The CMO and the Cloud – Part 8: lessons from modern urban planning

December 2, 2014 by Olivier Blanchard - No Comments

I wrestled with the idea of starting a new series in parallel to The CMO and the Cloud called The Entrepreneur and the Cloud, but in the interest of keeping our conversation about the cloud’s impact on business (and our lives and… well… everything) nice and streamlined, I opted instead to just incorporate the broader narrative into our existing series. So today, I don’t want to address marketing and CMO-specific uses for the cloud. I want to touch on some cool ideas and applications that exist a little outside of the marketing function. Two reasons for that:

1) Inspiration: Every time I get stumped during some phase of a marketing project, I turn to tangents for inspiration. Other industries, other cultures, unrelated demographics… whatever works. I keep looking until I find something I can use. Why do I do this? Because in my experience, breakthroughs happen where ideas intersect and collide. The farther outside of your own bubble you go, the more likely you will be of finding a creative (and effective) solution to a problem that you and your predecessors got stuck on.

2) Value: Sometimes, it helps to understand the true value of a thing when you can see how it is valuable to other people in other settings. And by ‘sometimes,’ I mean every time.

Today then, we’re going to take a quick look at how cloud technology is helping entrepreneurs and visionaries solve problems and make things work better outside of a purely marketing and CMO setting. So sit back, relax, and let your brain do its thing. Hopefully, it will give you some cool ideas or help you find the thread of that elusive nugget of wisdom that you were looking for.

Let’s start with the role cloud technologies are playing in urban planning, particularly in regards to building better, safer, greener, cleaner and smarter cities. And if a picture is worth 1000 words, a 5:58 video at 30-50 frames per second is worth… well… a lot more words than you probably care to read on the subject. Let’s go with that then:

Also, here’s a similar project I bumped into a few weeks ago that injects virtualization technology into the cloud model to improve urban planning. Note the reliance on cloud technologies to (a) provide computing power on demand, and (b) manage the increasing interconnectivity of infrastructure (not just the internet of things but the internet of systems [as well as systems of systems]) in real time. One thing to bear in mind is that as the connective tissue between systems begins to create richer (and more complex) systems of systems, the computing power needed to plan, model, anticipate, and manage them also needs to scale. Without the cloud, none of this would be possible. We would be stuck in 1995.

So… what does this have to do with being a CMO again? On the surface, nothing much. But once you start looking just under the surface, everything. Let me explain.

1. You aren’t pushing hard enough yet.

First, it’s important to remember not to get bogged down with the computing part. Unless you’re in IT, it’s not something you need to worry about. It all happens behind the curtain. Just like someone doesn’t have to be an accomplished mechanic to know how to drive a car, you don’t really need to understand how to set up a server to push the limits of what is possible in your field, whether it’s design, urban planning or marketing. Ideas are ideas. Vision is vision. Opportunity is opportunity. Just do your thing and let the tech handle the heavy lifting.

Look at it this way: your job is becoming increasingly about pushing technology to its limits in order to find better solutions to your (organization’s) everyday problems. That means that you should, on a regular basis, be driving your IT partners to push their own limits and the limits of the tech they provide you with. If you aren’t pushing technology to adapt to your needs, if you aren’t pushing programmers and tech companies to solve problems for you and test the limits of their comfort respective zones, you aren’t really doing your job. I know that sounds a little harsh, but it’s true and you know it.

2. You aren’t looking hard enough yet either.

Second, it’s also super important, as CMOs, to be aware of what’s coming outside of the marketing world. 1) Ad buys (and other outbound efforts) are going to feed into it. 2) The way consumers live, move around, work, shop and interact with the world around them is going to affect how your organization does research, gathers insights and solves problems for them and advertisers. You can’t function in a bubble, and you can’t afford not to know how and why things are changing.

