The X-Factor

19 Mar

Earlier this year I had the chance to spend some time with Jeff Fisher, who had just recently left his job as head coach of the NFL’s Tennessee Titans. We were speaking about a wide range of things but what struck me most was how he answered a question about the difference between winners and losers in the NFL. He was adamant that the skill levels of most starters in the league from team 1 to 32 were pretty close and that the real difference were the intangibles like attitude, outlook and resiliency.

Let me put out a radical thought: all the wonderful new tech innovations that we read about everyday and love playing with are actually creating the same scenario in business. Sure, it seems counter intuitive that technology brings parity, not advantage. But now that everyone has easy access to the same “cool new stuff,” it’s just the price of entry. So if the latest new gadget won’t drive business winners and losers, then what will?

Larry Kramer, the founder and former Chairman and CEO of Marketwatch, looks at the issue in his new book, C-Scape. He makes a compelling case that technology on its own isn’t what matters, but rather how businesses adapt technology to meet evolving needs of their consumers. He also observes that as technology continues to shift power to consumers, smart businesses will need to continue shifting how they market to their consumers including putting more resources against content and curation.

If you’re still skeptical, check out David Pogue’s recent New York Times column, which speaks to the same challenges unfolding in the cable TV space. Pogue applauds Comcast and its new Xfinity app for iPad for all its smart, user-friendly features. He also underscores that as smart as it is, it will give them about a one-second head start over Time Warner, Cablevision, AT&T, Verizon and DirecTV. Then it’s back to old-fashioned things like customer service and the overall quality of the product offering.

My prediction for the media and marketing business in general: we’re entering a new phase, a time where the great technology race becomes a great moment for established brands. It’s a moment where technology is critical—but like a great quarterback in a league where every team has one, it’s not enough to guarantee a win on its own. The real winners going forward: brands using technology in an authentic way, to meet genuine consumer needs while leveraging the trust and community they’ve developed over time.

Recent campaigns that smartly leverage technology and big brand equity include McDonald’s McCafé Shake “Social Fundraiser” on FourSquare; Dunkin’ Donuts giveaway promo for its Big ‘N Toasty Breakfast Sandwich on Twitter; and the Pepsi Refresh Project, arguably the breakout social media campaign of 2010. The same forces are driving the Reader’s DigestWe Hear You America” campaign, which since its start in November has inspired the participation of nearly 50% of every single town in America.

Whether in sports or business, what it takes to win is constantly changing—and no doubt, technology will remain a critical ingredient going forward. But the X-Factor to making consumers care and connect on a large-scale will increasingly be the combination of great brands and great technology.

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