Ten years ago, social media was in its infancy. Nobody even heard of mobile marketing, content marketing or big data. The iPhone hadn’t even been launched yet. If you took a reasonably competent marketer from 2007 and transported her to today, much of what she knew about her job would be irrelevant.
We’re at a similar point now. Many of the most powerful technologies that will shape marketing over the next ten years are just emerging and many marketers will be left behind. Clearly, anybody who thinks that they can get by doing more of what they’re doing today is kidding themselves.
Unfortunately, there’s no way to perfectly predict the future, but we can look at today’s technology and make some basic judgments. Big data and artificial intelligence will become much more powerful and interact more completely with the physical world. That, in turn, will transform how we identify and serve customers to something very different from today.
The Rise Of Voice And Visual Interfaces
At the most recent Consumer Electronic Show, Amazon’s Alexa wowed the crowds like no other product. The device, which like Apple’s Siri is wholly voice activated, goes a step further by adding skills, which work like apps on a smartphone. Google’s competing product, Google Home, has a similar function it calls “actions.”
For example, the History Channel developed a skill that allows users to see what happened “on this day in history.” Starbucks has one that lets customers reorder their favorite beverage. Some TV manufacturers are even building new sets with Alexa integration included, so that their customers can flip channels without having to look for the remote.
Scott Brinker, Co-Founder of Ion Interactive and creator of the Chief Marketing Technologist blog, told me, “I think what’s going on with voice is incredibly interesting. In the next 12–24 months a lot of marketing innovation will be in things in like Amazon Alexa skills and Google Home actions. There’s already been something like 1000 brands already active in this area.”
We’ll soon see a similar trend with visual interfaces. It’ll start by using facial recognition instead of password log-ins and will move quickly to allow us to point and gesture to interact with augmented and virtual reality spaces. Computers, as we know them today, will disappear into the ether.
Analyzing Personality And Mood
We’ve all become accustomed to hearing the phrase, “Your call may be monitored for quality and training purposes” before we are connected to a customer service representative. But monitored by who? Nobody ever actually says that an actual person will be listening in.
Mattersight is a ten year-old company that uses artificial intelligence algorithms, combined with a methodology developed by NASA to evaluate the compatibility of astronauts sent into space together, to profile customers. As it gathers data, the system is better able to pair those customers with representatives that have a compatible personality that will serve them best.
These technologies are accelerating at a blinding pace. While Mattersight’s technology is highly advanced, more basic personality and mood analysis tools are now available on platforms like Amazon Web Services and Watson Developer Cloud and Microsoft Azure. IBM even expects that within five years we will be able to diagnose psychiatric disorders through voice interfaces.
David Gustafson, Chief Operating Officer at Mattersight, told me “What we’ve seen over the past ten years or so is that you advance the technology on two planes. The first is the accuracy of the algorithms themselves and that is a fairly natural process. The second, which is perhaps even more important, is finding the right application to apply those insights to.”
Creating Custom Experiences
When we go into a store, we take it for granted that a salesperson will approach us, ask a few questions and within seconds design a sales experience that caters to our needs. If it’s a store we frequent, we expect the salesperson to already know our preferences and further customize the experience for our needs on that particular day.
BloomReach is a platform that performs a similar function for e-commerce. If you are looking for a cocktail dress, it will immediately show you items based on your past behavior as well as recent shopping trends. The firm recently acquired content management company Hippo to expand the range of experiences it can deliver.
Increasingly, this type of personalization is moving into the physical world. Buy a ticket for the next sporting event and you may receive an RFID bracelet in the mail and be given a short questionnaire that asks you about things like your favorite team, your shirt size and other preferences.
When you arrive at the event, you will find that when you go to the bar, the area around your seat lights up with your team colors. Sponsor booths will give you a complimentary t-shirt in your size. If they see from your history that you already received a t-shirt from another sponsor, they might offer you a hat instead. Everywhere you go, you’ll feel like a VIP.
This may seem futuristic, but The Solomon Group creates these features for events like the NBA All-Star game on the Mendix platform, which is so simple even marketers with no coding ability can build on it. Also, because Mendix allows you to suck in resources from AWS, Azure and Watson, you can still access the most sophisticated technology on the planet.
The Future Of Technology Is Always More Human
When you watch old reruns on late night TV, you’ll immediately notice the difference in technology compared to modern shows in the form of production values. But soon it will become clear that there is also a stark contrast in emotional content. Because today’s programing caters to niche audiences, they are able to make a creative statement that connects more powerfully.
Gustafson of Mattersight has noticed a similar effect at call centers.“What we’ve seen is that people buy from people they like,” he says. “We track engagement during sales calls and what we’ve seen is that there is almost a perfect linear relationship between engagement and sales. When customers become more engaged with the experience, sales go through the roof.”
Samuel Moore, Head of Global Public Relations at BloomReach, told me, “Our platform is based on data and context. As the sources of data expand and improve to include personality and mood profiles, there is the potential for marketers to provide customers with the best possible experience, in real time and at scale.”
The truth is the future of technology is always more human. In the years to come, marketers will need to go beyond seeing consumers as bland combinations of demographics and psychographics and begin to know them on a more visceral, personal level. Brands that continue to try to work the averages will find it difficult to compete.
What should be clear by now is that we need to shift from crafting messages to creating experiences. This process will be machine mediated, but ultimately it will put people at the center. Algorithms can analyze and target, but only humans can truly inspire other humans.
An earlier version of this article first appeared in Inc.com