Much as I would like it, I don’t think a drone is going to deliver my Dominos fix anytime soon, no matter the ridiculous TV coverage of the subject.

It’s an occupational hazard for tech marketers that new innovations can be long on hype and short on sales receipts. How can you tell the difference? And how can you move from one to the other?

Gartner’s hype cycle is a useful framework for assessing flying pizza drones and other emerging tech. The world’s leading information technology research and advisory company, US-based Gartner has 7,600 staff, including more than 1,600 research analysts and consultants, and clients in 90 countries. Basically they know what they are on about – and they recently published their emerging technology hype cycle for 2016.


The Hype Cycle drills down into the five key phases of a technology's life cycle

  1. Technology Trigger: A potential technology breakthrough kicks things off. Early proof-of-concept stories and media interest trigger significant publicity. Often no usable products exist and commercial viability is unproven.
  2. Peak of Inflated Expectations: Early publicity produces a number of success stories — often accompanied by scores of failures. Some companies take action; many do not. Firmly where the Domino Pizza drone is at the moment.
  3. Trough of Disillusionment: Interest wanes as experiments and implementations fail to deliver. Producers of the technology shake out or fail. Investments continue only if the surviving providers improve their products to the satisfaction of early adopters.
  4. Slope of Enlightenment: More instances of how the technology can benefit the enterprise start to crystallise and become more widely understood. Second- and third-generation products appear from technology providers. More enterprises fund pilots; conservative companies remain cautious.
  5. Plateau of Productivity: Mainstream adoption starts to take off. Criteria for assessing provider viability are more clearly defined. The technology's broad market applicability and relevance are clearly paying off.

The technology at the highest peak of inflated expectations in 2016 i.e. everyone talking about it, but have no idea what to do with it; is machine learning (giving computers the ability to learn without being explicitly programmed). It’s certianly the topic de jour at the trendiest tech events, although it’s practical application has come under attack. A recent example, using smartphone generated heart rate monitoring, was deemed “voodoo machine learning.”

Last year the top spot was taken by Autonomous Vehicles, which is starting to move from the hype towards the trough of disillusionment. All the hype will soon die off, and people will get busy working out how to actually apply the technology.

Virtual Reality has finally climbed out of the trough and people are starting to identify real applications (their slope of enlightenment). For example, some optometrists are regularly using VR to show patients how different lens would work in different, virtual scenarios. It’s about moving from gimmicks to something practical.

Moving through the cycle

The Pizza drone is firmly in the early stages. There is breathless excitement, particularly from TV reporters. People are interested and talk about all the possibilities. We can barely wait for it to happen.

The frustration (and therefore disillusionment) comes from the technology not turning into a real, marketable product. There are too many practical barriers, it’s too expensive etc.

At this point they are usually solutions looking for problems. The pizza drone is a pretty cool idea – wouldn’t it be fun for a drone to land a pizza while you are out drinking beers with your mates in the backyard? But there is no real problem with the current form of pizza delivery – last time I ordered it got there quick, didn’t cost much and was all pretty easy. Apart from looking cool, how would the drone improve my life? And that’s ignoring all the impracticalities of restricted airspace, not being able to fly over private property etc.

It’s the emergence of a real application that pulls technology out of the trough of disillusionment. It’s the discovery of a clear focus on a market problem that makes it a success.

I think many companies don’t see the ‘pain’ or frustrations that most technologies go through as they transform from a new idea to a product with a market.

How BADD is your technology?

“Lack of focus, or what I call Business Attention Deficit Disorder, is the Achilles heel of most businesses - large and small - that end up not making it. And the technology world is littered with tens of thousands of neat “tools”, “applications”, and “solutions” that no one ever sat down and figured out 1) a specific, concrete need for “it” and 2) how to market and sell the thing at a profit.”

US marketing writer Tom Ranseen.

Figuring out a market focus helps transform a technology gee-whiz into something people are willing to pay for. Undoubtedly drones will transform from technology gimmick to real commercial product in the future, but the application might be quite different from what we envisage right now.

To be successful as a technology marketer you can and you must have the courage to focus. Focusing on a market is one of the hardest marketing decisions you’ll make. But all companies have limited resources and these resources need to be 100% focused on a specific market to achieve the maximum gain. Everything can then become aimed at a particular group of customers – the sales process, the advertising activity, the support process, the product, the promotion etc. You save time, effort and money. Focus will make things happen.

Tomorrow’s successful drone manufacturers are the ones that are really digging into compelling market needs now and focussing on developing a solution to them.

Clever technology, no matter how raw, always makes a good story for the mainstream media. But that doesn’t put food, even cheap pizza, on the table. Market focus is what can turn the hype into commercial reality.

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