Whatever your business. Whatever you sell. The future is coming at your business. And it’s coming fast. Marketing techniques are changing and the old ways will no longer be adequate or effective.

Here’s a look at some of the technologies and strategies that are already having an impact…

What does the future look like?
The future is not just about one thing – marketing, sales, technology. It’s about the convergence of technology with the disciplines we practise. It’s about using that convergence to better understand customers and prospects and to target them with relevant and helpful communication that will encourage them to think well of you.

The future will be technology dominated – your website, social media and video in the short term; wearable tech, augmented reality and the Internet of things in the medium term; and, in the long term? Your guess is as good as mine. You can be certain though that it will have changed beyond belief. If you’re scared, don’t be – it’ll get in the way of your growth. Fear of the future and longing for the past are major factors which impede appropriate action.

The future’s bright! And connected.
Computers are getting smaller and faster and the price stays steady or comes down. Moore’s Law says that the number of transistors on integrated circuits will double every 18 months, making chips increasingly smaller and more efficient. It’s slowing down a bit now, but miniaturisation means computers are becoming part of everything we use – significantly, in terms of connecting things together …

Mobiles and apps are so last season. Connectedness is the buzzword – how connected are you to your fridge, your locks, your car, your health, your heating, your oven, and everything you use to be productive?

Shortly, your dishwasher will automatically add tabs to your online shopping list, the fridge will order in your favourite beer and the bathroom cabinet will tell you when you’re low on loo rolls. You can already control your security, heating, curtains, oven and lighting from your phone. You can monitor your health, wealth and fitness and share the results online … and there’s so much more of this connected world just waiting in the wings.

There are predicted to be 10 billion connected devices by 2020. In the future 99% of everything we make will be connected. And by 2020, data just between connected devices will be at least double all the world’s Internet traffic in 2012.

So what does it mean for marketers? How will we respond to this connected world …

Who are you?

Thien Thi sells fruit and water on the beach in Vietnam. She knows her customers because she talks to them. She knows what they want – they don’t want pearls, fans or trinkets. They want water. They want fruit. She turns up when the day is hottest – just when you want those things. She knows who her customers are. And she contacts them in the most relevant way.

Not being proactive in your marketing leads to silo marketing. Unfortunately, a lot of us are guilty of it. Done the website – tick. Done some email – tick. Got some content for social media – tick. And so on. Nothing connects and it points to a lack of strategy. Nothing is personalised – we don’t know our customers or understand their needs. A good marketing strategy integrates all elements and makes them work together for greater benefit. It uses research to help us know what our customers want and need and when they need it.

To ensure we contact people in the most relevant way, these routes are going to be the only way to get your message heard in an increasingly connected world:

Get smarter
Get connected
Get involved
Get personal

– and we are going to look at them briefly now. However, the most important is the last – Get personal: you need to know who people are and what they want – just like Thien Thi.

Get smarter
In 2012, British ad agency Evrything launched a programme on Father’s Day in Brazil with spirits maker Diageo that let consumers scan bar codes on each bottle they bought “turning each physical product into a uniquely identifiable object of digital media,” according to the Harvard Business Review. In this case, the giver could make a video for the recipient to go along with the gift (see above). The receiver could also make a video. It personalised the experience and added value. It understood who the customer was and what they might need.
Source: http://mashable.com/2014/03/09/advertising-internet-of-everything-sxsw/

Understanding the customer is pivotal. A company might photograph customers when they enter a store and again at check out, to know what they look like and how much time they spent in the store. They could then combine that information with the customer’s purchasing history, zip code, demographic and other data that can predict what the customer will buy next. When the customer returns to the store — and is recognised by the cameras — he might receive a text with a coupon for his next purchase or a much more personalised interaction with the store’s employees. This is clever use of data! Source: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/media/generation-like/the-future-of-digital-marketing-is-you/

And it gets better. Big data is not just about the information that can be gained from our transactions. We leave a data trail wherever we go – “data exhaust”. Whether it’s our numberplate being scanned, our faces being recognised on Facebook or simply the fact that we searched for “‘flu symptoms” on Google and joined the legions of others doing the same (giving Google the ability to track ‘flu epidemics!). Selfies are ubiquitous and make us recognisable by many online systems. These data are all of value to marketers and whether we address them informally – checking out a prospect’s LinkedIn and Facebook profile before we visit them; or formal – building and mining structured data sets that help us extrapolate more information than the simple bare facts might show – all of this helps us to answer the question, “Who are you?” about our clients and prospects.

Get connected
Of course, it’s also in the interests of some larger scale businesses to ensure that they know more about you. Think of the boom in dashboard cameras in the US, for example – giving us some fine accident footage on Youtube! Snapshot is a similarly effective device that simply monitors how you drive and profiles you against others. It’s of benefit to some customers and is of huge benefit to the insurer who gains significant data to help him evaluate risk.

