From print advertising and the Mad Men era, to the new world of digital and social media marketing, advertising has been getting more complicated for marketers every decade for well over 100 years.
In the last decade, it’s gotten even worse.
The industry has crossed a tipping point – complexity and change are now evident in every marketing department. The growth of the Internet and rise of social media has been a disruptive force that is tearing apart and remaking marketing strategies all around the world.
The cause of this complexity is a simple but powerful trend rarely discussed in the boardroom: The Law of Accelerating Returns.
Defined as “the exponential growth patterns of information technologies,” the Law of Accelerating Returns can be summed up simply: media that compete for our attention grow the same way compound interest grows – every year gets faster. From print media to the Internet, we’ve seen this accelerating growth rate for centuries.
Studying this, two patterns become clear:
- Exponential Growth: New mass-media technologies get consistently better at reaching cultural relevance quickly.
Information technologies follow an exponential growth pattern – and media platforms are no different. The time between the popularization, or mass-media acceptance, of print and audio recordings was 377 years; between radio and television it was 71 years; between television and the Internet, it was 42 years, and between the Internet and the next two platforms, social media and mobile phones, it was only 10 years.
If you are in the business of getting people’s attention, this trend means that every new decade will give you more new ways of reaching people than the last decade did. If it seems like the number of channels you can reach your customers on is growing faster than ever, that’s because the relative growth rate is always increasing.
- Fractured Attention: Human attention doesn’t migrate to new platforms – it fractures across them.
When new technologies become popular, they don’t kill the preceding technology; each technology ends up attracting a share of the population’s attention. The new technology may siphon off a good amount of the previous technology’s reach, but it never fully replaces it.
You can see this time and again: Books and newspapers are still alive well past the popularization of radio, the radio still entertains Americans during their commutes and work-days despite the dominance of television, and the average American watches 2.73 hours of TV per day more than twenty years after the invention of the ‘Net.
The rate of change was hardly noticeable until just over 20 years ago, but now it’s moving at an uncomfortably quick pace, and thanks to the law of accelerating returns, it’s speeding up instead of slowing down. The splintering of human attention hits home for marketers. They have to constantly reach more prospective consumers across more channels; and more often than not, they have to do so with the same or fewer resources.
Solving the Problem
Marketers are investing in developing strategies to cope with this new reality. The popularity of Agile Marketing and its focus on iterative measurement and improvement is a fantastic example of a strategy that has evolved to help.
Under Agile methodology, marketers are deploying their budgets and resources more intelligently, and looking actively for the best performance against their campaigns: taking advantage of the ever-expanding number of social media sites, targeting users on mobile phones, and even exploring very early technologies like augmented reality.
Strategies like Agile have given CMOs a powerful way to thrive in the new reality, but have also required adopting unfamiliar job responsibilities. In many cases, they are building out an entire technology stack to manage their efforts. Historically an under-spender, marketing is beginning to rival the IT budgets of other departments. Some of the most forward-thinking technologists are starting to bring technologists into their departments, often reporting to both market and IT.
The Marketing Technology Stack
These new marketing technologists are tasked primarily with architecting, building and supporting the marketing technology stack – which is a combination of applications and software that can work in concert to empower the marketing team to run more efficient campaigns and extract actionable insights for use in future marketing efforts.
Marketing technology as a category is growing very fast, and individual companies have done very well by building components of the enterprise marketing technology stack:
- Marketing Automation allows teams to be much more efficient by creating repeatable marketing programs
- Web Analytics helps provide actionable insight that can be used to redirect inefficient marketing efforts
- Authoring tools allow marketers to make interesting ads, and other brand experiences, that work in multiple channels very quickly
- There are dozens of other examples. Scott Brinker at ion interactive has kept a running list of more than 40 categories of Marketing Technology.
There’s never been a harder time to be a CMO, but there’s never been a more rewarding time either – the marketing profession is in the process of re-defining itself and now has the opportunity to lead the rest of the business into a new era.