Almost without fail, new technologies grab the mantle of conversation before they achieve any viability. Future-minded companies and tech media want to get ahead of the technology curve, but this desire helps perpetuate the gap between technology hype and mass market adoption at scale.
This is a great example of how powerful marketing can be. It also indicates how tricky timing is: Just because technology is well-marketed doesn’t mean it’s right for your business.
And I say this as a marketer.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s important to strategize for the future. But consider how frequently new technologies burst onto the scene, hit peak hype and then don’t reach adoption at scale for years, or sometimes decades.
Why does this happen? Sometimes it’s a lack of knowledge about what these technologies do, how they can be implemented and the value they can provide for businesses. The gap between understanding and implementing technology can be profound, particularly when the technology is relatively new or niche.
The ‘Hype Gap,’ And Who’s Behind It
This is something I call the “hype gap.” When the craze around a particular technology or concept precedes its actual usage, it’s an indication of how good marketing can get ahead of important technological and product advancements.
How does this manifest? Our recent research at Cloud Foundry Foundation shows that buzzwords we hear all the time in tech publications and at tech conferences — big data, internet of things (IoT), etc. — are still abstract concepts, even to IT professionals.
We surveyed more than 500 IT professionals and executives around the world earlier this year for the report “Adaptation, Not Adoption, is the Key to Digital Transformation.” When asked to measure their levels of understanding of 12 key technologies and trends, “big data” was the only term for which the majority of respondents said they could confidently explain the value and purpose. All other terms — IoT, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), software development and information technology operations (DevOps), cloud-native architecture, containers, augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR), continuous integration, continuous delivery (CI/CD), microservices, blockchain, serverless and Kubernetes — came in with less than 50% of respondents claiming complete understanding.
It’s startling when you compare general knowledge of these technologies with the share of respondents who plan to use or evaluate them within the next year. Take containers, for example. They reached peak hype almost three years, ago but companies only started adopting containers at scale in the last six months. Our research uncovered an 18-point hype gap between knowledge (44%) and use or evaluation (62%) with regard to containers.
Similarly, a 2018 survey found that only 21% of those who leverage AI embed it into more than one business function or unit. The study notes a lack of both clear strategies for implementation and skilled people who know how to implement AI as two key challenges.
Companies are paying money to use these technologies, but they are at risk of making costly mistakes and almost certainly aren’t getting the full benefit from them because they lack a full understanding of how to use them. This indicates how successful marketers have been in promoting these concepts, with companies making buying decisions before they have a full picture.
Hype Versus Reality
Hype has a habit of outrunning reality. Despite broad adoption and a desire to adopt new technologies, there is significantly less practical understanding of how or why to adopt.
There’s nothing wrong with being in this category — in fact, our research concludes that most technology decision-makers are squarely there. In such a fragmented market with so many technologies designed to solve specific problems, it can be challenging to keep up. If you don’t try to stay on top of new technologies, your long-term prospects for success will dwindle. In other words, I believe the hype gap is a trend we’re going to continue to see as the market spreads more broadly.
While the tech hype gap is pervasive, it would be a mistake to lump all these technologies together and assume that the reason for those gaps is the same. Multiple factors and market forces aligned to bring containers to scale. AI and ML benefit from decades of development and a widespread fascination of a powerful concept, but those technologies have only recently begun to catch up with the hype.
Why We Need The Hype
At the end of the day, the tech hype gap isn’t a bad thing. In fact, it helps to ensure that new technologies vital to growing businesses see the light of day. The work that technology marketers do is absolutely necessary to drive industry attention to these burgeoning technologies, even if they’re in beta or don’t have fully developed use cases yet.
Once marketers attract consumers, it’s the marketers’ job to educate these new clients on how to get the most out of the new technology by providing context and accessibility. Marketers must provide customers with language on how and when to use the technology, with plain vernacular to guide them through the process.
So much of technology today is about innovating for the future. This means that we have the power to decide what we want the future to look like. So, use your marketing magic wisely, my friends. After all, eventually adoption will catch up with the hype.