We are undergoing a massive change in the way the world works. In the information age, computers got faster, smaller, networked, and then mobile—but it took decades to happen. We are now in the connected intelligence age, which started with the big data revolution and continues with the widespread adoption of machine learning. And after just a few years in this era, we are already at the upward inflection point of its growth curve.
This is what we call exponential technology. We’re no longer on a linear path of technological innovation that our linear brains can comprehend and manage on their own. The connected intelligence age has taken hold. Technology is multiplying at an explosive rate. And if digital leaders get engaged now, the very technologies that are growing so rapidly will equip them to get ahead of exponential changes to come. If not, by the time you realize exponential technologies are going to completely disrupt your company, it’s too late.
Not Just Buzzwords
Cognitive computing, augmented and virtual reality, and the internet of things are some of the exponential technologies that marketers and IT organizations have heard about for years. But they can no longer be ignored. Now is the time for deeper exploration of the concepts, models, and technologies that will help future-proof business.
For our thesis topics in SapientRazorfish’s Chief Marketing Technology University—a yearlong, executive MBA–style development program focused on marketing fundamentals, communication and influence, marketing technology, and attitude and behavior—we delved into three key facets of exponential technology affecting brands today.
• Artificial intelligence: No technology is more exponential than artificial intelligence. Within AI, the most relevant types of systems for marketing are machine-learning systems. Using supervised learning techniques, machine learning can identify gaps in the customer journey and generate real-time insights to improve the next customer touch point instantly—even across a journey that includes thousands of touch points. The inherent speed and automation enable organizations to capture data, turn it into insights, and maximize customer engagement at a level no human team could ever match.
Google and Microsoft, for example, have massive amounts of data about consumers. They’re innovating their tools and models to ensure brands jump on their cloud platforms to get access to that data, especially in AI tools, to help understand what consumers are doing and what they want.
• Chatbots: The shortest distance between a brand and a customer is a conversation—which explains why chatbots are such an important subset of AI. Although chatbots have come and gone throughout the digital age, two recent Gartner findings clearly illustrate why conditions are ripe for their widespread growth:
- 20% of interactions on smartphones will be through virtual assistants by 2019.
- There will be 2 billion zero-touch interfaces by 2020.
The chatbot problem that persists in marketing is that human language is nearly limitless, as well as ambiguous and highly contextual. Despite our best planning, no conversation ever goes exactly as expected. But as virtual and zero-touch interfaces grow, customers expect more open, natural conversations, which require exponential commitment. Brands today need to not only account for all the myriad possibilities but also ensure conversations are uniquely and valuably branded, then managed, tracked, and analyzed by the right tools and team. As with machine learning, every failure is an opportunity to learn more about the customer, as long as a recovery plan is in place.
• Content: Everyone knows that content is king. And many brands are creating excellent content today. But content and data are growing exponentially. In fact, 90% of the data that exists in the world today was created in the past two years alone.
So how do you plan, create, and manage content for all the devices, browsers, aggregators, and data available today and tomorrow? In the midst of exponential change, the solution to overcoming these challenges, creating positive customer experiences, and growing content capabilities that achieve results is structured content. When teams think outside the interface and instead break their content into discrete, well-tagged chunks with accessible, semantic HTML markup, machines and humans alike can easily understand, discover, and display it.
The Time Is Now
No one knows what’s next, but we do know that investing in exponential technologies is a bet digital leaders need to be making—or risk being disrupted beyond repair. Some competitors may have already begun, and even had some success, but no one is so far ahead that they’re unstoppable. Yet.
Begin by determining key metrics. What is the organization trying to accomplish: conversion, engagement, or something else? Then focus on the customer journey as a whole. Make personalization a priority. As tempting as it can be to look at one siloed channel at a time, no customer interacts with brands that way. Don’t hand the whole initiative to a vendor, either; no one knows a company’s goals or customers better than its own teams, so find a true partner and stay involved. Keep testing. Prepare for failure, and foster a culture that sees it as a learning opportunity.
Exponential thinkers get to elevate themselves above repetitive tasks and focus on strategic thinking. With the right technologies and structures in place, digital leaders will ready for whatever comes next in the connected intelligence age.