A giant wave, digital in origin, is ready to surge our shores. Back in July I hinted at this tsunami of shiny new objects that will take the form of new realities and new ways to generate intelligence for marketing execution. The call to action around these efforts–especially augmented and virtual realities, AI-infused chat, and voice assistants–is to prepare yourself for another round of “lead or follow” decision making.
Some new research supports how these emerging interfaces are going to matter, and soon. In a report I wrote on behalf of Ascendant Network and Verve, released earlier this month, we discovered that marketers are already very bullish on testing new forms of mixed reality and in active trial mode with AI and connected cars:
Also surprising was that these marketers said they only needed 5% to 10% of their target audiences to use the new interfaces for them to include the concept as part of their annual plans:
Who is on this leading edge of exploration? The marketers we surveyed are digitally focused executives at large companies who define themselves as eager to use digital and mobile platforms to connect with their customer bases. Half work at large companies, two-thirds are VPs of marketing or above, and two-thirds represent consumer marketing companies. And, on average, they spend a hair under 50% of their total marketing spend on digital.
One of the best takeaways from this report came from the head of digital marketing for a technology company. She pointed out that no matter which of these technologies becomes mainstream, having more ways for consumers to interact is going to impact the art of storytelling for content companies, brands, and content creators.
Think of today’s world as being a very flat experience. Screens are flat. The content that works on them is flat. Blogs, apps, and maps are flat. Print and billboards are flat. But augmented reality has depth. VR (I tried some examples at the Tech Museum in San Jose) has tremendous depth. AI comes in forms such as voice that change a flat screen into a conversation. That depth changes the narrative from a linear story into an immersive experience.
Imagine a few scenarios:
• A consumer shopping for a car at Carguru: A chat pops up on the site when a consumer stalls on configuring the car he wants to buy. The chatbot invites the consumer to talk with Alexa to discuss key features of the car. But to really sell the consumer, a virtual reality dashboard alert comes up. The consumer puts his phone into Google Cardboard and is able to take a spin in the car with hands on the wheel and road feel piped in. The questions for the marketer become: What music is playing while they “drive”? Is the color and trim tied to the configurator? What does the virtual sales rep sitting next to the customer say?
The art of storytelling is to paint a memorable picture of the car for the consumer to experience and remember, and this makes the canvas newly complex.
• Vacation immersion before, during, and after the journey: If you are like me, you anxiously anticipate the room you get when you travel. The agent, if you use one, might have been there, or else they are just reading what the hotel wrote. In the next digital wave, marketers will script the narrative for each room at each property, using AI and augmented reality to enhance the physical experience. Need more soap? Ask Alexa to send some up. Need to know how to get to the center of town? AR points the way, with pop-up notifications of famous sites en route. Post-stay, marketers can drive reviews with a short film of the actual trip, similar to what the Relive app does with runs and bike rides.
• Buying clothes in your size: StitchFix, Bonobos, Trunk Club, and others have more than just a warehouse of apparel. The combination of detailed sizing, customer preferences, and access to product means they can create a story around the clothes that suit the man or woman. The wearer should be able to ask a voice assistant for the dress code at an upcoming event, get a read on which clothes fit the bill, and see what looks best before heading into the closet to get dressed. The storyline will unfold across interfaces, and brands that aren’t ready with their multiplatform assets will fall out of the consideration set.
What’s A Marketer To Do?
Unlocking these content opportunities will require marketers to develop content beyond blogs, videos, and social chatter. The next wave of hires will have to:
• Develop relevant customer experiences: The experience within VR will be substantially different than the store or the site. But it has to be related and relevant, and drive purchases. Getting this story right means immersing the team in new and untested ways of thinking through the customer journey.
• Produce multiple outcomes: Consumers will act unpredictably at first, and data will not tell the whole story. The way to plan for this will be to have multiple outcomes from each journey and then test which ones lead to the most desired outcome.
• Find the native value of each interface as it becomes popular to use: When Twitter, Facebook, and Snapchat each emerged, the advice to marketers was to hire people who understood the gestalt of each. With VR, AI, and other emerging touch points, that will be a much smaller set of people. Nab creative storytellers who can learn how to use these new engagement mechanisms, rather than the fresh-faced social media wonk who has a major following on Instagram (though that doesn’t hurt).
Are you ready for this next wave? More to come, from the many angles and realities, as this story unfolds.