There are two strong forces converging on brands at the moment and it’s hard to decipher which is really driving innovation.
I’m talking about society and technology. The first drives the expectation for customer experience, the second enables that experience to come to life for the consumer. Or is it the other way round? Equally, does it actually matter and is it just the fact that the two converge that creates the sweet spot for innovation? It’s all a bit chicken and egg.To try to find an answer, I’ve picked three themes that are currently shaping our lives and driving consumer choice, alongside some of the tech trends that are providing the answers.
When Roald Dahl created the character Veruca Salt, I don’t suppose that he realised he was imagining a future generation with the catchphrase, “I want it and I want it now!”. However, for most Millennials and Gen Z, who are now hot on their heels with their own purchasing power, immediacy is everything. Instant gratification is either a game changer or a massive deal breaker.
The fintech sector and “neo banks” are the current masters of delivering on these high speed demands, enabling an almost instant onboarding experience. The number of steps to start using a new app, set up an account and get you switched is both minimal and pretty seamless. The combination of a personalised approach with careful wording and appropriate guidance, supported by 24 hour chat, make these disruptors clear winners in the customer experience battle. They are setting a new baseline model for others to follow in 2019.
Voice assistants are also playing their part. Whether in home or on the move, voice search is providing an instant answer whether consumers want to know, go, do or buy. According to Comscore, 50% of searches will be voice by 2020 and already, a third of Google searches are via voice. However, 2019 will be an important year in establishing the role for voice in commerce. Whilst it delivers on informing consumers at the research stage, it can be difficult for them to visualise the end product and most brands have yet to successfully find their own distinctive "voice". Ironically, it's voice itself that has been most successful in establishing a persona with "Alexa", "Ok, Google" or "Siri", quite literally becoming household names.
Clever brand owners will be working hard in the background already to establish a voice presence and identity to help close the loop in the customer journey. Meanwhile, they need to collaborate with the tech giants to work out how best to manage things like product recommendation using voice, without it feeling intrusive and creepy in the personal environment of the home.
Of course delivering on this desire for immediacy requires one thing above all others, speed. Technology will deliver here on two counts in 2019. Firstly, because AI is helping brands and organisations to interpret data and act on it in a matter of seconds. Leading organisations in the experience race are integrating their content, data and CRM platforms so that they talk to each other, and baking in intelligent systems to allow them to interpet online actions and respond to them in real time. It means that online browsing is far more easily curated, increasing relevance and catalysing the journey to purchase.
Secondly, later in 2019, it will all be delivered far more quickly - particularly to a browsing world that is increasingly mobile - thanks to the magical promises of 5G. Watch this space!
Privacy & trust
If 2018 was the year of privacy invasion scandals, 2019 will be the year for rebuilding trust. According to Global Web Index, social media platforms inspire the most suspicion while commerce and music or video sharing services are building the greatest trust. Trust is core to the relationships created between brands and consumers; an essential ingredient in the experience mix and at the heart of brand loyalty.
In a post-GDPR world, savvy consumers are far less likely to give up their data and brands will have to up the ante on the value exchange if they are to deliver truly relevant content. Will we see a rebirth of the loyalty schemes that drove the first data gold rush? Certainly by rewarding customers with relevant and inspiring content, offers and rewards, brands may see customers gradually consenting to handing over more data as the relationship deepens - but only on their own terms.
One technology that is certain to play a major part in the rebuilding of trust in society (and in future loyalty schemes) is Blockchain. 2018 saw its reputation tarnished with the hype (and fall) of cryptocurrencies but could 2019 be the year that it proves itself as a marketing tool? As an irrefutable source of truth, Blockchain has the potential to disrupt marketing and advertising more than any other technology. As a decentralised database, it potentially holds the key to solving many of the identity and privacy issues that preceding technology has created.
Another seismic shift from the recent youthquake (Oxford Dictionaries’ Word of the Year in 2017!) is the drive to be more environmentally and ethically kind and, in turn, for brands to have a purpose. In another Global Web Index survey in the US and UK, more than 50% of digital consumers stated that environmental awareness impacted their purchase decisions. Brands are quickly waking up to this and changing the way that they manufacture, export and promote goods. Entire product ranges are springing up based on ethical and natural resourcing and consumers are lapping it up.
While it’s easy to blame technology for some of the environmental problems that the world is facing today, it’s more useful to look forward and explore the potential for technology to solve them. The list of potential use cases is too long to commit to here, perhaps the most obvious is electric (and then eventually autonomous) cars. Audi, Aston-Martin, Mercedes Benz, Jaguar and Porsche all have electric vehicles set to debut in 2019. Tesla’s Model 3, at a much more affordable price tag, will be available early in the year. 2019 will see the beginning of the end for the engine as we know it.
Then there’s in-car technology. Let’s not forget the benefits that in-car voice assistance will bring for those with mobility issues and for safety in general. And Nissan are developing a brain/computer interface that will predict a driver’s next move and execute it for them.
Technology is making huge inroads into the health, wellness and fitness space too. At a fundamental level, we’ll see AI taking on more and more of the boring and dangerous industrial tasks, triaging patients via apps such as Ada Health and bringing basic healthcare to regions where it has been scarce. Not to mention the proliferation of apps that bring fitness into our sitting rooms and motivate us with the ability to compete with friends, wherever they are.
Sustainability is firmly on the map and will continue to be a major factor in consumer purchase decisions in 2019. Brands would be wise to listen to this clarion call but action, not words, is critical. An initiative that is seen as a marketing ploy could damage a brand more than taking no action at all. Authenticity and genuine purpose are key.
So, back to the chicken and egg question. I still don’t know the answer! But whether societal demand is driving technological advance or vice versa, 2019 is set to be a year in which caring, cautiously sharing and the need for speed set the agenda for brands and marketers. Happy New Year!
Photos by Bernard Hermant, Harry Sandhu and Jon Flobrant on Unsplash.
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