Niels Bohr, the famous 20th century physicist, once said: “Predictions are hard, especially when they’re about the future.” While inarguably wise, that has never stopped marketers from attempting to gaze into tomorrow, take a dip into the unknown and go off-road. Many of us have attended marketing conferences where there is plenty of talk about ‘the next big thing’ and how brands need to get on board or get left behind. Sometimes these predictions turn out to be shrewd, profitable clairvoyance. Sometimes they’re just a fad.
Risks of predicting the future aside, I think it’s a safe bet that the changes brought about by the global Covid pandemic are no flash in the pan. This time, it’s not just about a shiny new app or viral social media trend. It’s a fundamental shift in how consumers engage with the entire digital universe.
In other words, the future is already here, and marketers need to sit up, smell the coffee and start thinking through their response.
Just consider the seismic changes we’ve seen over the last 18 months. As lockdown led to a massive expansion of eCommerce, research by IBM found that the pandemic had accelerated online shopping behaviours by five years. McKinsey saw companies accelerating the digitisation of their customer interactions by three to four years. And the share of digital or digitally enabled products in their portfolios has accelerated by seven years – a truly phenomenal rate of change.
In response, brands have invested heavily in their online services, while the big social media platforms have rolled out commerce capabilities to enable seamless purchasing experiences, reducing the need to leave their platforms to complete transactions. In addition, we see that brands are also developing AI, VR, AR and drone tech to enhance the consumer experience.
Retail is just one part of the picture, too. Since the pandemic began, we’ve come to use tools like Zoom and Teams as second nature, making avatars of ourselves or constructing digitised fantasy backgrounds for our virtual meetings. From NFTs to eSports, crypto-currency and virtual events, our lives are becoming ever more integrated with digital experiences. It’s why the ‘metaverse’ has entered the marketing lexicon.
The good news is that most marketers are attuned to these fundamental changes reshaping the world and our industry. Isobar’s latest annual creative experience study – The Rise of Connected Experience – found that 82% of global marketers are already investing in creativity and digital technologies to create brand differentiation in a post-Covid world. The survey of 800 CMOs and marketing directors in eight global markets also revealed that 86% believe creating brand design systems for a multi-sensory world is increasingly important.
The opportunities for creating new connected experiences are limitless – much like the technology itself. The survey confirms that touch-free technologies, gestural technologies, voice interfaces and virtual brand properties are all being increasingly adopted too.
As the boundaries between content and commerce, shopping and storytelling continue to blur, traditional marketing siloes will become increasingly obsolete. Instead, the goal will be to create truly connected?experiences – applying creativity that crosses touchpoints, senses and communities. In fact, over a third of marketers (36%) are specifically asking for new craft skills designed for a multi-sensory world from their agency partner.
So be in no doubt: the connected future has arrived. Innovation and new experience technologies are now critical in creating differentiation and growth. It’s time for everyone in the industry to step up or risk being lost in a sea of sameness.
Sven Huberts is managing partner, Isobar