No sooner had I posted a blog on the issues of digital myopia than I got on a call to learn that Adobe Systems acquired Neolane, under the auspices of the fact that digital is part of marketing, not that digital is the only thing in marketing. This is a very interesting deal (full disclosure, Suresh Vittal, the chief product officer, was a peer of mine at Forrester until December of last year) for a number of reasons:
It continues to place Adobe in the crosshairs of IBM, salesforce.com, Oracle, and SAP. Adobe continues to invest in areas that much larger companies have set their sights on — in this case, with the recent acquisitions of Eloqua by Oracle, ExactTarget by salesforce.com, ongoing acquisitions at IBM, and so on (see Forrester commentary by Mark Grannan here and by Shar VanBoskirk here). With Adobe now firmly in this mix, it will be going up against enterprise-level suppliers, not just marketing department deployments.
When I first became a marketing executive responsible for leading a team, life was simple. All we needed to worry about was having a solid marketing strategy and then doing a good job of executing against it with engaging creative and the right offer. In those days, technology was someone else’s concern. The most we worried about was the condition of the direct marketing file or rented list and the percentage of responses we were able to get. Pretty easy, right?
Fast-forward to today and that simple life is a thing of the past. The digital revolution has forever changed the balance of power, putting customers in charge. Marketers live in a brave new world where customer understanding and the ability to provide value to customers in their buying journey across the exploding number of engagement channels are now the name of the game. And now technology is everywhere touching all of these aspects of marketing and more.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve been honored to speak at NYC Internet Week’s Cardinal Path and Google's Building a Data-Driven Culture opening panel and the Ad Age Marketing + Technology Summit; as well as at several Forrester client events in the US and Europe on the topic of marketing technology and the CMO role in the strategy development, vendor selection, and execution process. And one thing that I stressed across all of the discussions at these events is this — CMOs must accept that it’s no longer possible to run the business of marketing without technology. Technology is now necessary to help your marketing team handle the external fragmentation and internal data sources that drive decisions and results.
For the history of humanity, for one person to make a difference, the individual had to convince many others to join the pursuit. And the convincing part was tough — whether you were Martin Luther or Martin Luther King, Jr., the amount of effort was high, and the probability of success was low. (Certainly the list of people who tried to change the world and failed is long; it’s just that we won’t know their names, which itself is part of my point.) From Christopher Columbus to Steve Jobs, individual power has really only amounted to much infrequently, and only when backed by very large and wealthy entities. Kings and queens financed the discovery of the Americas; Wall Street and venture capital bankrolled Silicon Valley.
I recently heard my all-time favorite excuse for why you can't disrupt yourself. It was in a session with 40 senior IT leaders of a Fortune 500 company including the CIO. Somebody brought up Uber and Airbnb, and most in the room nodded in agreement that a big company could learn a thing or two from these disruptors. That's when someone dropped my new favorite excuse: "But we can't imitate Uber and Airbnb because what they're doing is illegal."
Sure, it would be nice to just avoid taking the fast and bumpy road of disruption in favor of staying in the smooth parking lot of denial. But that's not really an option because the lessons of Uber, Airbnb, and other disruptors apply to everyone in every industry.
I don't mean to sidestep the legal question, but I do mean to point out that it's hardly the issue here. Uber and Airbnb are coming under fire because they're using cheap technology and existing resources to make their customer's lives dramatically better, one positive experience at a time. That's the real issue here, and it's the one companies of any size should focus on.