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Everything is awesome? Not so much

Chris Field
Chris Field

I’m in marketing, so you probably won’t be expecting me to say that the modern language of technology is now so loaded with hyperbole, metaphor and future-philia that we can all be forgiven for thinking that we’re on the threshold of a new dawn for mankind.

It feels similar to the one promised by Prime Minister Harold Wilson in the 1960s, when he talked about a new Britain being forged in the ‘white heat’ of scientific revolution.

Well, if that is what’s happening, we’re not going about in the right way.

First of all, whilst retailers know they need to change, they don’t appreciate the breathless way the tech industry talks about the key role it will play. Telling retailers that the future is going to be amazing is not much use to retailers that need to know what the hell happened last week, and what will happen the next.

Actually, I think retailers and tech companies are on the same page – it’s just that they’re not using the same language.

I think both parties agree that retail is becoming a data-driven profession, and that technology is the only thing that can gather, store, analyse and put that information to work.

And I think they can also agree that technology has a major part to play in enabling humans, in all their variety, complexity and inadequacy, to build retail around the common enemy – the customer.

So far, so good – but are we choosing to focus on the future because the present is simply too hard to fix? Or are we technology folk focusing on the future because we think the only way to get retailers’ attention is to be seen as a thought leader, untroubled by the mediocrity of the everyday?

The answer must be ‘yes’, because as we scan the media – both paid-for and social – we continue to be told where retail will end up, without hearing about the actual journey. This is dangerous, because we then infer that getting to the new world is somehow easy, quick and painless; when in fact it’s none of those things.

I’m all for encouraging retailers to adopt technology that will turn the dial – after all, my livelihood as a marketeer depends on it – but I don’t want to pretend that it’ll be easy, and I don’t want to kid them that they’re all ready for it. The truth is, many retailers have neither the data, the skills nor the executive willpower to get value out of much of this new technology – so perhaps we need to stop telling them they do.

My call for us to turn the volume down a bit will not be popular. After all, in marketing terms, how do I show retailers how much better I am than my competitors if I don’t use superlative language?

I don’t yet know the answer – but I do know that the tech industry is in danger of crying wolf.

If tech can’t deliver what it appears to promise because its prospective customers aren’t ready for it, or the actual technology doesn’t work (don’t get me started), or will take longer to work, we will get a market correction.

And if the unicorn dies, then many of the other furry forest creatures that are actually delivering high value every day will be in jeopardy, too – which will be bad for tech, and bad for retail.

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