Yeah, I get it. The future is probably going to be excruciatingly exciting and you want to be part of it – help usher it in, maybe. It’s 2019 next year, and that’s the year Blade Runner was set! That’s when the futuristic tech stuff happens, right?
But for the creative, marketing and media community, a warning: the future might be inevitable, but your involvement in that future is far from inevitable.
Let me explain. The ‘tech trends presentation’ is a symptom of our tendency to talk about the future without actually preparing for it. Whilst there’s absolutely nothing wrong with people hunting for divine inspiration and great ideas, it must be said that the ‘tech trends presentation’ has for too long been a much overvalued currency.
Here’s why and what I think we should do about the ‘tech trends’:
There are two things amiss here. First, for ‘trends’ – read ‘trendy’. The annual publishing of trend reports seems to tell us that what we got excited about last year is no longer the thing you should excited about this year.
What’s actually being asserted is: “What’s fashionable right now?” The problem with fashionable technology is that whilst someone can see The Rachel from Friends Haircut on Tuesday and go to the hairdressers on Wednesday, in advertising and marketing it’s different. Lead times and pace of development can mean that once the creative is ready, the boat has not so much sailed as already reached its destination six months ago and started its journey back.
Second, often these trends presentations lack any kind of direction or actionability. They say: “Virtual Personal Assistants are going to be massive.” But they never say: “Here’s how to start building your capability in Voice.”
The reports talk about things brands should be doing to stay ‘tech-hip’ with millennials, but not the internal planning you will need, or the skill set or team you will need to build to meet these challenges. Rather, they seem to imply you will wake up one day and just magically be living in Blade Runner.
In my role as Group Innovation Director at PHD Global Business, here’s how I like to tackle these issues:
If you want to hitch yourself to something transient and trendy, then do this: assign budget; get in, get out, get the money spent; and get learnings for next time. If you’re trying to surf the wave of a tech-craze, the longer you’re in development, the less successful you’ll be.
Far better, though, is to focus on how you treat innovation within your organisation over the long-term. Rather than concentrating on faddish last-minute activations, PHD has a process which roadmaps future technologies in a smarter way.
Here’s what you do: Start by identifying the broad direction of travel of future tech, and without getting into the fiddly detail, drill down into that tech to discern what it can do for a brand fundamentally. In other words, at an elemental level, what objectives could it satisfy?
Then start thinking about the evolutionary journey of that tech – and the likely waypoints to its maturity, e.g. from chatbots to voice tech to full-blown Virtual Personal Assistants.
From there you can start envisioning how the brand objectives align to those evolutionary stages over time. What do you need for your brand now, and what could you do with the tech now? What will your brand need tomorrow, and by then, what advanced tech will be able to solve that?
Then, crucially, start building your capability through test and learn to shadow that evolutionary path. The point is to always be building towards something, always be preparing for what comes next, even if ‘next’ changes.
That’s what PHD aims to do: roadmap a brand’s role in the evolution of the tech over time, not just tell the brand which trends are top of the buzzword bingo list this month.
In contrast, a client once said to me: “Pokemon Go is really cool right now. We should do something with that” – seemingly unaware that it was already two months old and the next relevant campaign was six to eight months away.
That is what we want to kill in our industry: over-obsession with transient futurism as a way of promoting a brand. For me, that’s what tech trends presentations encourage: short-term thinking.
Given they are designed to prepare you and your brands for the future, that’s pretty ironic, don’t you think?