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Survival of the fastest



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March 13, 2017 | 6 min read

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The landscape of business and technology seems like the Wild West at the moment; an unchartered territory with fierce contest for audience and market share. Even Bono weighed in on the issue, with an interesting allusion to the dawn of the internet. “Today must be similar to twenty years after man discovered fire” he said. “Everybody knew something amazing had been invented, but nobody knew what to do with it, how to use it safely, or the extent to which it would change the world forever”.

IBM Watson

Survival of the fastest

Executives and marketing leaders from a range of brand often surface one common thread: “How do we keep up?”, usually based on some of the daunting statistics such as the five below:

  • The digital universe will be 40 times bigger by 2020.
  • Brands are scared by dark social: Over 80% of consumer conversations are now invisible to brands because they are taking place in private messaging apps.
  • Brands struggle to make sense of dark data: 80% of the words data is unstructured and only 0.5% of it has been analysed.
  • 1 in 5 brands are abandoning their mobile apps because they don’t work anymore.
  • There will be over 1 million devices connected to the internet every hour by 2020.

The world of marketing is being reinvented. Marketers of the future will be looking to AI-powered virtual assistants to advise on campaigns, and machine-learning algorithms to understand how to engage with a proliferation of devices, as well as people. I can imagine reminiscing about 2017 in years to come as our marketing capabilities are set for a step change in advancing brand engagement. The fact that we are in the epicenter of such a seismic shift in the way that disciplines like marketing works, makes marketing one of the most exciting but daunting professions in the world.

Cast your mind back to 1997. 2017 marks the twentieth anniversary of when Steve Jobs returned to Apple when it was just three months away from bankruptcy. Today it is the world’s most valuable brand with a market capitalization of around $720 Billion. In 1997, the average amount of time people held shares in a company was four years. Today, due to trades being driven by machine learning algorithms, people hold shares for an average of around 22 seconds. So if you consider that a share is actually an interest in a company, it is easy to argue that people are not very interested in brands anymore. Despite what most marketers think, people do not want “relationships” with brands anymore, they just want a good experience (on their terms), or fast and efficient customer service from a brand the second they demand it, on whatever device they demand it on.

I often hear marketers talk about speed and attention spans but it’s important to establish what ‘speed’ really means. We all know we need to operate more quickly, largely because as the pace of change accelerates it takes even less time to fall behind than ever before. Experience has become a moving target strongly sought by marketers in the face of rapidly shortening attention spans and exponential data growth. Let’s briefly compare marketing to financial markets again. Both rely upon delivering the right piece of content to the right person at the right time, but both have very different ideas of what speed actually means. In the book Flashboys, Michael Lewis explained how investors use algorithms to operate marginally faster than their competitors. In the world of high frequency trading, margins as tight as 3/1000 of a second faster than your competitors could increase your revenue by as much as $20 billion. Compare that to marketers who, at best, try to post tweets or run campaigns are few seconds, hours or days faster than their competitors and you start to see where marketing is going wrong.

Most brands take over 3 years to show a positive ROI as a result of their marketing campaigns. But spare a thought for the CMO of today. They are often given just 18 months to deliver an economic impact to a business. No wonder the majority of marketing executives are terrified in 2017, feeling overwhelmed and underprepared for the challenges that their brand will face over the next 5 years. Consumers are moving faster than marketers realise and they need to keep up. Marketing analyst Brian Solis refers to this as “digital Darwinism”. It’s a cute term with dark implications for the marketers who don’t take it seriously enough.

It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change”. Charles Darwin

So, in a world where people are now telling stories in swipes and attention spans are dwindling, it is no longer about survival of the fittest. It’s survival of the fastest. Brands are not competing against each other anymore. Brands are now competing against speed.

Find out more about IBM Watson Marketing here.

Jeremy Waite, IBM Watson Marketing Evangelist.


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IBM is an American multinational technology company headquartered in Armonk, New York, United States, with operations in over 170 countries. 

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