Be it the Internet of Things, the smart home, virtual reality or something else, change is coming.
The next big stage is this week’s SXSW Interactive, where check-in pioneer Foursquare (which has since morphed) and Oculus Rift, a virtual reality gaming headset, were introduced.
It’s also where Meerkat won the day in 2015 only to be forced to change its business model less than a year later when it was overtaken by Twitter/Periscope and Facebook Live.
Apple co-founder Steve Jobs said that innovation separates leaders from followers. Serial entrepreneur Jason Calacanis says, “You have to have a big vision and take very small steps to get there.”
The pace is in dispute, but the need to advance technologies and find new ways to engage with the near always-on user is universal.
But how? And what shape does that take?
“If you (as a marketer) have a real specific need for doing it and you think it's going to solve a problem, being an early adopter (of technology) is great,” longtime marketer Jonathan Stephen told me in an interview for my The Art of Mobile Persuasion book (www.artofmobilepersuasion.com). “You are quick to fail and quick to being successful. There are others out there who think this can be an enhancement to an experience and maybe those are the ones who don't necessarily jump on the early bandwagon but they continue to see as the technology improves itself, that they will adapt over time and a lot of the kinks will have been worked out. Best practice would have been created and they would have followed those guidelines.
“It really depends on the position that you're in. If you've got the capital to do that kind of investment, by all means I always think that being an early adopter is fantastic but you have to be prepared to fail. You're not going to get it right the first time (all the time). No one ever has.”
Sometimes being second, third or later has its advantages.
WhatsApp, built by former Yahoo employees as a text-messaging alternative, is a cross-platform mobile messaging app that allows users to exchange messages without having to pay for SMS. In 2014, Facebook purchased the company and access to more than 600 million active users for $19 billion.
“I always use the phrase, ‘I may not be early to the party but I always like to make an entrance,’” Stephen said. “Sometimes there are technologies out there and I wasn't the first to get to it but I definitely want to make sure that I get noticed when I launched that technology. It takes a lot of thought. It takes a lot of strategy in terms of what is behind it. It takes a lot of humility to take a step back and realize where you will be successful and where you want there to go.
“There will be a lot of successes and a lot of failures. You learn that over time. But more than anything it goes all the way back to that business strategy.”
Others who I talked to for the book view things in similar ways.
Curtis Kopf has seen – and been part of innovation – in large enterprises including Microsoft, Amazon and Alaska Airlines.
At Amazon, he was part of a hand-picked 14-person team in the U.S., Europe and Asia that scaled and extended “Search Inside the Book,” a discovery tool that searches and displays the full contents of hundreds of thousands of books from domestic and international publishers.
“Every company wrestles with this,” Kopf told me when speaking of innovation. “We all come from different places whether you are an airline, a bank, or Amazon.com. I've experienced the spectrum of companies based on their business model and who they are have different comfort levels and appetites.
“Amazon.com is going to be a company that makes really big bets -- things that may not materialize for five years or seven years, even ten years. Other companies won't view the world that way.”
Everyone, Kopf said, has a place.
“There's definitely a continuum of innovation and then there are obviously companies out there that are category creators,” he said. “Clearly a lot of the companies that we think of innovators weren't first. Obviously Google wasn't the first search engine (in fact, 20 were launched earlier, according to Wikipedia). They just did it in a new and better way. Apple definitely wasn't the first to do a smartphone. They just did it in a new and better way.
“Innovation is talked about so much that it is almost become meaningless. Every company on the planet says that they are innovative. It's part of their mission statement. Obviously as consumers we all interact with these brands and the truth is that they are not all innovative.”
“Being first is great. There are times that being first could be really important. If you can get it an advantage that you can sustain, there's some buzz and credit that you get from customers by introducing something first. But I don't think innovation in and of itself means being first. It could be taking something that someone else started and doing it in a new way.”
What should we expect to see in Austin this week and what should be our SXSW takeaways?
“South By (Southwest) has an interesting mix of what are perceived to be cutting edge talks or technologies that are really pretty basic,” Sean Bartlett, a former senior Lowe’s executive who is now Worldwide Industry Lead for Retail at Apple, told me.
“There is also the technology itself which is interesting. And then, what I think is most important, with respect to what I've taken away from South By in the few times that I've been there, is more cultural and how you think about things.
“One of the things that I took from a panel a couple of years ago that has actually become a guiding principle of the team is this notion of commitment to craftsmanship. I saw a panel of well-known startup CEOs talking about their products. One of the things that really hit home was how they talked about craftsmanship and quality of the product and the overall experience. It’s a true cultural takeaway that you can bring back and put in effect immediately. You come back from the show and on a Monday you can really start to drive that message home. That's one that always sticks out when I think about that particular show.”