A couple weeks ago, I wrote about the tyranny of words and how, sometimes, the more we say, the less we all understand. Loose language and opportunistic co-opting of categories, ideas and terms leads to a dissolution of meaning which, over time, corrodes and corrupts our mutual understanding.
Part of this is a story of opportunism, as vendors, providers and others with a stake in the game wash their wares with whatever it is that’s drawing heat and light at a particular moment.
But another part of it relates to something larger and perhaps more inexorable. Something, it’s probably not an overstatement to say, that’s at the heart of venture creation itself.
This is what I’ll call (somewhat immodestly) the convergence of everything.
Stay with me here.
Particularly in digital marketing, the more you look at the various underlying technologies that enable everything from personalized experiences to targeted communications to digital commerce, they each increasingly seek to satisfy a similar set of needs:
- Understanding the customer, prospect or audience;
- Making inferences about their need and intent through observed behaviors;
- Orchestrating the right experiences to satisfy and serve these needs; and,
- Analyzing corresponding performance to optimize effort and investments to highest yield.
Now think about what I just described and apply it to whatever digital marketing technology springs to mind. Whether you thought of a digital marketing hub (a.k.a. “marketing cloud”), a social marketing platform, a personalization or web content management system or any of a number of marketing analytics tools, my guess is that it roughly corresponds to most, if not all, of the bullet points above.
Am I suggesting that all digital marketing technologies claim to fulfill the same specific use cases and satisfy the exact same requirements? No. But, increasingly, they all seem to be converging around the same set of high level goals. In doing so, digital marketing technologies are becoming more alike than distinct.
Why? The tyranny of words is certainly to blame. But what’s also to blame are outsized ambitions. Many vendors have allowed their product strategies to drift from a focused design center to the equivalent of the moon shot.
The cause of this problem is certainly nothing new. In an effort to defend against commoditization, to recruit the best talent, and to tell “the 10X story” to prospective investors, vendors sometimes get out ahead of their skis. They sacrifice being narrowly exceptional for being broadly mediocre.
In doing so, they hasten this convergence of everything.
Don’t get me wrong: ambition is good. Without it, you’re toast. But so is self-awareness and maybe just a touch of humility to keep you grounded in the reality of what you’re really meant to do. The humility to be narrowly exceptional, even if that means accepting a slightly slower growth trajectory or a slightly lower valuation.
The point is that, as a vendor, knowing what you aren’t is often as important as knowing what you are. Strategy is an exercise in sacrifice. It’s about making hard choices and leaving most of your options behind.
Good vendors are articulate and disciplined in describing what they do. But it’s the great vendors that are equally articulate and disciplined in describing what they don’t do. They’re open about which options they’ve left behind.
Think of it as a courtesy to your customers. When you exercise this sort of humility you create the bright lines and clear boundaries that make it easier to understand what you actually do—and what you don’t do.
And, incidentally, more often than not, it also means that you create better products.