One of the most recent tech innovations for marketers came not from HubSpot or Marketo, or even Google, but rather from Nintendo.
With the arrival of Pokémon Go, marketers discovered the role that both location-based games and augmented reality (AR) can play in upping their marketing game. Now that the Oculus Rift and Playstation VR are commercially available as gaming systems, virtual reality (VR) is a similar hot technology, useful for everything from B2B marketing to selling houses.
The Oculus Rift headset
Of course, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen high-tech headsets advocated as the “next big thing” for business. Remember Google Glass? Google failed to communicate why consumers needed Glass, what problems it solved or inconveniences it mitigated. As a result, the technology never caught on with the average consumer, and marketers and businesses who jumped on that trend too quickly suffered some pretty heavy buyer’s remorse.
The Google Glass “headset”
This raises the question: How can you strike a balance between waiting for a technology to prove itself without being too late to take advantage of it at its peak? Let’s take a look at some case studies of recent successful tech innovations that are instructive in this area.
Early Adoption Wins
Augmented Reality (AR)
There have been dozens of stories about businesses capitalizing on Pokémon Go’s success (most famously, the New York City pizzeria that reported a 75 percent increase in business thanks to the game). However, there is a whole lot more to AR than just tossing balls at digital creatures.
AR is defined by Whatis.com as, “the integration of digital information with the user’s environment in real time. Unlike virtual reality, which creates a totally artificial environment, augmented reality uses the existing environment and overlays new information on top of it.” This technology can be, and has been, used by businesses in a variety of creative ways.
For example, Watermark, a manufacturer of meal service equipment for airlines, uses AR to show airlines what their prototypes will look like inside an airplane without having to physically produce costly prototypes.
Similarly, Coca-Cola’s field teams use AR technology to show retail store managers what their coolers will look like in the space, instead of just looking at an image and dimensions and using their imaginations.
According to Lindsay Boyajian, the chief marketing officer at AR software vendor Augment, for many businesses AR, “removes the guesswork from the process . . . it really adds another element and facilitates the sale.”
Augment’s app in action
In fact, Boyajian sees the future of AR moving closer to the future of another recent important marketing technology: virtual reality. “We’re going to have headsets where you go back and forth between AR and VR and it’s a completely mixed reality. It’s going to be wild.”
Virtual Reality (VR)
Virtual reality has actually been around for several decades now, and for much of that time it has been considered “the next big thing” in technology, gaming and sales. Only recently, however—with the release of (relatively) affordable VR gaming platforms—has the tech has become a viable business tool.
The Playstation VR headset
Hotel managers, for example, can use VR to show off their properties to potential customers in a more lifelike way than photos, or even videos, can provide. Marriott Hotels, for example, created an immersive VR experience on the streets of London that “transported” participants to a Marriott in Hawaii, complete with heaters and pumped-in wind to simulate a “tropical” atmosphere.
Ultimately, creative use of VR will allow businesses to take their customers anywhere, from inside cars (like Volvo’s VR test drive of its XC90) to the front row of high-end fashion shows (like TopShop’s London Fashion Week VR experience).
While we’re only seeing the beginning of VR’s uses for marketing, the massive success it’s had so far indicates it should expect a rich, rewarding future.
Early Adoption Fails
Not all new technology takes off, of course. Let’s examine some famous—or infamous—tech trends that weren’t quite as successful.
It’s impossible to talk about tech trends that didn’t catch on without discussing the 800-pound gorilla that was Google Glass—a technology that failed so infamously that The New York Times devoted an entire article to figuring out why.
What the Times and others (including Google itself) found was that Google Glass was a victim of its own hype. The excitement over the product created unrealistic expectations for what was ultimately a buggy, first-phase technology that raised a variety of privacy concerns among the public.
By releasing Google Glass without fine-tuning an actual purpose for the product—both in a technological sense and from a marketing approach—Google turned its release into a very public, very expensive beta test. Few businesses were able to figure out a way to successfully use Glass, and those that did saw little ROI, because so few consumers actually purchased the device.
Google Glass wasn’t the company’s only misstep, though.
Other Google Fads
When I spoke to several experts about tech trends that proved to be a failure for marketers, they kept bringing up Google as a prime example.
As Christopher S. Penn, VP of marketing technology at SHIFT Communications, put it, “Google is notorious for yanking the rug out from under marketers.” He provided a few more examples:
“Google Orkut, the first attempt at social networking, developed a sizable niche base and was closed down. Google Wave, their second attempt at social and first shared group experience, also closed down.”
Orkut and Wave were both shut down by Google because they never quite caught on with users, since they didn’t offer any new services that weren’t already provided by existing companies.
Penn, however, is quick to point out that Google isn’t the only culprit here. “We have other technologies which have come and gone, failing to achieve a strong critical mass. Second Life, the virtual reality environment, never achieved mass adoption. Dozens of messaging companies (especially Twitter clones) have come and gone.”
Given that these fads and technologies can fail, even with the biggest of tech companies behind them, how can you know what’s worth investing your business’s time and resources into?
How Do You Know What New Tech to Invest In?
