As we move into 2018 and look at today’s hot topics in B2B tech marketing and public relations, many key trends and solution-centric buzzwords come to mind – most notably artificial intelligence (AI), big data and digital transformation. Each of these represents meaningful and beneficial trends to business and society, and companies are certainly leveraging AI, big data and digital transformation for real gains. I know this to be true, because my “day job” revolves around demonstrating the use cases and proof points that drive these trends, and results are real and highly compelling.
But as it happens, more and more companies are trying to paint themselves with a “new technology brush” that has a potential downside. My specific concern is that AI and these other terms became the “tech media clichés” of 2017, with numerous vendors trying to jump on the bandwagon through spin and optics.
In fact, I’d kindly suggest that AI, big data, and digital transformation are something of a trifecta for lazy marketers! This is natural and understandable given the amount of press, analyst and financial market attention these emerging industries obtain, but we are headed to a point of sophistry, as well as a potential reckoning. And while “newsjacking” is certainly a proven PR tactic, attempting to latch on to a trend that really isn’t relevant is in danger of becoming the new marketing crutch – and the time is now to inject some reason and common sense into the discussion.
So, with that in mind, I believe that this year we will see an AI, big data and digital transformation backlash on the part of analyst firms and the press. This will result in greater selectivity about the vendors and stories they cover and make it harder for PR professionals and marketers to break through the noise. I think that claims around these buzzword-y trends will be subject to much greater scrutiny and, potentially, debunking.
Frothy marketing based on a mashup of trends means that “legit” companies with demonstrated solutions will rightly continue to receive media attention, while those that are not really delivering will struggle with the development of relevant stories. The latter will potentially be exposed as pretenders while attempting to get on the AI, big data and digital transformation bandwagon. Though still trendy, each of these market categories is mature enough to have well-established use cases and customer results, providing the validation that press and analysts really seek. And if you don’t possess the proof points, you’ll be quickly discarded by overburdened reporters and researchers, who must navigate truth and fiction in an environment where there are almost five PR people for every reporter!
As marketers, my prescriptive advice is to not over-promise results to clients or executives and to stand up and be brave when it comes to calling for truthful and accurate messaging and product claims. If your company or client really is a fit, that will be evident. But when it comes to PR pitches, teams need to be sure that pitches pass the “red face” test that one of my colleagues learned early in his PR career, to wit: if you can’t make the pitch without blushing at its hype and implausibility, you know that you’re peddling something unsavory. Kids are learning to write algorithms in grade school these days, and no matter how rosy a view one takes, it isn’t AI, in the same way that an Excel spreadsheet isn’t really “big data analytics” and the new point-of-sale system at the coffeehouse down the street isn’t digital transformation.
As such, the tradeoff that comes with excessive hype simply isn’t worth it. Being a Texan at heart, I often think of the saying “big hat, no cattle” – and specious vendor claims about technology will lose their metaphorical hats and find themselves alone in the pasture with “no cattle.” Your influencers will see through the ruse(s) in a second, and if you’re telling tall tales, those same influencers have the potential to become your most prickly critics.
To sum up, as we tech PR pros evaluate where we’ve been and where we’re going, many trends and buzzwords come up – most notably artificial intelligence, big data and digital transformation. So, for 2018 I would caution my industry colleagues to avoid misguided attempts to align with “hot” technologies without a real solution and further advise them to dedicate substantial energy to the development of accurate and articulate messaging, as well as real proof points behind those claims. There’s a happy medium when it comes to PR spin and optics, and when it comes to communicating with influencer audiences today, the vendor and PR community will need to walk that fine line between trend amplification and hype.
This article first appeared in MarTech Series.