Getting return on investment has long been the mantra for many business functions. Ultimately, money out needs to equate to value in. Whether the resource goes into sales, marketing, HR or another part of the business, in today’s market there has to be a correlation between input and outcome in order to justify the spend.
Yet how often, when it comes to technology investment, is that actually realised? For years, many companies have struggled to get full use out of their systems and services. Consider, for example, that 28% of all software deployed on PCs is unused accounting for $224 and $266 worth of vacant software sitting on the average desktop in the US and UK respectively.
That’s money spent on applications that aren’t being used to their full potential, lying dormant. Even in the era of software-as-a-service and flexible, pay-as-you-go licensing, there are still going to be features that businesses are paying for but not getting the most out of. It’s particularly true in marketing, and at a time when investment in marketing technology continues to increase, organisations run the risk of not realising the full value of their software. Perhaps more critically, they are also in danger of not being unable to use them properly when engaging with prospects and customers, missing opportunities and creating additional problems.
It’s what’s known as the Empty Software epidemic – where a service is acquired, but then not fully utilised. When that happens the chances of it being misused increase. So, what’s to be done to solve this issue?
Three ways to remove the challenge of Empty Software
It’s important to understand what Empty Software actually is. It occurs when a business purchases technology based on the assumption that it will provide value quickly, but the software itself is not populated with the data or programmes to deliver that value. Additionally, there is often a usability problem as it becomes clear to practitioners that they need in depth training in order to become a so-called ‘super user’ that can tap into every feature and function.
There are three ways in which marketers can avoid this.
1. End the ‘super users’
We need to move away from this idea of ‘super users.’ While it’s great to have experts on different systems, by putting all the knowledge in the hands of a minority, it creates bottlenecks and gatekeepers. As Mike Doyle, head of marketing at surf and streetwear retailer City Beach says, “adoption rates for software have long been seen as some ridiculous and sadistic badge of honour – if you make it through the painful process of onboarding and making a solution work, then you “must be a valuable asset, worth your weight in gold”. A small handful of ‘super users’ then steer the strategy of a company by acting as a gatekeeper around what’s possible.”
2. Right tech, right place, right time
Marketers need to be ruthless in how they identify and acquire the right technology for the role – shifting from shiny object syndrome to asking how does this investment improve my ability to do my job right now? They need to hold marketing technology vendors to account – are they being sold a generic service, or something tailored to their sector, that has been prepopulated with the right features for them, based on their company size and projected usage? They are making significant commitments and should expect more in return.
3. Take the tech out of technology
It’s time to take the technology out of the software. What do we mean by that? By removing all the technical aspects, extending to cleaning and inputting data, from the marketer’s role and allowing them to focus on looking at the business and marketing insights the data is giving them and incorporate that into their strategy and execution.
How do we do that?
This is delivered by Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning.
AI can be deployed to do the work of populating services and ensuring that the data that comes into the business is cleaned and refined to the required standard. This isn’t simply a one-size-fits-all approach – through machine learning, AI-powered systems can be taught to process data in such a way that what’s needed right now is used straight away, and what might be of use in the future is stored elsewhere.
AI is already being used to support building more relevant communications. If it was employed even earlier, not only could marketers enjoy greater degrees of personalisation, but they could focus on creating engaging content and strategies to support overall business goals, safe in the knowledge that the tools they are using are operating at their full capabilities.
Banishing the spectre of under utilisation
Empty Software is hampering marketers’ effectiveness and needlessly putting pressure on already stretched budgets. By promoting a democratic understanding of technology, demanding more from their investments and using AI to take the technology out of software, marketing teams the world over can banish the spectre of under-utilised investments and focus on delivering true value much faster.
Technology is not going to go away. Therefore, those that find a way to maximise its potential, rather than simply adding to a growing and ever more complex stack, will be the ones that succeed in the digital era.