Futurist Tells NCDM Attendees to Think Beyond Technology

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ORLANDO, FL -- If you want to be a successful marketer in today's high-speed, techno-savvy world, don't give your customers what they want, according to the keynote speaker at Monday's NCDM session here. Instead, give your customers what they didn't even know they could have until you gave it to them, said Daniel Burrus, a futurist and founder and president of Burrus Associates Inc.


In a presentation interspersed with business advice, predictions about technology and homespun kernels of wisdom passed down from his grandparents, Burres instructed the crowd of database marketers and technology purveyors to become "visible futurists."


"I predicted two years before Amazon.com that there was going to be a virtual bookstore," he said. "Was it because I was so gol-darned smart? No. You can do it. All you need to do is to look ahead."


Burrus' message -- which seemed to keep the interest of his audience and drew a sizeable crowd to a book-signing immediately afterward -- was that technology can only take a marketer so far. What matters is what the marketers themselves apply their own forward-looking thinking to the technology so that they exceed their customers current expectations.


"Every single billionaire that's out there today solved a probem before there was a problem," he said.


Burrus also said that new technologies should not be thought of as supplanting tried-and-true systems.


"Don't think in terms of either/or," he said. "Instead think both/and."


For example, videoconferenceing will never replace voice-only telephone communications, he said. Instead, there will be specific instances when each will be appropriate.


"In the year 2020, will it be an all-video-phone-conference world? No it will be both/and," he said. "There will be some times when I don't want to be seen."


Burrus also made some predictions about some new technologies that will take off in the near future. One that was of particular interest to Web marketers is what he called "ultra-intelligent agents." These customized Internet search tools will learn what consumers are looking for and will develop intelligent ways to find things for consumers on the Web without customers even asking for things. These agents will continually add data based on user activity so that they will become smarter and smarter as consumers continually use them to find information, goods and services on the Internet.


He said the Walt Disney Co., for which he has done some consulting work, was developing such agents, using its proprietary cartoon characters as a kid-friendly interface.


"Pretty soon ultra-intelligent agents will be doing all our shopping, and we won't care about dot-com, because we won't have to know what the site is called. The agent will find it for us," he said. "This is going to happen soon. I guarantee it."


Other predictions he expressed confidence in included more use of interactive documents, like e-mail messages that contain multiple levels of data so that recipients can see different content depending on how they interact with the document. He also said he thought Microsoft would lead lower-income consumers onto the Internet by giving away Web-TV technology, completing the saturation of the country's population.


Although his talk often veered from marketing related issues, he garnered some approving remarks from attendees.


"Sometimes he said things that were obvious when he said them, but you didn't realize they were obvious until he said them," said Elizabeth Kemper, a marketing analyst at catalog company Coldwater Creek, Sandpoint, ID, who also gave him high marks on his presentation skills. She also applauded his closing remarks cautioning attendees to keep their priorities straight and focus on the things that matter more than technology and database development, like their families and their personal relationships.


Some attendees expressed doubt about some of Burrus's predictions, however, with one attendee saying Microsoft will never be able to give away Web-TV because of a lack of interest.
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