Technology, in general, has made connection easier between brands and customers. As new platforms emerge and grow, the ways you can connect with your customers have exploded. To make the best use of technology for your company, it’s important to run through the appropriate technology assessment.
“Gone are the days when there was just one mode of communication – whether it’s a print ad or a commercial,” said Khary Campbell, an insights professional, on an episode of “Reel Talk: The Customer Insights Show.” “People couldn’t go there and give feedback. Now it’s just wide open.”
That openness can help you hear directly from customers, Khary said.
The evolution of technology also has ramped up the need to connect with your consumers. And there’s an expectation that connection is easy.
“If I don’t know where to go, I’m likely to just tag them on social media,” said Jenn Vogel, vice president of marketing at Voxpopme and host of “Reel Talk.”
The explosion of MR tech options
Mirroring what’s been happening in other areas of business and in the consumer space, the number of platforms available has increased from a 200 in early 2018 to around 1,500 in late 2021, said Mike Stevens, editor of insightplatforms.com.
“I’ve built up quite some knowledge of businesses in this area,” he said on an episode of “Reel Talk.” “Obviously, Voxpopme is one of the leading players in the digital research space. And there are lots and lots of companies that have launched over the last five years especially.”
The increase has in part happened because the definition of what is MR tech is expanding. Mike says it now includes:
- customer experience
- user technology
- research-type products in the product management space, web design and others
“Building apps and websites they need feedback to go along with the analytics,” Mike said. “There’s an enormous collection of tools.”
Why the right tech is a must-have for brands
Khary mentioned it’s hard for mature brands to differentiate on product alone so they need to understand their customers at a deeper level and understand what:
- they want
- they don’t want
- their desires
- their future needs
“How well do you understand them, and can you anticipate what they will need next?” he said.
Technology can help you make that process easier.
How to prove the value of your tech stack
Some technologies are basic infrastructure tools. They are a must-have, but sometimes the revenue can only be indirectly associated with it. These must-haves include:
- A chat system – like Slack
- A CRM
- Research tech
Chief Mar-Tech Officer Scott Brinker shared with us on an episode of “Reel Talk” that teams need to set aside a part of their budget for those infrastructure-type software platforms. You need them to even do the work and help drive results.
I liken it to: What’s the ROI of my keyboard or the monitor I’m currently using to write this? Without them, I couldn’t even do my job. They are must-haves. A good technology needs assessment will help identify those as well.
Also consider comparing notes, Scott said. What percentage of their budgets are peers spending on technology?
At the end of the day, you want to figure out what problems you’re trying to solve and how are you going to solve them with your market research tech stack. Raj Manocha, CEO of Methodify, on an episode of “Reel Talk” mentioned the importance of picking something that can show quick results and get the buy-in from internal stakeholders.
Every time, you add new technology you have to make sure it’s easy for people to use. That could include integration and even single-sign-on with existing technologies, Raj said.
“How do you make it super simple?” he said. “As a team you need to check how you use them all together.”
Small wins can then lead to bigger increases in budget and resources, Raj said. Running a good MR tech assessment at the start can increase those chances down the road.
Approaches for your technology assessment
I like to break these approaches down into two areas:
- A new technology solution comes along that solves a problem I didn’t know I had.
- I have a specific problem I’m trying to solve with a technology solution.
The first example that comes to mind happened when Voxpopme launched “Reel Talk: The Customer Insights Show.”
We wanted to share useful information around insights, and we also realized that professionals are busy and use a variety of networks. We kind of stumbled across technology to livestream our podcast to YouTube, Twitter and LinkedIn before publishing the podcast version. Problem we didn’t know we had – solved.
“My mind is constantly going to how can I apply this. How can I maybe use this?” Khary said of how he approaches assessing technology he didn’t know existed. “What is maybe the value here versus things we are currently doing?”
But then the technology has to add value.
“As much as technology can help, it can also disrupt your ecosystem as well – especially if it doesn’t fit in with things that are already there,” Khary said, stressing the importance of getting technology assessments right.
For example, if new technology creates another data silo, that could create more problems. But new technology also could create a solution to silo problems if it becomes the place to house your centralized data.
At the end of the day, whatever technology you use, it needs to make it easier and more cost efficient for you to provide the products to people that they are willing to pay for.
Why is a good assessment necessary?