Wearable technology has been in the news lately with Google Glass, the relaunch of the UP wristband, rumours of a forthcoming Apple “iWatch” and electronic tattoos that stick to the skin. http://www.dezeen.com/2013/03/29/dezeen-archive-wearable-technology/

Not to mention a dress that goes transparent when the wearer’s heart rate increases! Devices will be in our clothing, under our skin or simply worn on wrists, spectacles or elsewhere – all providing or gathering data. All feeding back to that big data server to be crunched into marketing gold dust.

What if your insurer monitored your life signs? (Would you let them?) What are the implications for us and our individual privacy? How much do we want these businesses to answer that question, “Who are you?”? The Garmin vivofit or the Jawbone UP provide basic body monitoring, supplemented by an app that can monitor your diet. How interested are insurance companies? – very!

The insurer would like to measure your vital signs. Watch how far you walk or exercise or eat – and what if the digital device also monitored what you buy and suggested better lifestyle choices? We’re a step towards that with devices like Garmin’s vivofit and Jawbone UP – This brings in the buzzword of the moment, gamification – getting you to compete with your results against a system or against other people for marketing purposes, even if indirect.

Devices such as Oculus Rift help to blur the lines between reality and fantasy by providing immersive 3D experiences. As these devices become part of the culture in which we live, so too they will be a channel to clients through the medium of high-tech advertising. You can see this already happening with the introduction of augmented reality: You currently can’t tell a real photo from photoshopped? It’s going to get worse – overlaying another reality on top of a phone image of where you are for example. Or adding value to business cards with a hidden secret. An app on your tablet or phone gives you access to a whole new dimension of marketing opportunities. Simply point at the trigger area and watch the fun by moving your device to see different angles.

This technology can be used on any static image that can be brought to life with clever programming and software. Marketers can embed games, activities, information and more – all you need is the app and an Internet connection. What are the implications for marketers? Essentially this is an exponential opportunity in every walk of life and brings a whole new dimension to technology as a tool for addressing your audience.

Get involved
To get people involved, give them help, an experience they’ll remember (because they certainly won’t remember the standard advertising pitch). Treat them like humans, not like statistics and show them how they can improve their lives (lead with the benefits and not the features). New marketing is about a two way process, so get your ears working! Know who people are and keep them happy.

Get personal
There’s a new paradigm in marketing. It’s no longer I market *at* you. It’s I market *with* you. It’s about a relationship between company and customer. CRM is customer relationship management. Companies that ignore this transformative technology are missing the train that’s leaving the station right now … There are amazing online applications that help you manage this crucial element of your marketing, allowing you to understand more about your clients and prospects, record your interactions with them and schedule your marketing to them appropriately.

Making content relevant to the person you are targeting is not just about words – interesting and engaging video, memes, viral information, how to’s, … it’s as much now, about helping people, as selling to them. Think: Does your company need a content officer? Your content needs to reflect the stance of engagement and understanding – knowing your audience and knowing “Who are you?”.

Think about your products – they are about serving the needs of people. Your marketing and your product development reflect that you understand that … if you have really understood where your customers are coming from. The future lies in matching your products to people’s needs – not simply handing down what you think they want – or, indeed, what you’ve got at the moment.

The big brands understand all this – they hop on the connected, personalised, viral band-wagon, locking into the technology to see their product preferred in choices, coupons offered at opportune moments and competitiveness always at the front of their thinking. It’s no longer a wait-and-see market – it’s a watch-the-consumer market. They have the funds and the tech to do this.

But the tech is there to help smaller businesses drive their brand to consumers and to other businesses as well. It’s young yet, but it will mature. Your mind needs to be open to it right now …

Now what?
So what can you do, in your business, today. Here are a few small ideas …

  • Examine your connectedness with customers, suppliers, dealers/distributors and prospects.
  • Look to maintain the link between you and customers to build lifetime value – use a “helping” model.
  • Use your data – does past history predict future purchase?
  • Look at perception of your brand – what does it stand for? What values does it reflect?
  • Content. Content. Content. In every format available.
  • Look at techno-opportunities to enhance your business communication – start simple: QR codes, electronic coupons, or funds transfer technology for retail – consider contactless.
  • Tailor your marketing to assure prospects that you understand their needs and that your products meet them.
  • Be open to opportunities to differentiate your brand from others with smart, effective engagement with your contacts, showing them how much you care! How much you know who they are …

But, most of all …

Start to engage: It’s no longer a competition of who shouts the loudest – there are many companies still shouting out there. Pointless! It’s about engagement. Let’s remember Thien Thi – she knows her customers and what they want. It’s sales and marketing at the simplest level – something many of us have forgotten.

Nick Evans from ExtraMile

The content of this article is based on a talk given by Nick Evans of ExtraMile Communications Ltd at the Staffordshire Marketing Academy‘s Action for Business Live! 7, held at Britannia Stadium, Stoke on Trent on 16 May, 2014. You can download the accompanying slides to the presentation by registering on the SMA website and visiting the Resources section.

DeLorean Car image courtesy of Jacob Weiner under Creative Commons licence.