I watch videos like this, and what I see is a long tail of possibilities opening up for marketers looking for smarter ways of connecting consumers to the right products and services. (Bonus: without being intrusive, without wasting resources on the wrong channels and tactics, and without losing precious time reacting to new tech and design trends instead of actually driving them.) Tip: if even urban planners are driving innovation using cloud and virtual technologies, why aren’t you using them to drive marketing innovation? If they thought to look outside of their own industry bubble to build launchpads for themselves, why is it that so few marketing professionals doing the same thing?

No seriously… I’m not asking that rhetorically. I really am asking: given the tools that exist today (see videos), why aren’t you using the same tools and technologies to drive marketing innovation? Why are you still struggling to do the same things you were already struggling with a year ago, and the year before that? I look around and I see agency after agency still trying to copy Oreo’s 2012 ‘viral’ real time marketing score. I see agencies wasting their time on boring, formulaic ‘content’ designed to collect fake likes on social channels. What is it driving? Budgets? Sorry but that isn’t enough. What’s the real problem you’re trying to solve?

Are you trying to understand your audience better?

Are you trying to get more people to buy a product?

Are you trying to figure out how to drive brand awareness and positive sentiment in a particular sub-culture?

Are you trying to help a brand understand how to create more value for its users?

Are you trying to figure out ways to boost impressions and positive interactions between a brand and consumers?

If I walk through your offices and look at how your staff uses technology, what am I really going to find? A building full of people creating neat content to put into neat boxes day after day after day, or a building full of people doing cool, cutting edge stuff with cognitive computing, insights modeling, mobile interactive mapping and urban digital planning?

What could you be doing that you aren’t doing?

In other words, what should you really be doing right now?

3. Maybe what you are missing is an innovation practice.

This isn’t the part where I tell you that you should have a Chief Innovation Officer. I mean… if you’re a big agency or your marketing department is massive, okay, sure. Create the role… although respect its function enough to call it something credible. Chief Innovation Officer might be a little hyperbolic. VP Special Projects or Director of Innovation will suffice. If you’re a smaller shop, your resources are going to be limited, so the function might have to be an add-on to someone’s existing role, or shared between a few key people. It doesn’t really matter how you do it. What matters is that you create an innovation hub inside your org.

In a perfect world, the CMO would lead that practice, but I understand that the world isn’t perfect. Delegation is fine as long as the CMO is actively engaged in it. Getting a weekly report from the innovation team isn’t going to cut it. When it comes to developing a vision and building a better org on a daily basis, you can only delegate so much. In order for a CMO to be effective into the next decade, that CMO has to become fluent in (and at least curious in if not passionate for) innovation, particularly in tech. There is no way around it. Not anymore. Does this mean that CMOs need to reject tried-and-true traditional methods and values? Absolutely not. But like all effective leaders, CMOs must be as focused on the unexplored horizon ahead as they are on the shore at their back, and perhaps more so. Any marketing department and agency that isn’t testing new tech is already five years behind the curve.

Most brands aren’t interested in what was cool five years ago. They want what’s going to be cool five months from now. How you get to be the marketing org that provides them with the latter rather than the former shouldn’t be hard to figure out. (It’s all right here, black on white… with some orange mixed in.)

Here are a few resources and other interesting bits you might want to check out:

Quick overview of IBM Watson Analytics

Using Watson Analytics for Marketing Campaign Planning (Video)

IBM Watson Analytics (Beta)

Interactive Clothes Hanger + Display Pairings (IoT in retail)

Interactive shopping experiences (really simple interactive retail ideas begging to be improved)

The tech behind interactive shopping screens (great interview about the role we were just talking about)

5 stores leading the charge on reinventing shopping experiences using IoT technology (retail)

All right, that’s it for today. We’re going to focus a little more on retail very very soon, so keep an eye out for that. Until then, I hope this gave you lots to think about.

Cheers,

Olivier

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This post was brought to you by IBM for Midsize Business and opinions are my own. To read more on this topic, visit IBM’s Midsize Insider. Dedicated to providing businesses with expertise, solutions and tools that are specific to small and midsized companies, the Midsize Business program provides businesses with the materials and knowledge they need to become engines of a smarter planet.

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