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John Watton of Adobe: don’t be scared – why 2017 tech will be good for you

Voice as a new channel

Multi-channel marketing is nothing new, but new channels continue and will continue to proliferate. In 2017 the next big channel drawing marketers’ attention will be voice search and voice recognition – including the possibilities offered by offerings such as Cortana and Siri, and now Amazon Echo and Google Home. Without a traditional screen, how will the major search players respond to marketers and advertisers who have historically relied on ads and clicks for their promotional tactics? It will be fascinating to see how this new channel can be used for effective marketing.

Breaking the filter bubble

In the digital world, brand messages and services are increasingly tailored to our needs and expectations. Every day, millions of algorithms already analyse our digital footprints, predict our preferences, and offer us services customised to our needs and wants. Our social media channels virtually surround us with views and opinion similar to our own, and our social feeds serve us the news we want to hear – sometimes controversially, as we saw with the US election. But it’s becoming clear that consumers also have a fundamental desire to have experiences that let them discover new and unexpected things.

In the era of hyper-personalisation, the challenge for marketers in 2017 and beyond will be how to provide consumers with what they don’t know – with moments that break from the expected and familiar, that enable discovery, and that fuel imaginative thinking. The capability to facilitate these moments will be increasingly critical for brands to differentiate themselves in a world of algorithmically-driven sameness. Serendipity will be essential to creativity and discovery, but also —crucially for marketers — to build trust and authenticity.

Marketing to the machines

With products such as the Amazon Dash, retail experiences everywhere are starting to be driven by the Internet of Things. We may soon see AI-driven personal assistants making our purchasing decisions for us. Within a few years, billions of these connected things will be requesting data and support, and marketers and sales leaders will need to start seeing them as customers to market to. In 2017, we’ll see marketers asking how to serve these machines’ non-human needs: What data will these machines find valuable, and what useful data can be derived and monetised from them?

Technology will humanise, not dehumanise

Technology can sometimes seem detached and dehumanising, limiting us to swiping and scrolling on our device screens or passively absorbing information. But today, technological devices and applications underpin actions that speak to many of our needs and emotions; and new technologies like VR are enabling consumers to create their own personal experiences, shifting people from simply staring and swiping screens to exercising greater personal agency on the world around them.

In doing so they are shifting the focus from technology itself—from pure control of a device, for example—to enabling experiences that provide a total shift in perspective and new ways of connecting with people. These are experiences that are empathetic, not just transactional. In 2017 we will see brands utilise more of these technologies to create more immersive, varied and engaging experiences that are better tuned to the emotional needs of consumers. Great marketing should make you feel something, not just do something, and technology will start playing a fundamental part in driving that.

Privacy – but not as you know it

When ‘technology’ and ‘privacy’ are used in the same sentence, we assume we’re about to hear yet another story about how technology has created an opportunity for others to take something that is private to us – our data. But there’s an interesting conversation that’s starting to gain traction on the fringes of this narrative: Technology is increasingly used as a way to disconnect from the world, not just connect to it, and foster individual moments of privacy. While facilitating deeper relationships with the external world, emerging technologies like VR and wearables are starting to empower consumers to create their own digital worlds, allowing for more private, untraceable moments. This will only give more power to consumers and increasingly challenge brands on how to connect with these consumers in meaningful ways.

‘In the moment’ personalisation

With the amount of data from ecommerce at play today, marketers should know their customers inside-out. But for brands that live in both an offline and online world, we still haven’t quite seen the two coming together in a cohesive way. Of course, the online experience can be personalised based on previous behaviour and preferences, but when a customer walks into a shop the experience is still mostly generic: Their data doesn’t follow them into the shop, usually not until the transaction stage, and then the personalised marketing opportunity is gone. In the next few years we’ll start to see much more digital in-store innovation, including the connection of services directly to the customers’ phones and their data, and with brands also catering more personally to the customer right at that moment in the store.

For example, at Adobe, we’ve been testing new technology that scans a customer in a retail environment, takes account of their physical appearance, the clothing and colours they’re wearing, their style preferences and then recommends items based on sizes, styles and stock levels. The technology doesn’t need to have the granular view of the customer, but it is giving them a personalised experience in that moment.

John Watton is EMEA marketing director of Adobe.

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