Those of us who write a lot of B2B tech copy feel like we have “digital transformation” tattooed inside our eyelids.
Just how pervasive is it? Well, I wrote a blog about digital transformation for a middleware provider in New Zealand. Yes, it’s happening from here to Kathmandu.
Typically, I’d be adding these two words to the Banned for Life list — along with their tiresome fellow traveler, “disruption” — but there’s not much else to call what’s available to businesses these days.
Digital technologies like machine learning, big data, advanced analytics, APIs, SaaS and the cloud are reshuffling marketplaces and creating enormous opportunities to do business in a whole new way. And digital is touching every company in every department.
It pains me to say this, but that’s digital transformation. And everybody in the content marketing trade needs to understand what it represents.
Because transformation is not just happening to your clients or your employer: It’s happening to you. Like, right now. If you don’t make it work for you, it almost certainly will work against you.
I’m far from an expert on digital transformation, but here’s what I’ve picked up from B2B tech content marketing assignments over the past couple years. Five fundamental forces are at work:
- Mobile tech, the cloud and SaaS
- Data science and analytics
- AI and machine learning
- APIs and competitiveness
- Immersive commerce
Let’s dive a little deeper into these trends:
Mobile tech is driving digital transformation
A few years ago, I started writing a lot about Bring Your Own Device, or BYOD. Everybody wants to do their computing, communicating and collaborating on a device of their choosing (because if somebody else chooses your device, it will suck. It’s like technology canon law or something).
BYOD is about as much fun as hemorrhagic fever for IT departments and security experts, who prefer standard technologies. But that’s just how we fly these days — especially when we carry a little computer in our pocket with a built-in telephone and an app for everything.
Meanwhile, data centers are migrating to cloud-based architectures and cloud-hosted software-as-a-service (SaaS) startups are popping up like mushrooms after a summer rain.
And when you start getting B2B content marketing assignments for cloud-hosted services or SaaS, you quickly memorize this pitch:
Available anywhere, anytime, on any device.
Smartphones, tablets and cloud apps help us all get our work done faster and more efficiently. Around the world, people in meetings use their phones to pull documents and facts into their discussion. Instead of “Let me check and get back to you tomorrow,” it’s “here’s the data, let’s move ahead now.”
Cloud and SaaS technologies also allow companies to stop investing millions in data centers and racks of servers. The pricing goes from capital expense to operating expense, which can be advantageous, depending on the individual business’s needs.
Companies have a choice about embracing cloud and SaaS technologies. They might have perfectly sane reasons for keeping their servers and apps in-house.
But they have no choice about embracing mobile tech — it’s become too pervasive. More than half of all internet traffic comes from mobile devices now; in years to come it’ll be even more.
B2B tech marketing angle: Always look for the mobile potential in your content. Mobile is where people are — if you leave that out, you leave them out.
Data science and analytics inform every key decision in B2B companies
You’re already running Google Analytics on blog posts and counting engagements on social media posts. You can A/B test email headlines and segment messages with pinpoint precision.
Every day you’re counting clicks, checking time on-site and scrutinizing your bounce rate. Now, multiply that by millions of people in thousands of companies worldwide.
Data science helps companies find subtle inefficiencies that can add a percentage point or two to their profit margins. On production lines, data tells engineers when old parts are about to break, so worn-down components can be removed in a safe, orderly fashion rather than repaired in the midst of an emergency shutdown.
Data science works hand in glove with Internet of Things (IoT) sensors finding their way into factories, distribution centers, store aisles, hospitals and anywhere else where precise measurement can improve safety and efficiency.
Note that data science is not the same as Big Data. The latter describes combining multiple public and private databases with powerful analytics software to study trends and predict likely outcomes. We need data scientists to cull the most wisdom from Big Data.
B2B tech marketing angle: Look for examples that illustrate how businesses become more efficient and profitable when they combine data science, Big Data and pervasive sensors.
AI and machine learning are coming to B2B tech content marketing
When IBM is hailing its Jeopardy-champion Watson technology as a marketing breakthrough, you know change is picking up speed.
AI, robots, automation and machine learning have gotten a lot of bad press of late, with people writing books and articles fretting that technology will replace jobs across vast swaths of the economy.
That’s still a few years in the future, however. The consensus, for now, is that even though machine learning and neural networks are getting more advanced every day, they still have an incredibly long way to go to figure out people’s uncanny ability to put their knowledge and experience in context with their language and relationships.
Don’t forget the prime attraction of automation is handing off repetitive, inefficient tasks to fast, efficient machines. Every minute or hour we devote to repetitive tasks has an opportunity cost that’s preventing us from making the most of our built-in cognitive and social advantages.
The more mundane tasks we give to machines, the more time we have to do something better with our lives.
B2B tech marketing angle: AI will make it easier to discover consumer intent and to match buyers with sellers with ever-greater precision. The profusion of mar-tech tools will only get smarter about helping people make better decisions, reduce risks and predict likely outcomes.
APIs are the connective tissue of digital businesses
Application programming interfaces (APIs) allow companies to stitch together a web of applications for chatting, scheduling, finance, storage, networking and many more everyday tasks.
Many SaaS apps are built for specific industries or highly specialized uses that can provide better outcomes at lower costs compared with large enterprise computing platforms.
APIs create the potential to erode the advantages of large tech providers and to allow smaller companies to outmaneuver their behemoth competitors.
B2B tech marketing angle: If you’re creating content for startups or small to medium business technology providers, makes sure you ask about their API capabilities. At the enterprise level, by contrast, you’ll focus on the advantages of keeping all your tech under one roof.
Commerce is becoming immersive
We get tons of headlines about the threats to brick-and-mortar retailers. We hear a lot less about the retailers that are using advanced technologies and user interfaces to draw people into stores, encourage them to use their phones and merge their online and in-store experiences.
B2B tech companies are making this happen, helping retailers connect their in-store sales and inventory systems to their backend and logistics systems, so everything about the business gets updated in real time.
They’re also putting user-experience experts to work crafting apps and websites that seamlessly connect buyers to the products they want. The ideal is that shopping online feels pretty much the same as shopping in the store.
B2B tech marketing angle: Create content showing how B2B tech providers help brick-and-mortar stores create unique experiences that online-only providers cannot match.
Get ready for a roller coaster ride
The hype for digital transformation is that in the future, every business will be digital in every possible way.
The reality is that all this depends on the people who buy, sell and use technology. Some will thrive, others will hang in there and others will be forgotten.
But one thing seems inevitable: The advantages will pile up for the masters of these technologies. And they’ll be the ones best positioned to hire folks like us to humanize the story of their tech wizardry.