A few weeks ago, an old memory popped into my head. Suddenly thrust back into the mid-1980s, I saw myself in my childhood home, unboxing my family’s IBM PC Junior computer. I remember feeling awe-struck by the clay-colored plastic housing and chunky keys jutting out like mountain ranges. I remember handling my first floppy disk, worrying about fingerprint stains and cracks, and the vaguely tense feeling I got every time I typed what I’d hoped was the correct command to boot up a program.
Keep in mind that was just over 30 years ago, and I was four. While close to a lifetime in my memory, against the breadth of technological history, three decades is barely a blink.
When was the last time you stopped to think about how truly astonishing technological innovation has been in the last 30 years? Or even five? Virtual-reality consoles are sprouting up across living rooms. Affordable smartphones are ubiquitous in the developing world. Social media has become a controversial focal point for elections in the most technologically advanced countries in civilization. None of this was happening five years ago.
I think it’s important for anyone in business — but especially entrepreneurs, who should be by definition focused on the future — to pause and reflect on the cumulative strength of our rapidly evolving technology. The emergence of unprecedented 5G internet speeds, the fine-tuning of screen resolutions, the creativity behind today’s great ad campaigns are all a testament to the tech world’s unwavering velocity.
I’ve been fortunate to have successfully steered my own company, Cimaglia Productions, through nearly two decades in this world of constant innovation. I’ve worked with dozens of ad agencies and independent clients, and have long held a consistent mantra: There’s no reason to be afraid of new technology, as long as you’re committed to great content and innovative storytelling.
To innovate, companies need to stop scapegoating technology.
With every agency I’ve worked, I’ve found one consistent hurdle: the perceived barrier around new technology. Plenty of legacy agencies have told me they’d love to adopt a more agile business approach, but there’s too much bureaucracy in their way. It makes sense: Switching away from custom-built legacy software is a daunting prospect when dozens of employees are comfortably familiar with it.
It is human nature to resist change. It’s no different with major agencies, whose leadership, too, focuses on business strategies of decades past. Investing the majority of your budget and energy into a single 30-second commercial is no longer a viable strategy — just because it worked before, and you know how to do it well, doesn’t mean it’ll keep working.
In my experience, all this puts too much onus on technology as an excuse to not innovate. Some companies avoid scapegoating their own lack of tech by outsourcing their needs to smaller companies that can get the job done quickly and efficiently — that’s where I usually come in. And while I dive into every collaboration with absolute devotion and enthusiasm, the reality is that these agencies could be getting the job done a lot easier if they could produce their content in-house. Over the last five years, while brand executives and digital marketers slowly realize this industry-wide trajectory, I’ve long embraced it: As a virtual CMO and consultant, I’ve helped transform traditional agencies and companies alike into more streamlined, agile versions of themselves.
In many cases, these legacy companies saw unknown technology as the biggest hurdle, which creates a cycle. The bigger the hurdle, the more they focused on it. How often, at your own legacy company, have you complained about your company’s tech infrastructure? Maybe it was an unintegrated piece of marketing stack, an outdated email server or a cumbersome content management system that makes a nightmare out of finding basic media assets. The ramifications of those decisions affect entire companies for years.
The bottom line? That outdated technology hinders productivity, which hurts efficiency, which bleeds money. Smaller companies with an agile mandate can adopt new technology faster. New technology, rather than a hindrance, becomes a tool for achieving what should be every agency’s ultimate goal.
The ultimate goal: great content
In every agency’s case, that goal should be content. When technology hinders creativity, the product suffers.
Cimaglia Productions was born from the broadcast-television industry, a market long upturned by innovations in digital streaming. That industry has made a terrific case study for the kind of transformation I’m talking about.
Looking at the evolution of Netflix and YouTube while TV ad dollars decline, it’s been clear for years that audiences crave great content and are more than happy to save money along the way by cutting their cable cords. It’s not about budgets — people aren’t afraid to pay for shows they love — it’s about actually wanting to watch something. Determining what people want to watch requires the latest technology, too; the algorithms Netflix has developed, based largely on your previous viewing history, are built entirely to determine what content you’ll most enjoy. By and large, major broadcast networks have been slower to learn so much about their viewers.
Those network executives might have defended themselves, during the early 2010s, by arguing that they simply didn’t have the technological infrastructure to compete with Netflix, which was — and remains, in many ways — a more agile company. Those executives would have had a point, but that’s yet another example of legacy companies scapegoating technology.
In other words, it’s not Netflix’s fault that TV stations didn’t have the latest technology. The technology already existed. It was a lack of industry foresight and investment in innovation, and now the networks are paying for it.
How to survive in a breakneck-agile world
As a final example, let’s talk about digital advertising.
In many ways, I believe digital advertising is stuck in the past. Digital video ads, costlier than static banner ads, tend to be produced with a one-size-fits-all approach, blasting out one piece of content to targeted audiences across Instagram and YouTube.
The problem? That single piece of content can’t possibly match the targeting. For all the data culled by Facebook and Google, most brands’ targeted audiences remain detrimentally broad, pegged to the brand’s buyer personas rather than the content itself.
Imagine, for a moment, a different reality. Imagine if a brand could produce variations of a single video, and beam those variations out to various targeted audiences. All the videos would be identical in story and length, but some features would change: Maybe one would swap the gender of the main character, or change her age or shirt color. Depending on who’s watching the video, the content would appear more tailored, swapping out different ingredients to connect with individuals specifically.
It may sound futuristic, but this technology already exists: I’m a big fan of ReachEngine as a leader in the intelligent-content industry. Legacy corporations definitely have the money to invest in this. But, they won’t — because they already have their videographers, producers and editors on payroll, not to mention risk-averse management, all of whom are comfortable with their jobs and hesitant to suggest something that could end up costing and not producing results. Pivoting to a new style of video creation is literally a fantasy for them.
But, for me, and other entrepreneurs focused on innovation and cutting-edge technology, we are manifesting the future right now. I expect I’ll have honed the art of producing videos using the technology I just described by the time legacy agencies develop enough in-house infrastructure to produce 360 videos on their own. (Read: five years late.)
The bottom line: Commit to strategic innovation.
Asking enormous corporations to change is a Sisyphean ordeal, which is why the world needs entrepreneurs. It needs risk-takers bold enough to lead the industry with creativity and fresh ideas.
That’s why, to circle back to the beginning of this article, I suggest reflecting on your own first chunky home PC. Think about your first flip phone, your towering CD collection or your pixelated big-screen LCD TV. Think about how excited you were to have that new toy, to experience something new on those devices. Think about how far we’ve come in such a short period of time, and how much further we’ll go in the coming decades. Think about how exciting that is.
Through all that, our guiding principle should never be to adopt new technology for its own sake. Rather, we should adopt new technology to make the coolest, sharpest, most awe-inspiring content possible, and let the fruits of our labor guide this industry into the next generation.