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The Perils of Digital Acceleration

Growth-seeking brands moved to digital faster than ever before in the last year and a half. Here’s why it’s not all great news

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Thesis: In the past year-plus, there has been a claim that brands (marketing/commerce/support) and customers (buying habits) have accelerated their digital practices at an astonishing rate – something like five years’ worth of advancement in a few months – as result of the pandemic.

The overall feeling has been that this is a positive thing. But is it? This piece aims to poke holes in that pink view of the world, focusing on the brand side and four parts of it.

Lack of usage of tech

In response to the need to go digital, brands went on a shopping spree. Technologies that deal with CRO (Conversion Rate Optimization), web personalization, and digital commerce benefited the most. But did brands need everything they bought? And more importantly, do they use everything it all?

According to Gartner, “on average, martech teams only utilize 58% of their marketing technology stacks. Yet, Organizations spend over a quarter of their entire marketing budgets on technology.”

This spending number probably only increased during 2020, leaving a lot of money on the floor.

From the 2021 MQ for MMH (multichannel marketings hubs): Gartner inquiry volumes around MMHs rose more than 200% year over year in 2020, reflecting marketers’ urgency to implement and optimize this core martech system.

Yet, even if MMHs function as centers of gravity within the martech stack, marketers still have room to mature how and the degree to which they use their MMH. According to Gartner’s 2020 Marketing Technology Survey, marketers use on average 52% of their MMH’s available functionality. That figure trails the 58% average utilization rate for their martech stack’s full breadth of capabilities.

Lack of skills

Buying tech and not using it doesn’t happen in a vacuum. For years it has been clear that one of the main perils of new technologies is the lack of relevant skills in the teams trying to adopt them.

For example, in a report appropriately named “Accelerate Martech’s Impact by Developing Your Team, Not Buying More Tech,” Gartner states, “When it comes to utilization, success hinges less on the actual technologies selected and more on the people and processes involved.”

In the past 12 months, the digital acceleration has only aggravated this issue as brands acquired technologies without acquiring the skills required to deploy and manage them effectively. You can imagine a brick-and-mortar-focused brand that suddenly had to deploy an eCommerce site and the challenges that could create.

As the acceleration stabilizes, there are two directions to take:

  1. Outsource the skills
  2. Train and develop the skills internally

The same Gartner report mentioned above understands that brands can’t face this alone and recommend seeking service providers to make the brand’s team smarter over time.

“Cookie Cutter” solutions

One potential solution many technology vendors are accustomed to waving as a solution for the skill gap is templated offerings. A templated journey or email, for example. The problem is that there are no cookie-cutter solutions. Each brand’s needs and customers are different (thus require unique treatment).

Using a standard template with standardized cadences and communications for how an abandoned cart journey should look could backfire. Yes, the brand will be able to roll out the solution faster, but it will be less effective.

Customer Expectations

It isn’t only brands that experienced digital accelerations; so did customers. And with that came increased expectations for personalization, empathy, and seamless experience.

Cookie-cutter solutions can’t provide that. Lack of skills will keep you from reaching that. And limited technology usage will hamper your ability to give them what they want. And combined, they result in unhappy customers that will go and look elsewhere.

So yes, digital transformation is good, but there is a dark side that is often left aside and not talked about enough. Don’t let it go under your radar, too.

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