First Published on Clickz Asia October 2013
In this, my second piece in a series of three, I’m going to talk about a second tenet of Design Thinking – ‘The appropriate use of technology’.
In generic ‘design thinking’ terms this technology tenet is often articulated in terms of feasibility. i.e. the question is expressed something like, ‘for that thing we want to do, is there a feasible technology?’
When it comes to advertising and marketing I like to express it another way and ask myself, ‘for those people with whom we are trying to engage, and in this specific context, what is the most appropriate channel and does it make sense?’
We are living through times with unprecedented speeds of change and development. People are already talking about version three (even four) of a technology that wasn’t even in the hands of most people until half way through my life. And whilst exciting, this speed of development nurtures demons of which we need to be aware – demons in the shape of rigid orthodoxies.
For those of us who have lived through the various iterations of the ‘internet’ the problem is only multiplied. Many of us, for example, see mobile as an extension – as and add-on – to what we had before. It’s another channel isn’t it? For many of us it was (and still is) a case of ‘we can now put all that desktop stuff on mobile devices’. And recently I’ve seen multi-million dollar brands with QR code scans leading mobile users directly to desktop web pages on their phones. We suffer from the legacy of yesterday when grappling to exploit and leverage the technology of tomorrow. Or as Marshall McLuhan rather more poignantly put it, ‘We look at the present through a rear-view mirror. We march backwards into the future’.
It is no coincidence that developers in emerging markets manage to see mobile for what it is – stripped bear of the clutter that our desktop legacy -tinted glasses impose over the top. They didn’t have desktops – mobile is the only internet some of them have seen and they see it for what it is, not for where it came from.
Being able to recognize the most appropriate channel for the most appropriate content is challenging and our history and experience is often conspiring against us. In addition to the new technology channels provided by devices themselves they come too with their own sub-channels, technologies and applications. With over the top messaging applications, GPS and the whole mess of generic mobile applications, the temptation for digital marketers and advertisers to jump all over these is compelling.
It is no surprise then that we have seen thousands of early adoptions of these opportunities in countless guises almost every one of which is now defunct or absorbed into something else. I even wonder about the longevity and continuing stickiness of some of the most successful applications like Foursquare.
I recently held a workshop where we were considering the potential for mobile technology payments and here I suspect that in order to innovate and create real value and change we need to let go of the legacy of the past. It’s too easy to think of swiping a phone instead of a card. This isn’t good enough. We need to understand the essence of the behavior and look at mobile and at the pure potential of what it offers. Seeing mobile as something else that can be swiped is to entirely miss the point. In a great piece in Wired from a couple of years back, a guy and his company doing stuff in Russia with 4G networks articulated the disruption in an interesting way: “[With this project] we are redesigning money, rather than banks,” Oskolkov-Tsentsiper says.
An openness to look at the very essence of the thing rather than the contrived tools and processes that we have as a legacy is where the real excitement is. But being less abstract for a minute our selection any application of technology must always go back to the needs and desires of people and their context when and where we are trying to engage with them.
And because these things haven’t fundamentally changed in years any technology that attempts to create a new need or desire should be viewed with suspicion. It’s unclear to me if Foursquare, for example, attempted to invent something in me (some kind of excitement around checking into places). All I can say is that whilst it had my attention for many months I recently realized that I’d stopped using it and my life is still pretty much ok.
This whole area of embedding and creating behavior in and around new and appropriate technology and making it stick is tough when you really look at it. It’s very tough. Despite our living in times when technological evolution is advancing at speeds most of us will never really appreciate, it is testament to how hard it is that I still do my shopping today the same way I’ve been doing it for years. Just look at all the technology our there and the potential it affords us and still, when it comes to the supermarket, not a lot has changed. I’ve been hearing about technology initiatives in the high street and malls for years – location sensitive apps, in-mall mapping, magic shop windows and all the rest. And how has my mall experience changed over the last few years? About as much as yours I‘d guess.
The ‘appropriate’ in ‘the appropriate use of technology’ can be interpreted in many ways. When starting this piece I used the word feasible and when it comes to engaging with people making something ‘feasible’ means addressing and ticking off a number of pre-requisites. Invariably this will involve addressing an existing need or desire. It will almost certainly mean making something easier or quicker or a lot more fun. It may mean addressing the very essence of the thing rather than substituting one process for another (swiping a phone v swiping a wallet).
When it comes to advertising and marketing we need to strive to engage people in meaningful and relevant ways and a key component of this is the technology. And evidence would suggest that it’s tough. Very tough.