There will always be a margin of error when it comes to figuring out what trends to join in on early and when to wait and see, but here are a few tips and tricks on how to know what’s worth investing in.
1. Ask: Have I Seen This Before?
Remember Ello? For about a week in March 2014, everyone was convinced that social media users—especially millennials—would be abandoning Facebook in droves to join up with the new, hip, uncluttered network promised by Ello’s creators.
But, for all of the hoopla surrounding it, Ello never caught on. Despite trying to brand themselves as a fresh alternative to Facebook, all Ello provided was a Facebook-like platform with fewer features and none of your friends.
If you had invested serious time and resources into figuring out how to use Ello for your business, you would have been out of luck (not least of all because one of Ello’s stated goals was to resist commercializing in the way Facebook had). But most of all—because Ello was nothing new.
Facebook has staked a claim as the social network (David Fincher’s movie wasn’t called A Social Network, after all.) If something is going to unseat Facebook, it will have to offer a different enough experience to convince people to migrate en masse.
Think about how successful social networking systems are when they don’t just copy Facebook—Twitter, Snapchat, Vine, Tumblr etc. When new tech offers something different, interesting and useful, it’s far more likely to catch on. It’s important to differentiate between a new type of technology and a new alternative from a big name (like Google).
2. Spend Time Exploring the New Tech
Even if you’ve established that something actually is a new technology, that doesn’t mean it’s going to take off, or that it’s a good fit for your business. The best way to tell is to get some hands-on experience with it. In other words, experiment just enough to know if the tech is something that will be useful to you.
According to Penn, even though many—perhaps even most—new tech fads don’t catch on in the long run, “Marketers still need to try things. We still need to pursue a defensive strategy—if something new comes out, allocate an hour or two to try it out and at least plant the flag in case it does take off.”
Alonso Chehade, director of marketing and sales enablement at Sales Readiness, recommended to me that marketers test their plans for new tech by exploring their implications in the small-scale before going large with them: “Test on a micro level before acquiring the tool that is going to allow you to do this on a macro level.”
3. Know If and How Your Customers and Competitors Use It
Although a lot of people and businesses excitedly jumped on the Google Glass bandwagon immediately, the writing was on the wall from pretty early on that it wasn’t exactly going to revolutionize marketing. Savvy marketers who tracked the use and adoption of Google Glass, in terms of how many units were purchased and how many people were actually wearing it, knew better than to go all in on a product with sluggish sales and limited applications.
Tracking adoption of a new technology may seem difficult, but there are actually some simple ways to do this:
- Follow the news. Fill up your RSS feed with sites that will update you about technology innovations and fads (Product Hunt, Engadget, TechCrunch and CNET are all great for this). If that doesn’t give you enough information, you can commission a simple survey through Google Consumer Surveys.
- Gather customer data. Track how your customers interact with any new technology that you implement as a part of your marketing strategy. Don’t just blindly institute a new practice; make sure you’re gathering data on how successful your campaign is. Consider marketing automation software to help with this.
- Monitor your competitors. Pay attention to how other businesses are leveraging new tech trends, and figure out how to improve upon their efforts for your own benefit. Like artists, good marketers copy; great marketers steal. Even if you can’t adapt their exact ideas for your own purposes, being aware of how other businesses are implementing a new trend will tell you if it’s catching on or not.
4. Figure Out How You’ll Use It
One of the most crucial things to consider when you’re thinking of jumping onboard the bandwagon for a new technology is whether or not that tech will be useful specifically for your purposes. For example, Pokémon Go might be wildly successful for many retail businesses, but it may not prove quite as helpful for, say, an auto repair shop or tax attorney, where increased foot traffic isn’t directly useful or easily converted into revenue.
Chehade emphasizes that, “You have to have the basic plan first. Technology accelerates and amplifies an outcome, or sometimes enables an outcome. But what it does is always pretty basic.”
In cases where a clear plan isn’t in place, some business owners will tend to blame the tool, rather than the process. However, while a new tech trend or fad can be an amplifier, you must have a message to amplify in the first place. As Chehade says, “You really have to look at what the technology does and focus on the basics.”
For example, before investing in expensive AR or VR software and equipment, consider whether your customers would organically want to use that tech as part of their experience with a product or service like yours. Or, are you just shoehorning your business into a tangential tech trend that might not really be a strong fit for you?
What Do You Think?
Knowing when and how to jump on new tech trends, and especially knowing which tech trends to jump on, is a tough balancing act. Remember that, to a certain extent, the success or failure of a technology depends upon how businesses respond to it.
As Marc Nashaat, digital PR manager at Powered By Search, told me, in relation to Google’s current push towards AMP (accelerated mobile pages), “if businesses don’t adopt it, it will fail. Of course the converse to this argument is that if consumers adopt it, businesses will have to adapt. Whether it will cement itself as a web-tech of the future remains to be seen.”
I’m interested to hear your thoughts on this! What are some early warning signs you can point to of new tech failing or succeeding? What do you recommend to your fellow marketers as a method of determining which tech trends to adopt and which to skip?