You may have noticed: there’s a World Cup on.
In among the pile-ons, the theatrics and the crunching sound of humble pie being eaten by the naysayers of a World Cup being held in Russia, the hottest topic has been the introduction of a new technology. VAR. (Video assisted referees). If you’ve managed to avoid the subject see this handy link for an explanation.
In many ways, the VAR story at this World Cup encapsulates the myths and misunderstandings around how new technologies come to take their place in our lives.
Myths and misunderstandings which we as marketers need to be more forceful at busting.
It’s time to blow the whistle on some those.
Consumer entitlement and friction
Consumer entitlement to faultless technology is at an all time high. Consumers can’t abide any flaw or inconvenient experience at all. We think ‘frictionless’ is the norm and that any friction is bad.
We are all also victims of the great tech perfection myth sold to us by advertising.
In one of his colourful recent rants on Twitter, BBC 5Live presenter Danny Baker (@prodnose) responded to Didier Drogba’s point about “VAR being not perfect yet…” with “Then don’t introduce it at the f**ng World Cup mate! You wouldn’t market a (sic) electrical product that “wasn’t perfect yet” so what the f*** is this?”
But that is exactly what you do with electrical products (and, well, all products and services really).
His point though is emblematic of the stratospherically high technology expectations that we now have thanks to the likes of Facebook, Netflix, Amazon and Google.
As marketers we need to do a better job of managing these expectations throughout the customer experience.
Is it time for more brands to actively communicate to customers that we are actually always building products and services in iteration and that perfection is just an illusion? That friction is a necessary part of the process?
FIFA could have learned from Monzo who are brilliant at this, even dedicating a separate Twitter feed to the dynamic and a customer feedback loop.
Monzo are open with how they get things wrong and that customers help them prioritize and correct themselves, supplying product roadmaps as they go.
The deceptively simple (and rejigged) tagline ‘the bank of the future’ positions them as never finished and therefore never perfected, but always improving. A smart and honest move.
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— Making Monzo (@MakingMonzo) 5 July 2018
Active transparency and the perfection illusion
Many of the louder critics of VAR confuse human errors in the implementation of the technology with the technology itself. All of the controversies involving VAR at this World Cup are arguably attributable to that confusion.
But it may surprise you that one of the key (and as yet uncommunicated) principles of VAR is *not* to strive for perfection in decision-making.
Dig deeper and you’ll find Gianni Infantino, FIFA president, saying this “The aim is not to achieve 100% accuracy for all decisions as this would destroy the essential flow and emotions of football”.
“Will there still be mistakes? Absolutely. Unavoidable ones. An important component of football refereeing is subjective, and for that we will always have to count on human judgement, which is fallible by nature – even more so when under enormous pressure.”
“However, we have an obligation to provide match officials with all of the tools they need to help them take decisions as accurately as possible.”
FIFA also reports that the accuracy rate of the referees went up from 93% to 99.3% when VAR was deployed, but this hasn’t been as forcefully communicated as it should have been.
Tech marketers can learn from this too.
Being on the front foot in transparently communicating that human mistakes are a positive part of the product improvement process in tech is practically unheard of.
But by being open in that way, and offsetting that admission with statistical evidence of the ongoing improvement resulting from those mistakes, can surely help breakdown resistance to new technology adoption and dispel myths about your brand at the same time.
Turn testing into a selling point
Another point of contention in the VAR debate is the presumption that the tech is only now being introduced.
Technology is still a relative novelty in football (unlike many other sports) and that is clouding the view.
Even if English fans like to believe theirs is the only league and national team in the world worth paying attention to, in fact, VAR has been widely tested in almost 1000 games across 16 separate national leagues and international fixtures.
Indeed you could argue that it was first trialled 12 years earlier when Zinedine Zidane headbutted Marco Materazzi in the 2006 World Cup final. This World Cup represents the start of the latter stages of its adoption, not the initial ones.
Perhaps unfortunately for Danny Baker, he also probably represents the “late majority” or “the laggards” of new technology adoption (or the diffusion process as outlined by the technology adoption lifecycle) who only really adapt when the tech is the new norm and the only real option…
But would a pre-World Cup campaign creatively communicating the scale of testing work to the late majority and laggards have helped here?
What if FIFA had been more transparent with its lessons to date? Did FIFA carry out split testing for example?
What if they had even communicated how they have previously integrated rule changes and technology into the various elements of the game over time?
This piece of work by Canadian Tire richly maps out the full depth of product testing that the brand submits to in order to co-create and validate products with their customers.
By using straight-forward, easy-to-follow content and real customer stories, Canada Tire communicates how useful testing is deeply ingrained into their process and turns it into a convincing selling point, implicitly building customer trust into any new product developments the brand chooses to make.
Those notions of transparency and an openness with testing and friction are not so VAR-fetched (Editor’s note: *loud groan*). And it would be great to see them more ingrained within football but also within tech marketing more broadly, especially by the time the next World Cup rolls around.