The Future of Marketing - How communications will evolve in the age of AI and IoT
Back in autumn 2017 when I was applying for MS programs in the USA, one of the universities asked me to submit an essay with my predictions about the future of marketing. They must have liked my essay, because I did receive an admit from them which I eventually didn't end up accepting. However, when I came to the University of Washington, I signed up for a class aptly called "The Future of Marketing" under Prof. Rob Salkowitz, who became my most favorite professor here (even before taking this class, I took Comic Storytelling under him. It's a class I do free PR for to everyone!).
Let me roll back the years and go to 2009, when I first entered the world of advertising and marketing via my undergrad program. Facebook had just taken off in India a year ago, and marketing was still very much about mass media and the traditional concepts back until the early 2010s. However, while it is fundamentally important to grasp the traditional marketing concepts, they are only as good as a marketer's ability to adapt them to current and upcoming settings. That's something I firmly believe in, and hence my passion for exploring discussions around the future of marketing. Going back to December 2017, I had made some predictions around how two platforms, i.e. Facebook and Twitter might evolve in the next decade or so. Let's have a look.
Advanced Real Time Advertising
The fact that Facebook would eventually be a threat to traditional media was always anticipated. It offered avenues to advertisers that traditional channels of advertising could never, such as reaching out to highly specific segments of consumers. In fact, up until a year back, Facebook even offered income-based targeting, and could combine it with TV viewing habits. While this itself looked unbelievable until as recent as a decade ago, I believe that Facebook will take this several notches higher by indulging in various forms of advanced real time advertising.
Facebook has the perfect ingredients to make this happen. As a media platform, it has access to data that no other traditional medium can exploit - i.e. real time updates. Facebook is already tailoring ads that can cater to people’s interests. But it will now cater to people’s short term emotions, moods, and behaviors as well, by indulging in on-the-go, real time advertising.
Let me give you an example. You are extremely upset and angry that your favorite soccer team just lost a game to their upstate rivals, and you make your emotions public by updating a status. A local pub that is exactly looking for sad patrons like you to come and drink away their sorrows shows up on your wall with a ‘10% off on Drinks for Loser Pool Football Club fans’ ad. Agreed that there will be several questions of privacy that will crop up, the fact remains that Facebook has always been accused of the same at every stage of its evolution.
Blending Online with Offline - VR/AR enabled Outdoor Advertising
Facebook has invested heavily into Virtual Reality / Augmented Reality. But how it will use the same is yet to be seen. As a premise to the next idea, I foresee a time in the very near future where online advertising and offline advertising will work in conjunction. I believe that during such a time, Facebook will reinvent the wheel and change Outdoor Advertising to a great degree.
It will use real time location tracking, your interests, and augmented reality glasses in order to generate highly individualized ads on outdoor billboards as you pass the hoardings. Essentially, outdoor hoarding will be blank, and by donning an augmented reality headset, you will be able to see a message specially customized for you. In short, what you will see on the outdoor hoarding will be different from what the person sitting right next to you, wearing his/her own AR headset.
On a very related note, I envision a time when a lot of vehicles would have turned into advertising mediums, with their exterior acting as digital screens. Advertising on the exterior of vehicles will work in a similar manner as the outdoor hoardings, i.e. based on your location, and interests. If you have updated a status stating that you and 3 more of your friends (who are tagged in the status) are on the way to enjoy a concert, a vehicle passing by may display an ad featuring customized band artist tee-shirts!
Facebook’s current business model entails enabling advertisers to put out ads that can induce a variety of actions, and in many cases, this includes driving final sales. Looking at the vast amount of customer data Facebook possesses, which is currently being used to serve ads that can drive sales, E-Commerce does seem to be a logical step that Facebook will move towards. After clicking on an ad, a Facebook user will be redirected to the brand’s shopping page. Current brand pages will be expanded to have an e-commerce section, that will be tailored using AI in order to create a personalized shopping experience. You might even be shown products that are morphed in real time based on data from your profile. For eg: If you're being displayed a tee-shirt on a brand page, and you happen to like The Simpsons and Manchester United soccer club, you will be shown clothes with elements from both those printed as opposed to your friend, who might see clothes with The Family Guy and his favorite NBA team Chicago bulls.
Facebook did venture into a Facebook Shop, which was enabled by their messenger. However, the experiment of using messenger as an enabler went pretty wrong. Even the UI/UX of the store front was extremely primitive, and not user friendly. However, times have changed since, and automated bots are the norm now.
Smart Wearable Devices making your day smarter
As compared to Facebook, Twitter has fewer interest based indicators, and may not be able to predict a person’s persona as accurately as the former. However, it does have its own set of merits, and should be treated as a unique platform. Most people consumer Twitter for hyper-local news, movie reviews, sports updates, and political chatter. Can all this information be put to better use in order to help someone manage his day better? I believe that if Twitter is to explore different sources of revenue, it should start by utilizing this unparalleled strength.
Twitter knows all the handles that you follow, whom do you engage with, and how often and how much you engage with someone. All this information can be smartly organized to deliver you an experience that not only saves you time, but also helps you make smarter decisions.
Imagine the year 2025 – Your Twitter integrated Smart Watch has automatically woken you up at 7am, instead of the usual 7:30 am. Based on your location and interactions with hyper-local news handles, it knows that you regularly check for anomalies along your office route. Today at 6:45 am, the news handle has tweeted reports of an accident and a traffic snarl. Your Smart Watch doesn’t want you to get late for work! Currently, when we wake up and check Twitter to find out about a certain route being jammed, we can do nothing about it. The Twitter wearable will ensure that your feed is being best utilized to make your day more efficient.
Smart Wearable devices of all sorts exist in the market currently, but the one I am talking about will be driven by powerful AI that will bring relevant news to you, rather than you going for it. On the release date of your beloved director or favorite actor’s movie (that it already knows based on the handles you follow), it will show up reviews and recommend whether it is worth your time or not. On the day of your most preferred brand’s product launch, a brand video will automatically pop-up on your wearable getting the news to you.
I will probably revisit this 3-5 years down the line to see how much of it has started to materialize, if at all. If not, this will just be a fun thinking exercise. Or wait - maybe I could pitch it to someone....?