them so much so that it could eventually defend itself from Walmart when it entered the UK market by acquiring a small chain. TESCO could do this because it embraced technology to better understand its customers. Even now, TESCO continues to be a strong believer in data analytics and Big Data, making it the second most profitable retailer in the world with outlets in twelve countries.
Let me conclude this section by saying that technology has evolved by leaps and bounds in the past decade and instead of taking away the existing jobs, it has added more jobs and has made the lives of marketers a wee bit easier.
Technology for the benefit of society and individuals
Data can give marketers the required customer insights to devise customized solutions or even to change business models to suit customer needs. This way, technology is assisting not just the marketers, but the customers also by giving them exactly what they want. The recommendations in the online websites that say, ‘customers who viewed this also viewed’ or ‘people who bought this product also bought this’, do the same job as the McDonalds employee at the counter who says ‘would you like fries to go with it?’. It’s more of a win-win situation for both the company and the customers. Let us see how technology creates value to all the stakeholders involved in a transaction.
It helps the company by giving them actionable insights on its customers. As more customers go online, it has become easier to understand the needs of specific segments of customers, to modify the business model so as to extract maximum value from each segment of customers. Data could also help the company find more profitable customers like the ones they already have. Competitor data is another area where technology helps understand the relative position of each company in the market. All this could translate into better sales and profits
As technology makes the world more flat, the customer gets better products/services due to fiercer competition in the industry. Competition is getting to a point where companies have already brought in all kinds of differentiation based on quality, price, reliability etc. and the only thing left to do is to compete on technology adoption. The company that adopts and seamlessly integrates technology into its system will prove to be the winner
Technology improves the productivity of marketers by helping them do their jobs faster. A market researcher who would have otherwise had to manually enter all the survey responses into an electronic device, now gets to use technology to directly enter the responses to the cloud platform making the data accessible from anywhere at any time. Isn’t that the beauty of technology!
Gone are the days of one-way broadcast through mass media, like television, radio or even newspapers; these are days of 2-way communication through social media and other online channels. Another important aspect of technology is that it has added more job opportunities in the field of marketing. With the emergence of e-commerce and digital marketing, we see an increased collaboration between technical people and marketers. So instead of taking away the traditional jobs, technology has in fact added more jobs by way of technology specialists, data analysts and the like. It has also made the traditional ways of doing the job faster.
Another point to be noted here is that the surge of communication channels (including both online and offline ones) has definitely made it even more difficult for the marketer to break through the advertising clutter and get noticed, but that’s a relatively small challenge compared to the vast opportunities technology has opened to us.
The clear picture
Since the phase where Mr Henry Ford quite fiendishly proclaimed, ‘I can give you any colour as long as it is black’, we have come a long way. As companies moved more towards customer centricity, they needed to talk to the customers. This side of marketing will never change even with the advent of technology; technology will probably make the communication, data collection and analysis smoother and faster, but it can never replace the human element in marketing. Market research and field study still play its part in collecting data, even psychological studies are carried out with the same rigour but with considerable help from technology.
With the surge especially in online data, the demand for knowledge workers is shooting up. But I think marketing is one field where technology cannot replace traditional methods of research and behavioural studies; it can only augment the traditional ways of doing things. The idea of marketing is to find the right balance between data and human psychology. It’s true that more and more companies are utilizing the capabilities of Big Data and Analytics to add more credibility to their analyses. But it all boils down to a human being analysing the data and coming up with actionable results. That’s what I love the most about this field – it has two angles to it, the human side and the data side. Marketing is not like the sciences where there is precisely one right answer and everything else is wrong! There is no right way of doing something here; there are many ways of analysing the same data. Data cannot give you the complete picture if you don’t account for the human side of marketing. Ultimately, it’s all about getting one step closer to the customer. Technology can assist humans to get there, not replace them, but it surely is a strong enabler in this highly networked world to improve the ties between the marketers and the customers.
The Future Beckons
Due to the long history of marketing, most marketers today are quite adept at handling their daily routine. Marketers have become proficient in the traditional aspects of marketing; boldness and openness to experimentation will end up differentiating the strong from the weak. In the next 10 years, technology adoption (the extent to which the companies have integrated technology into their existing systems) is going to be one of the major factors differentiating various companies. Up-skilling the existing employees and training them in using technology will improve productivity drastically.
Another trend that I foresee in the coming years is the addition of competitor-orientation to the existing customer-orientation approach. Even here, data analysis and insights are going to be a great boon. Getting data about competitors’ positions, their strengths, weaknesses etc. in every customer segment that they are operating in will give companies the confidence to forge the right marketing tactics and strategies to outdo their competitors. Marketers need to keep abreast of the technological advancements so that they can exploit every single tool/technique available to make more sense of their environment.
In the years to come, all stakeholders and employees at all levels will get more exposed to technology and their roles are going to be shaped by the technology used within the organization. An example would be Walmart which started using RFIDsto improve their supply chain mechanism. All stakeholders including their suppliers, employees, higher management etc. had to be taken into confidence before they could roll out. And when they did, it cut the volume of excess inventory in Walmart’s massive supply chain and slashed out-of-stock occurrences by almost one-third thereby cementing its position more firmly in the retail segment. More companies are starting to think along the same lines.
We should be glad that we did not have to live through the dark days of industrial revolution, but that need not be true of technology. We should be excited to be living in such days of technology explosion. Technology is not a Pandora’s Box; it can offer us more growth opportunities that we could have imagined in its absence. Taking cue from the Industrial Revolution era, this time we should better prepare ourselves to welcome technological advancements. Rather than hiding under the hood, embrace technology and see it transform from being a Pandora’s Box into a magic lamp that spews prosperity all around.