I love my wife. She’s a blast to have around. She’s especially fun to shop with. That’s when her bubbly, happy-go-lucky personality really comes through. Usually, we walk down an aisle – any aisle will do – and all of a sudden you can see her get excited about something she sees – a product, a sale price, whatever. Then, there’s something else. Then another thing, and another thing. I tease her that she’s like a squirrel – always getting distracted by the next “shiny object”. (I don’t think squirrels get distracted by shiny objects, actually. Rats do! She’ll kill me if I compare her to a rat, though!)

Sometimes, we as marketers are like my wife. The next new, cool thing comes along and we pounce all over it, right? Why do we do this? It’s simple – we have big problems to solve and little time or resources to do it. If there’s a technology that can do it for us, then we’re sucked in.

Cognitive is on it’s way to being that next shiny object. Recently, I spoke at the Sirius Decisions Summit 2016 conference where I outlined how my team created an exceptional customer experience for IBM’s Watson Analytics launch (view the presentation). At the end of the presentation, I remarked how I wish I had the cognitive technologies that exist today when we launched Watson Analytics just a couple of years ago. While we had some limited cognitive capabilities, this technology area is accelerating at an unthinkable pace.

Before we go any further, let’s just describe what “cognitive technology” actually means. I won’t go into much detail – you can Google all you want about cognitive computing. Cognitive systems, as we’re using the term here, are technologies that use natural language processing and machine learning to learn, reason and understand natural language. While some systems can understand natural language, cognitive systems are able to learn and reason, moving them away from the deterministic computing systems we’re used to when we fire up our iPads or laptops.

Cognitive computing promises much to the world. Following are just four reasons that every marketer – especially CMOs – need to start paying attention to cognitive.

Cognitive enables disruption

If you’re tired of reading about disruption – bummer – get used to it. There are a number of disruptive technologies either here or coming soon (drones, IoT platforms, blockchain) and cognitive is right up there with them. In some ways, I feel like I did back in 1994 just as the world wide web was exploding. This time, though, integration of customer value chains means that disruptive technologies will have a broader impact and perpetuate much more quickly than prior disruptive forces.

What’s so disruptive about cognitive technology? To answer that question, let’s go to the source. Clayton Christensen – famous Harvard professor and author – is credited with the original theory of disruptive innovation. Forbes paraphrased Christensen’s work, saying that “disruption displaces an existing market, industry, or technology and produces something new and more efficient and worthwhile. It is at once destructive and creative.”

Disruptive innovation destroys inefficiencies in order to create new, more efficient opportunities. Applying this to cognitive – where you transfer the embodiment of human touch points to a system – you can see numerous opportunities to both destroy and create – whether that’s happening at the person, process or product level. We’re going to see new business models created through cognitive systems, new processes that make transactions more efficient and products that alter how we think and interact with technology.

Cognitive + Cloud = Oh My Word!

Remember when computers used to have CD drives? Then there were DVD drives and thumb drives. Pretty cool, right? Well, one primary purpose of those drives was to install software. Enterprises figured out fast that installing software across their network was a much more manageable process then sending techs to each individual workstation. This caught on fast. In a sense, network software installation was a disrupting technology – replacing the need for inefficient CD installs.

The Cloud is a natural extension of that capability. Cloud technologies enable instant, on-demand access to powerful capabilities that needn’t be installed, maintained or managed by IT departments.

Cloud ensures that new technologies can be rapidly, almost immediately deployed and tested in an environment with little risk. The “transaction” cost of cloud computing – the cost to purchase, deploy and maintain software – is extremely low relative to on-prem options. For cognitive, this means that companies can experiment and innovate with cognitive technologies with little risk. Cloud deployment of cognitive technologies will speed adoption faster than other disruptive technologies introduced before the Cloud era. Big companies like IBM and small companies like CognitiveScale all recognize the importance of deploying Cognitive via the Cloud. Cloud computing will empower cognitive computing.

Cognitive shines in the dark

We often refer to data as structured vs unstructured. That’s an accurate view of how data can be categorized. It’s a worthy framework. But, analysts are talking about a new way to look at data – light data vs dark data. This is a more meaningful view of data because you can immediately assess your company’s data gaps. Light data refers to that data you know about, have access to, and can use for insights. It can include any form of data, whether structured or unstructured. Dark data refers to data that, well, you don’t know about. Or, maybe you know it’s there, you just can’t access it or do anything with it. It is a latent asset – something with tremendous value if you can tap into it.

Cognitive will give businesses at all levels unprecedented understanding of their data. Cognitive will be able to uncover new sources of data, then provide insights with context. Contextual insight is perhaps the most valuable benefit cognitive can offer – providing insights that matter to the problem domain specifically.

Cognitive will create new experiences

As a marketer, I can’t wait to see how cognitive computing will enable 1:1 marketing experiences at scale. That’s an important concept. Some companies are able to create amazing 1:1 experiences, but the costs of doing so are prohibitive to most businesses. Imagine a small business being able to define 1:1 experiences using their cognitive system as a proxy for human touchpoints. As long as the system can effectively serve the client, do we care whether the system or a person is serving our needs?

Take the case of Softbank – one of the largest suppliers of robots in Japan. They are using cognitive technologies to provide amazing interaction experiences with their robots – robots who understand how to interact with humans. Imagine the application in retail, banking, customer service or other areas.

More subtly, IBM has made their Watson APIs available for developers via BlueMix. Developers are building applications that, for instance, look at people’s social media accounts to determine insights about their personality. HR professionals can use this to find cultural fits for their organizations. RedBull ran a program with Watson Personality Insights to help athletes find their right voice with target audiences. Watson evaluated the athlete’s personality with that of their target and made specific recommendations for how they should change their public “voice”. Check out the Watson Personality Insights API yourself to see how you match up to other celebrities.

The possibilities for cognitive are not only endless, they are just beginning. It’s an exciting time to be a marketer – if you can innovate faster than everyone else and not get too distracted by all those cool shiny objects.