The future of digital marketing will be characterised by data-driven corporate AIs, personalised customer experiences at scale, and consumers who knows their own worth. Digital Strategist Jerry Silfwer, CEO of Spin Factory and author of the Doctor Spin blog, takes a stab at predicting the future of digital marketing in 2025.
A few things tend to happen when experts take a stab at predicting the future. First, they tend to overestimate the rate of consumer adoption as well as the pace of political regulation – both tend to be slower than expected. We might be able manufacture self-driving cars, but placing them in the hands of consumers and allowing them to join regular traffic, well, that’s a different story altogether.
Furthermore, experts tend to get the analysis backwards more often than not. We call this the ‘T-Ford Effect’. In 1907, more horses than ever before were bred and sold in both US and Europe. At this time, experts predicted a steady rise of demand for horses in 1908. In retrospect, we now know that the T-Ford was launched in 1908, which in turn disrupted the whole concept of personal transportation forever.
That’s the ‘T-Ford Effect’, and experts tend to extrapolate that which is already there. The correct analysis in 1907 would be to predict a growing market for personal transportation — not horses.
I will now make myself guilty of both of the above-mentioned fallacies as I try to outline the future of marketing. I will most definitely overestimate the rate of adoption and I will jump to conclusions based on the reality we live in today. For this, I apologise.
Prediction 1: Big Data + AI = True
I see no reason whatsoever to believe that companies will make less use of available consumer data to get their marketing and communication activities just right. ‘Big Data’ was the love/hate buzzword of 2012, but we only saw the humble beginnings back then in terms of actual use cases. The future of marketing must therefore be data-driven, I say.
You might think that’s a given? Well, enter AI (artificial intelligence) and we’ll soon be finding ourselves playing a completely different ball game.
Imagine your digital customer service being run by your company’s own AI engine. With each customer interaction, whether it takes place via in-store digital screens, on social media or in some sort of second coming of Second Life, your AI will be able to learn and re-write its own source code to give your customers a better experience.
Is this science fiction? Well, there’s no shortage of respected minds predicting the AI ‘singularity’ as being very near, amongst them theoretical scientists like Stephen Hawking and Ray Kurzweil.
I remember back in 2011, a global company (that I won’t name) called me up and wanted me to write an article about them for internal use. They were developing customer service software for any business with call support.
What impressive me the most was when you rang anyone using their software, it wasn’t obvious you were in fact talking to a machine and not a human being. This software also learned new skills in interpreting emotional reactions through each and every human interaction, and this was back in 2011.
Now it’s 2015, and I don’t know how far this particular company has come with their AI development, but rest assured other companies just like them are hard at work doing the exact same thing. If the first wave of automation disrupted the Tayloristic reality of manual labour, the second wave of automation with AI will affect knowledge workers, including marketers.
Prediction 2: Here Comes…That One Person
As a groundbreaking work of zeitgeist literature, Clay Shirky wrote the epic Here Comes Everybody in 2008. It put words on how society must now face the fact that everyone has a voice and a global platform for their ideas to be heard. ‘Here Comes Everybody’ literally meant, here comes everybody.
The social media revolution challenged old mass communication models and disrupted basically every traditional industry, especially those industries with powerful ‘middle-hand operations’. File-sharing service Napster was just a precursor of the new future for record labels. Today, we see new distribution eco-systems through Netflix and Spotify for high-end content.
At Adobe Summit EMEA earlier this year, it became clear to me that we now have to revise the idea of ‘here comes everybody’ because everybody has already come and gone. Today, it’s more about acknowledging the one person who takes the initiative to seek out your business. That signal, for better or worse, is all you’re going to get and you can’t afford to ignore them give them a substandard experience.
This isn’t exactly a brand new idea. Google described the new consumer decision moment as ZMOT (“zero moment of truth”) – all those micro-moments that turn into important signals for businesses to spark. In Wired Magazine 2014, Shayna Hodkin described this trend as “Internet of Me” in which the customer experience must become ‘personalised and transformative’ in some way.
Earlier this year, Aseem Chandra, Experience Manager at Adobe, wrote about ‘hyperpersonalisation’ when looking at the intersection of IoT (“Internet of Things”) and IoM (“Internet of Me”). Personally, I believe that businesses shouldn’t visualise this trend as a digital universe with billions of “me” personas. I think we should disregard that notion completely and think of that one single person who seeks out our business — right now.
Because, ultimately, nothing else matters. Hence, I prefer to refer to this trend as the ‘Internet of One’. Of course, this plays right into the hands of the big data revolution and the impending explosion of AI in marketing and customer experience management. Your favourite companies will soon know you better than you know yourself.
And yes, it might be a bit creepy but chances are we won’t notice the transition until we’re completely immersed. In fact, as Morpheus says in the epic science- fiction blockbuster The Matrix — “it has already begun.”
Prediction 3: The Customer Strikes Back
Think about it: in a marketing future that is data-driven, why should a potential customer simply hand their personal data over to profit-hungry enterprises? Sure, they can get free access to cool and useful web services, but will that suffice?
Some companies will start to pay consumers for their attention directly, instead of paying someone standing in the middle and in-between them? Remember, companies like Google and Facebook are hardwired into this digital world of ours, but their ad-based business models are just old-school revenue streams dressed up to look modern.
The companies who disrupted our marketing processes through the social web will themselves be disrupted. They might have revolutionised the way we communicate with each other, but they haven’t revolutionised the way media companies make money.
It stands to reason, that we have yet to see disruption in terms of how companies actually improve their bottom line through new types of online revenue streams.
Summary checkbox: How to prepare for the future of marketing:
- Develop a world-class strategy for harvesting and analysing online consumer data. Round up the right people and the right tools to stay ahead of your competitors.
- Treat every inbound signal as if your whole business depended on that specific interest today. Attract the right community and implement a Zero Loss Inbound Policy (ZLIP) for each and every online Zero Moment of Truth (ZMOT).
- Customers will start to expect not just good service and great products, but also customer experiences in the form of wow-moments. Either that, or they will soon start to charge you for their data.
Featured Image: © Sergey Nivens – Fotolia.com