The future is probably different

We all love to dream about the future. It’s the last remaining Wild West. New horizons, out there to tame, plunder and profit. But is the promise of a better tomorrow a pledge the tech can keep? Will new innovations change the game and make us rich? Michael Goldthorpe says, probably.

Probability is a numbers game

If you’re a gambler, you’ll know a bit about probability. Everything has a chance rating, somewhere between zero and one. The higher the number, the better the odds. And the more you know about your input variables, the closer you get to knowing the odds.

And that’s what business does. Essentially it’s all a big gamble. A romantic dance of risk and return, but the dice are doctored and the deck is stacked. In business we don’t like luck.

We can’t believe our luck

An interestingness of humans is that we over-estimate our abilities and under-estimate our luck. It’s normal. If we felt like we got here at random, we wouldn’t bother trying. Combine that with our passion for re-telling reality through stories – and we can easily forget boring stats in probability.

Like everything in life, this human tendency is amplified in business. Confirmation bias tells us we’re doing the right stuff. Novelty bias nudges us to think that new things are better. And research bias leads us to count the things that count for us to prove we’re nailing our jobs. Also all very normal.

But does our general disdain for the power of luck and belief in our own brilliance lead us into tech-lined tunnels of diminishing returns? I don’t know. You do you. But I would argue, probably.

We make our own luck

Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a piece about about big-tech and white elephants. It’s a story about probability in a magazine about marketing with a focus on tech. So let’s review those variables to help us stack the deck and make or own luck.

We know that understanding humans can deliver marketing success. Fact. We know that tech and innovation can drive better results. Fact. And we know that marketing principles can help us stay on track. We’ve got our cards, we’re in the game. So where should we place the big bets? 

Innovation isn’t invention

Inventions change the world. Innovations make stuff better. That’s a fairly blunt definition but it works. The internet was an invention that changed the world. Billions of DARPA dollars fighting the Cold War really landed us with something hot. And we’ve been innovating the edges ever since.

Email is like mail, only electronic. Mobiles are like phones, only mobile. Faster phones are better phones – and look at that awesome camera. But how often do we invest in these innovations that do the same thing only

If you brutally assess every dollar spent on game-changers, it’s likely they made you faster, smarter, more accurate and more efficient. But did it change the game? Or did it just speed things up?

Michael Goldthorpe.

Technology always changes

Tech’s a safe bet if you know what you’re buying and your investment pays dividends in three years or less. But anyone’s who ever bought a shiny new gadget knows how to feels to drop it in a drawer within a few years and soon forget that it ever existed. 

MarTech is no different. Tech is a temporary buzz. We dive in and upgrade and lust after the latest. But we know it’s not the latest from the minute it leaves the store. 

We don’t invest for the future, we rent for the next three years. That’s how tech works.

Marketing doesn’t change

Here’s the cool bit. While the tools and tech of marketing are increasing exponentially, our fundamental principles don’t change. Product, Promotion, Place and Price. 

Just make something people want. Make sure they know about it. Make it easy to buy. And charge as much as you can before they say no. It’s super simple stuff. And tech can really help in lots of ways. But the point of the marketing is the marketing. The tech is just tools in the shed.

People don’t change

Here’s the other variable. Humans. Eight billion and counting. Five million in New Zealand. And after several million years on the planet, we haven’t changed all that much. We want to feel safe, we like to be happy and we love a little hope for tomorrow.

All eight billion of us, pretty much the same and scarily consistent. What are the odds of that? We love, we laugh, we sleep, and repeat. All of us. Every day.

That’s why we’re so easy to sell to. Just make something we want, let us know it’s out there, make it easy to buy it and let’s have a chat about price.

And for all the micro-targeting, data collecting and innovating at the pace of culture, we’re still the bloody same. Just make something I want. Let me know it’s out there. Make it easy to buy. And cut me a deal.

Placing your bets on people

Don’t get me wrong, I love technology. I’ve been a nerd since before I remember. Programmed my first bot on a 32K Acorn sometime last century. And the things tech can do are incredible. The future is paved in bytes.

But that future will be lived by humans. And we know what humans do, we know what humans like. And the tech lives around us, but it isn’t who we are. 

So should we place all bets on promise of the innovation, knowing it will change in the next four years? Or should we double down on millions of years of humans who still do what they’ve always done in the way they always do. It’s easy to see the safe bet.

Stacking the deck in your favour

To win big on technology you need talent and luck. Just pick the right six numbers, weight the balls the perfect way and wait for the money to roll in. Jackpot. But winning with people is more like tossing a coin. You won’t get all of them. But odds are, you’ll get half the people half the time and keep making money.

Then stack your deck with the four Ps of marketing and you’ll probably do even better. Just get a good product. Do some promotion. Find a place where it’s easy to buy it and nail a great price.

Let’s be clear, it’s not a competition. Nobody thinks the answer is people or tech. But in the balance of probabilities, where should you focus most? Will you get better returns from the promise of new technology? Or could you grow just as fast betting on the consistency of humans?

In other words, should you double-down your bets on the big win of a shiny new toy? Or pick a dead-cert at the races? I reckon the best bet is a bob each-way. But hot tip on 3:15 at Ellerslie. The horse you want to back is known as ‘Four Ps’.  

This article was originally published in the Dec/Jan 2021 issue of NZ Marketing mag.

About Michael Goldthorpe

Michael Goldthorpe is Managing Partner of problem-solving agency, Hunch.

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