The digital world is all about transformational experiences. Like the Apple smart watch that wraps itself around your wrist and poses as a conventional watch but is actually a mini-computer. It can answer calls. It has an assistant at its beck and call. It can track your speed and heart rate when you are running, check stocks, flag and delete emails.
Welcome to a world where devices get smarter than humans and where technologies and platforms proliferate. The new world is a world of augmented reality, wearable technology, artificial intelligence, 3 D printing and niche social networks. The next five years are instrumental, as they bring on emerging technologies and platforms, integration of data and big changes in the business of marketing communications.
A recent marketing convention held in Mumbai had marketers and other stakeholders from the communications business in a huddle. As consumers cruise effortlessly across mobiles, tablets and laptops, how can brands connect with their customers through all these devices in real time and create campaigns that travel? The quandary is that while there is a lot of online chatter, how does one keep track of all this information and more importantly, assimilate it? How does one align powerful evocative ideas with data engineering and analytics and the behavioural sciences?
The changes over the next five years could be overwhelming, certainly a lot more profound than the changes in the last decade, say practitioners in the business. Tripti Lochan, CEO- Asia, of digital network VML Qais, owned by WPP Plc, says that a lot of brands despite recognising the changes in the communications landscape tend to be hung up on the traditional way of planning and executing campaigns. “It’s not going to be an easy awakening for most of them,” she says. “The chief marketing officer and the chief technology officer will have to work a lot closer together. In some cases, their roles will merge. Agencies will require re-wiring and will hire people from non-traditional backgrounds. Eventually, all data will move to the cloud.”
What are some of the tectonic shifts will happen over the next few years and how will they impact brands? Vishal Gondal, chief executive of GOQii, a wearable technology company in the health and fitness space, says that the internet is the most disruptive innovation of our time. “Robotics, self-driving cars, drones, sensors and wearables; these are just a handful of the technologies that could change our world over the next five years. The ubiquity of the internet and how it makes everything accessible is fundamentally transforming behaviour today and making everything a lot more personalised,” he says. “By 2020, it is expected that approximately 20 billion devices will be there globally, and in India, it is projected to have 1.5 billion,” he says.
Driven by affordability of components such as Bluetooth sensors, and the growing ubiquity of technologies such as Wi-Fi, it is now possible to connect devices in a way that would never have been possible, says Gondal. Some estimates suggest that by 2020 there will be 50 billion devices—all talking with one another on a constant basis. In the wearable technology market, wellness is expected to emerge as the next big segment.
Samsung is a company that is excited by the possibilities in both the wearable tech and the virtual reality space. It claims to have leadership position globally and India in the smart watch space with its Gear portfolio of watches. “The next generation of wearable devices will have usage extending from health to the entertainment space, leading up to new application development and eco-system growth,” says Asim Warsi, vice-president, mobile and information technology, Samsung India. “There are many opportunities and scenarios that can be leveraged through virtual reality, such as teachers engaging students through virtual reality devices. Within the business environment, companies can use virtual reality for road shows, real estate or an exclusive look inside facilities without ever having to leave the office,” he says.
Science fiction meets reality
The world by 2020 will be a sort of science fiction-meets-reality world. For instance, virtual reality technology, through a company such as Oculus, allows you to be inside a video game. A lot more brands could use the opportunity to interact closely with the consumer and give him a life-like experience. A 3D printer will allow the consumer to use his creative abilities and actually design and wear a prototype product. Eye-tracking technology could help you operate that gadget, without raising a finger. Google could unfold its “driverless” car.
A lot of showrooms can exist, like the “Audi City” showrooms that give you the experience of driving a car, without the car being physically present. Smart devices and modern connectivity will enable every action of consumers to be converted to data. “Over the next five years, we will see good, inexpensive pair of augmented reality glasses that are connected to a smart device of our choice. Gaming, entertainment, education, advertising, healthcare are just some of the areas, where a pair of AR glasses would come in handy,” says CVL Srinivas, CEO, GroupM South Asia. In the next five years, there will be means for sustainable green power resources, not just for large commercial enterprises, but also smaller consumer electronics and durables. “The day is not very far when we will see a solar powered mobile that charges its battery when the screen is exposed to light. If a watch can do it, our phones and televisions are not far behind,” he adds.
