Breaking News – Some People Don’t Own A Tablet

[I originally wrote this article for Silicon Beach 2012; this is the first time it has appeared online]

BreakingNewsThis is an extraordinary time to be in business. The economy is all over the place, international trade is threatened by collapsing currencies and we’re constantly bombarded with new technology inventions that promise to improve our lives. Despite everything that the financial meltdown has thrown at us few who have worked through the last decade would deny how positively transformative technology has been.

You could even be forgiven for lusting after the latest new shiny object or Web 4.0 application and all that it promises. Yet all around you a very different scene is playing out. While you camp outside your local gadget store to get your hands on the hottest new tablet or phone, most of the rest of the world remains blissfully unaffected. According to data from the National Readership Survey, fewer than 1 in 6 (15%) adults own either a tablet device or an e-reader. And a tiny 1.4%, like me and you, own both. For most, a tablet is something the doctor prescribes. Even with smartphones or HTML5 enabled browsers or Pinterest or whatever… experiencing remarkable growth, most of these remain the playthings of the privileged few.

It’s easy to forget this when you’re busy keeping the new technology hamster wheel spinning. You might feel mild embarrassment that your 6 month old smartphone only sports 13 megapixels. Meanwhile the person sitting next to you on the bus carries their 2003 Nokia feature phone only ‘in case of emergencies,’ presumably something along the lines of a power cut or Tesco running out of frozen peas.

If you work in marketing you’d be well-advised to keep your feet firmly on the ground. By all means treat yourself to some hot new gadgetry and be sure to show it off to anyone who will listen, but don’t fall into the trap of imagining that your life has anything in common with that of your customers. If you do, you may soon be committing the worst of marketing crimes: creating campaigns in your own image, not in those of your target audience.

I’m not advocating that we all stop building sites that render beautifully on any device using responsive HTML5 or that we abandon our mobile marketing plan in what must surely now be “The Year of Mobile”. Do those things by all means—our industry progress depends on them—but also keep evaluating the merits of marketing campaigns that appeal to those segments of our population who remain largely untouched by technological change. That means TV and radio advertising, good old fashioned PR and—please forgive me my digital masters—direct mail marketing. For many businesses these techniques still work wonders, helping brands reach a richer vein of customers in ways that connect meaningfully with their everyday lives.

These traditional routes to market may have lost some of their earlier potency but knowing how to integrate them with your wider digital marketing plan is now a critical skill for marketers during these times of unprecedented flux. Just as we do with the gadgets in our pockets, the world’s very best marketers regularly make wise decisions about which new channels to adopt and which to surrender. As our world continues its slow evolution from analogue to digital, marketers who want to make themselves truly future-ready would do well to keep one eye on the past.

[to see my talk at Silicon Beach in October 2012, click here]