The biggest reason is that there are just a lot of potential technology solutions that teams can use. For example, Scott told us how the mar-tech landscape has grown from hundreds of solutions to about 8,000 in a few years.
“Most marketers have probably seen your map of the landscape and have experienced the shock of how technology has grown over the years,” Jenn said.
With so many options to consider, it’s essential to know how to evaluate what you need and why.
“It’s not about how big your tech stack is but about having the right pieces in place,” Jenn added.
How to run your MR tech assessment
Involving the right people
In your technology assessment, be sure to keep in mind who will use the product. Also, understand the problem the technology will solve.
“It really becomes a group effort,” Khary said. “When I want to learn something more, I look for people smarter than me.”
In addition, look for others who have experience with a particular technology.
“I start asking questions, whether that’s people internally or connections I’ve built externally, and picking their brain,” he said.
Then, Khary said, you want to get really close to the technology and see if the technology can help with your specific problem.
“Really share what the problem is that you are trying to solve,” he said. “I find that when you do that, it opens up a lot of new doors because, at that point, you are bringing that potential partner into the conversation. You build solutions together.”
As you consider technology, keep these pieces in mind:
Ease of use
Is the technology relatively easy to use? Also, can it be accessed on the variety of devices the teams use and in specific regions of the world? For example, with global teams, some tools can’t be used in some parts of the world.
Mike said there are plenty of MR tech solutions available now that automate tasks that previously had to be done by humans. Those can include:
“It’s about helping researchers so they are not doing basic, boring stuff,” Mike said.
Fit in current MR tech stack
Many companies already use a number of tech solutions for various needs. This especially came out when we talked with insights expert Brenna Ivey about centralizing data. Many companies have data in so many different locations that it’s difficult to ever turn the data into insights.
Consider how this new technology fits into the overall ecosystem. Also, keep in mind how much technology you actually already use, Scott said. Most companies are surprised at how many tools are part of the tech stack and some aren’t even getting used much.
“The next thing you know there’s like 20 tools on the table,” he said. “And now there is a whole new category out there called SaaS Management Platforms.”
They basically manage all of your tools. Nonetheless, is it important to consider how new tools either replace or complement what already exists.
Talk to current users of the technology
Consider talking to peers who have used the platform you are considering, said Scott. You can ask them:
- What they like about it
- How it solved their problems
- Ease of implementation
- And more…
“Just going out into the world,” he said. “Talk to people you know and trust. I’m going to tell you what really happened. This was the good. This was the bad and this was the ugly.”
It’s also good to see how well the tech solution’s sales and customer success teams partner with customers.
- Do they listen?
- Are they asking good questions?
- Do they see you as a partner?
Jenn said she especially likes to see open dialogue between a customer and technology provider because other clients already may have solved the same problem the potential new customer is facing. How companies communicate is an important part of a technology assessment.
“And they might be solving it in a way you hadn’t thought of,” Jenn said. “That also helps technology providers to understand what your big challenge is and help you get to that solution.”
Implementation and pilots
How hard is it to implement the technology? This also is a good place to start with a pilot project.
Once you see the potential, Khary said he’s a fan of running a pilot project.
“Start something small,” he said. “Something where we are not going to spend a large amount of time and resources.”
You also could start with a scaled-down version of another project to get a taste of the new technology and see if it would work.
Be clear with your pilot projects:
- What do you want to get out of it?
- How will you measure success?
“It can also take an inordinate amount of time to perfect what the pilot might look like,” Khary said. “That’s very counterproductive to what a pilot can actually do for you.”
A pilot project can help you quickly figure out what’s right, what’s wrong and what you want to do next, Khary said.
“And it allows you to build that communication with that partner,” he said.
Think of your pilot as an experiment, Jenn said.
“There’s an expectation of the word ‘pilot’ that people want to perfect it,” she said. “There’s an expectation that a pilot is going to work, whereas there’s an expectation that an experiment might fail and that’s OK.”
Pilot projects are about “trying it out and proving it right or wrong,” Khary said. “And then how do we roll into the next experiment? Just because it didn’t go right or the way you would have liked it to go the first time, that doesn’t mean you should pull away. What did we learn from this?”
How to ensure technology usage during the pilot
To get the most out of pilot projects, people within the company need to use the technology that’s being evaluated.
The important step here is to determine how to integrate the pilot into existing workflows.
