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Marketing tech in 2019: focus on the sizzle

Chris Field
Chris Field

Most of you know that advertising’s job is to sell the sizzle, not the sausage; focus on the sensory experience rather than the product. And so it is with marketing tech, focus on the value delivered, not the actual tech.


Proof that the tech industry is mostly not good at selling the sizzle comes from Forrester at NRF2019, whose Sucharita Kodali talked about research among 1,800 retailers as to their IT investment priorities. Hot tech is all about the solution, while warm or cold is all about the tech.


Hot is data security, personalisation, mobility and cross-channel; Lukewarm is digital store, AI and distributed selling; and, Cold is robotics, Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality. Notice how the hot techs are more about the outcomes whereas the cold ones are more about the technology?

Too much tech hype

For instance, retailers don’t want to invest in AI, they want what AI delivers – deeper and more actionable insight into their data to deliver commercial metrics on conversion, AOV, LTV etc.

Much of the tech industry by contrast just wants to talk about AI, because that’s what the industry does; it gets over-excited by the tech. Like the millions of phone users who queue round the block for the S version of the iPhone, even though they know in their hearts that Apple has basically just tweaked the current version.

Where this leaves retailers is in a kind of limbo between Focus and Innovation. They want to invest in tech that solves real problems they are facing now, and which will deliver growth as well as lower costs; and at the same time, they need to understand that they should be investing in longer term, even though the business case may be vague, or even missing altogether.

What’s the value proposition?

The clue therefore for vendors that are selling innovative tech that seeks new money rather than going after existing budget by displacing an incumbent solution, is to focus more intently on their value proposition – in what ways will the tech deliver commercial value.

The next problem however is, retailers have been told so often that tech will boost net margin by X, or cut operational costs by Y or boost conversion by Z, that they no longer, if they ever did, believe it. We are at a strange point where tech has never before been this capable of delivering hard benefits, and yet also been more disbelieved. Forrester also pointed out this quandary at NRF – retailers are cutting IT investment, whilst also recognising the growing need for it to help them transform their businesses.

Here’s the takeaway

Vendors hoping to move into retailers’ hot investment zone, must invest more in understanding the unique needs of each retailer they sell to. As the retail industry enters another year of upheaval, the differences between each player will widen not narrow. Your marketing must take full advantage of these differences.

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