Emerging technologies are poised to personalize the consumer experience radically—in real time and almost everywhere. It’s not too early to prepare.
Digital marketing is about to enter more challenging territory. Building on the vast increase in consumer power brought on by the digital age, marketing is headed toward being on demand—not just always “on,” but also always relevant, responsive to the consumer’s desire for marketing that cuts through the noise with pinpoint delivery.
What’s fueling on-demand marketing is the continued, symbiotic evolution of technology and consumer expectations. Already, search technologies have made product information ubiquitous; social media encourages consumers to share, compare, and rate experiences; and mobile devices add a “wherever” dimension to the digital environment. Executives encounter this empowerment daily when, for example, cable customers push for video programming on any device at any time or travelers expect a few taps on a smartphone app to deliver a full complement of airline services.
Remarkably, all this is starting to seem common and routine. Most leading marketers know how to think through customer-search needs, and optimizing search positioning has become one of the biggest media outlays. Companies have ramped up their publishing and monitoring activities on social channels, hoping to create positive media experiences customers will share. They are even “engineering” advocacy by creating easy, automatic ways for consumers to post favorable reviews or to describe their engagement with brands.
But we’re just getting started. The developments pushing marketing experiences even further include the growth of mobile connectivity, better-designed online spaces created with the powerful new HTML5 Web language, the activation of the Internet of Things in many devices through inexpensive communications tags and microtransmitters,1 and advances in handling “big data.” Consumers may soon be able to search by image, voice, and gesture; automatically participate with others by taking pictures or making transactions; and discover new opportunities with devices that augment reality in their field of vision (think Google glasses).
As these digital capabilities multiply, consumer demands will rise in four areas:
1. Now: Consumers will want to interact anywhere at any time.
2. Can I: They will want to do truly new things as disparate kinds of information (from financial accounts to data on physical activity) are deployed more effectively in ways that create value for them.
3. For me: They will expect all data stored about them to be targeted precisely to their needs or used to personalize what they experience.
4. Simply: They will expect all interactions to be easy.
This article seeks to paint a picture of this new world and its implications for leaders across the enterprise. One thing is clear: the consumer’s experiences with brands and categories are set to become even more intense and defining. That matters profoundly because such experiences drive two-thirds of the decisions customers make, according to research by our colleagues; prices often drive the rest.2
It’s also apparent that each company as a whole must mobilize to deliver high-quality experiences across sales, service, product use, and marketing. Few companies can execute at this level today.3 As interactions multiply, companies will want to use techniques such as design thinking to shape consumer experiences. They also will need to be familiar with emerging tools for gathering the right data across the consumer decision journey. Finally, the marketing organization’s structure will need to be rethought as collaboration across functions and businesses becomes ever more essential.
What to expect in 2020
Over the next several years, we’re likely to see the consumer experience radically integrated across the physical and virtual environment. Most of the technologies needed to make this scenario happen are available now. One that’s gaining particular traction is near-field communication (NFC): embedded chips in phones exchange data on contact with objects that have NFC tags. The price of such tags is already as low as 15 cents, and new research could make them even cheaper, so more companies could build them into almost any device, generating a massive expansion of new interactive experiences. To understand that near future, review the infographic below and follow a hypothetical, tech-enabled consumer, Diane, who purchases an audio headset.
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