“If that doesn’t happen, it can quickly come in and be placed to the side,” Khary said, adding that especially is true for teams in a high-pressure environment. “When pressure builds, a lot of us default back to our typical way of working. Which means if I default, I’m going back to the things I know and that I’m already comfortable with.”
While you want to iron out the process ahead of time, stay flexible, Khary said. That’s the point of the pilot -— to figure out what works, what doesn’t work and where you might be able to adjust something. Keep your mind open to possibilities.
Make sure people understand the goals of the pilot project and how it will help them. For example, many of us never have enough time, so time efficiency can be a huge motivator to participate in a pilot.
Using technology to move more quickly
“Technology is absolutely an enabler and sometimes an illuminator,” Khary said.
“Sometimes illumination comes from the fact that you can speak with more people than you physically can in person in a shorter period of time -— physically speaking to people in five different cities or five different countries. You just couldn’t do that in, let’s say, a one-week period.”
Easier technology or not, we still need to evaluate what technology to use, when to use it and how to use it.
Read next: How to use video surveys for market research
Khary said technology has helped him in countless ways run better projects, especially early in product development.
“How do we get these prototypes into settings where people are actually using them?” he said.
In the retail location is one way. Another way is to create a virtual reality environment where you can observe consumer behavior. A third way is to use video surveys to ask consumers specific questions after – or before – an experience.
“And now I’m not just restricted to where our office is,” Khary said. “Now I can conceivably do this in any state or city.”
Then you build the product and customer experience as you go and as you are observing and understanding customer reaction.
“We are still creating the prototype, but we are more informed,” Khary said. “We have a better chance of being successful when we get the feedback we need from consumers.”
Timing: Emerging technology assessment
Jenn mentioned that people have said virtual reality will be useful in five or ten years but that the technology isn’t quite there yet. Figuring out when the time has come to jump on new tech can be a challenge.
“I think it’s much sooner than that,” Khary said, noting some teams are already using VR technology. “How do I validate virtual reality to be useful? But it doesn’t have to be useful for the same thing as something that’s existing. It’s going to have its advantages and disadvantages. And then you take it back to your fundamentals – risk to rigor.”
Figure out what the levels of your risk and effort are. If the levels are on the low side, it can be easier to run a technology assessment of emerging technologies.
It’s also good to remember what different technologies are best for. Some are better for some uses than others.
More about risk and rigor
“What’s the risk if we don’t get the learning right on this?” Khary asked.
The team’s mindset for an assessment
Technology can make things easier keep up with new trends is easier with the right team – especially as things are changing quickly. As part of your technology assessment keep in mind what is and isn’t changing.
“The basics aren’t changing,” said Jennifer Saenz, global chief marketing officer at PepsiCo during her chat with Zappi President Ryan Barry, at the 2021 Virtual Insights Summit. “We still need to be amazing strategists. That’s why we are here. We are trying to drive a return for the business; trying to drive growth in the marketing place; trying to win.”
Now more than ever, marketers and insights professionals need to understand what unmet need a company can help consumers with.
Also keep in mind the ever-increasing technology stack that teams can use. Team members need to learn those skills as well.
“I need to now understand a lot of the technology and analytics that historically in many places has been siloed or kept at arm’s length and potentially even outsourced,” Jennifer said. “The marketer and insights professional – they need to own the data. They need to own the analytics. They need to understand it.”
And then you can get very quickly from looking at the data and creating a hypothesis. That also means we need to look at roles like data scientists, data anthropologists, financial, etc.
“You need a whole range of talent to build out a team that’s going to have diverse perspectives and really go after opportunity in a different way,” she said. “How do we make sure that the knowledge we are creating is really created to to create an impact.”
You can also drive impact by making positive changes in your employees’ experience, she said.
“When you can democratize that information all of a sudden the amount of impact that you can make with so many people having access to it … now my every-day marketer on the team can work with an easy user interface and have the benefit of that data in front of them,” she said. “That’s also impact you can make.”
Technology assessment wrap
The biggest advantage I’ve found in assessing technology is to truly start with the problem you are trying to solve. For example: The market research reports I’ve been getting aren’t that helpful to me. They aren’t comprehensive or clear enough for me to take action.
So my problem is: My market research process isn’t helping me make meaningful changes for my customers.
Then I can start looking for the right technology to help with that.