Abhijit Avasthi, creative ad man and former national creative director at Ogilvy & Mather says that if the last decade has been about mass products, the next few years will be about mass personalisation. Broadcasting will make way for narrow-casting, catering to specific audiences. “Brands will have a lot more options at hand, when it comes to solving a marketing problem,” he says.
KV Sridhar, chief creative officer at Sapient Nitro says that all of brand communication will be predictive. Consumers will no longer have to verbally communicate their requirements. “There will be a lot of behavioural data generated on the basis of consumer interaction with gadgets and platforms. This information can only help brands.” Sridhar says that they are also seeing some very interesting models, emerging on the back of wearable tech. “Some of these models are operational already. For instance, an insurance company that rewards customers with lesser premiums on the basis of health and fitness data stored on a device. If you are taking care of your body, you get to pay a lesser premium than the next guy who is indulging in an unhealthy lifestyle. Communication can be that specific,” he says. Sridhar adds that we will soon have wearable tech apparel that adjusts itself to atmospheric conditions.
Facebook is trying to integrate payments along with its messenger services. A Chinese Pinterest model allows users to pin what they like, discuss and also purchase—all on the same platform. Sam Balsara, chairman and managing director at Madison World says that we can expect more sales via digital payments. “Mobile (and other digital) payments are yet to make a significant impact in India. But this is sure to be an area of innovation in the near future given the large mobile base and growth potential in rural markets.”
He believes that in the future, virtual reality and augmented reality should provide a more enticing and immersive way to buy and wearable a more convenient way to pay. He is also intrigued with the Google Fiber advertising model where ads will be digitally delivered in real time, and matched on the basis of geography, the type of programme shown and viewing history. “Google is already testing this out for television,” he says.
Amazon has been testing out its drone delivery system. Other retailers are trying to incorporate systems, where while cruising past a product, you can flash your phone and read reviews of the product. Rajesh Jain, managing director and CEO at Lacoste India says that in the next few years, stores will be technology enabled and people will not have to walk the distance in-store, when it comes to browsing or trying out products. Technology will enable customers to explore products and sizes while being stationary at a store. A screen will show up and give a mirror image of how they would look in certain apparel. “Currently, we have a lot of data on what is selling, but not as much on what could have been sold—had it been marketed differently or in a different size. We capture data on what has been sold, but not a potential sale that’s been lost. There will be a lot of technical data generated, closer to the point of sale,” Jain says.
The epitaph of convention
GroupM’s Srinivas says that a humanised internet will soon be an “internet of services”. Value added services will be vital in every step of a product cycle. “Businesses that recognise this will fundamentally change how they operate and interact with customers, and will be better equipped to predict and meet customer demand,” he says.
Technology innovations are keeping the marketing medium in a state of perpetual beta and brands will constantly have to learn and unlearn how best to use them. “I am sure it will be a bit challenging for brands to keep pace with the adoption of technology. However, I won’t be surprised if the next wave of innovations is funded by brands themselves,” says Ajay Kakar, chief marketing officer—financial services, Aditya Birla Group. “If we can get into the milieu of dependencies of a consumer; imagine the difference we can make to our communications. The amount of data that will be at disposal will make it important to make customer models and customise what one has to say.”
Gondal agrees and adds that the ever increasing quantity of data generates business opportunities for sales and marketing professionals of small and mid-sized companies as never before. “It is no longer enough to simply grab attention; one has to now hold the consumer’s attention,” he says. “The good part is such internet led platforms provide the opportunity for companies to reach a wider audience and create compelling value propositions never before possible, while providing new tools for promotion, interaction and relationship building. It empowers customers with more options and more information to help them make informed decisions.”
** It will be a bit challe-nging for brands to keep pace with tech-nological changes. However, I won’t be surprised if the next wave of innovation is funded by brands themselves.” – Ajay Kakar, CMO – financial services, Aditya Birla Group
** The ubiquity of the internet and how it makes everything accessible is fundamentally transforming behaviour and making everything a lot more personalised.”- Vishal Gondal, CEO, GOQii
** Mobile and other digital payments are yet to make a signifi-cant impact in India. But it will be an area of innovation given the large mobile base and growth potential in rural markets.”- Sam Balsara, CMD, Madison World
** The cmo and the cto will have to work a lot more closely. In some cases, their roles will merge. Agencies will require re-wiring and will hire people from non-trad- ional backgrounds.”- Tripti Lochan, CEO – Asia, VML Qais