We now live in a world where digital has become the most important channel in people’s lives and is a central driver of our culture. New technologies are being invented, but just as important, existing technology is evolving to be more user-centric and dynamic than ever before, promoting instant gratification and relevance. All of these changes are an attempt to build an even tighter connection between what’s digital and human, proactively meeting user needs and blurring the lines between on- and offline experiences.
With this continuous evolution, technology has quickly become the key driver of profitability and market differentiation in every industry. We’re in an accelerated digital world, where you need to always be solving for your future. If you solve only for today you’re going to have to solve for today again tomorrow. Because of this, the gap between brands who successfully unlock the key to digital success and the laggards who struggle to keep up continues to grow, creating an even greater sense of urgency to innovate.
Let’s take a look at the key trends that are shaping the digital frontier in 2016 and beyond.
1. The Internet of Things will pave new ground.
Nearly every experience has the potential to become digitized as everyday objects and appliances become “smart.” In the near future, our homes, vehicles, appliances, accessories, and other devices will cultivate a resilient contextual awareness of each other within an ecosystem. In 2016, we will see a major shift toward a deeper connection of intelligent products, bridging the gap between the digital and physical worlds and providing more real-life digital experiences.
2. We are now entering the Outcome Economy.
Ted Levitt, former Harvard Business Review editor and a professor at Harvard Business School, once stated, “People don’t want to buy drills; they want to buy holes.” This is what’s referred to as the Outcome Economy, which Accenture defines as the ability of companies to create value by delivering solutions to customers that will turn into quantifiable results. As leading brands come face-to-face with the IoT in the coming year, they are using these highly connected tools and objects to give customers what they really want: not just offering more products or services, but selling more outcomes and solutions, generating more experiences, and forming more cherished connections.
3. Virtual reality will open a whole new world to brands and customers.
Virtual reality (VR) gives brands the opportunity to give their customers the closest-to-life experience they can get from a product, service, or place without physically being there. As our virtual and physical worlds overlap, VR presents marketers with the ultimate way to engage customers. For example, Marriott Hotels offers newly married couples virtual honeymoon experiences before they book their dream trip. Lexus lets people configure the new NX to their needs and take it for a virtual test drive. In 2016, more and more brands will find a valuable application for their customer interactions, eliminating barriers like distance and cost.
4. Artificial Intelligence-driven technologies will find real-world application.
Artificial intelligence (AI) will soon become an accepted aspect of daily life, as digital entities will be able to compute mass amounts of data, extract meaning from them and self-teach to predict what users are looking for with little to no effort on either party’s end. For instance, since the inception of Siri, the inventors have begun a new game-changing project named Viv, also known as “The Global Brain.” Viv is a prevailing model of IA that is able to “learn” about its users and their individual surroundings – and actually remember them – in order to answer users’ questions, no matter how complex. This year, AI agents will be further tested in projects throughout several industries, including autonomous vehicles, smart home appliances, and other devices.
5. T-commerce will change the way we consume media throughout the customer journey.
T-commerce is the direct selling and buying of products through television. In 2015, TV saw an increased adoption as a tool used by consumers to search the Internet through digital media players such as Roku, Google Chromecast, and Amazon Fire TV. And technology giant Apple’s latest Apple TV entertainment device lets viewers buy products directly through their TV from the comfort of their living room. In 2016, marketers will further test whether or not consumers will embrace shopping through the magic of their TV screen.
6. The notion of privacy vs. prevalence will stabilize.
Today’s consumers are more willing than ever to provide (and store) personal (and sometimes sensitive) information in order to be served the most individually relevant content and experiences, as well as other things of value such as convenience, simplicity, and discounts. For example, the financial service platform Mint collects all bank accounts of an individual and monitors where and when money is spent so they can provide advice for users to better manage their funds. This transition from having a more hypersensitive safeguarded mindset to being more permissive with personal records provides marketers with proof that consumers are willing to trust and share, but often only if it’s for their own benefit.
7. Location-based technology will reach a tipping point.
With the extensive volume of user data available and advancements in location-based tools, marketers are better enabled to reach consumers at the perfect moments based on their physical coordinates and connect them with contextually relevant and timely messages in order to persuade them to take action or make a purchase. For example, an alert from a user’s phone could notify her that the dress she had in her online shopping cart is available and ready to be tried on and purchased at the brick-and-mortar store a block away. In 2016, companies will further leverage this technology for a more contextualized experience, including relevant discounts, directions, facts, and other types of valuable content.
8. User experience will become more ambient and personalized.
Marketing technology journalist and expert Mike Elgan explains ambient user experience as “information that just appears, scrolls by and then vanishes, mostly in the cognitive background. It will just be there with us all the time.” Elgan claims people don’t think in terms of “context,” but rather in how the experience meshes into their current situation. Through ambient intelligence, devices and software will analyze and present information in such a way that it will feel like a natural extension of people’s external environments. Marketers who take advantage of this emerging technology will see increased customer fulfillment, along with more accurate, personally relevant and reliable experiences.
9. Customers will prefer (and expect) super-service over traditional customer service.
Super-service is the new wave of customer service, where responsibility will shift to the provider to service the customer like a relatable, empathetic human being. This not only involves providing support that far surpasses customer expectations, it's enabling them to help themselves through self-service tools and automation. This dual approach aims to create satisfying experiences for all types of consumers, building brand trust and loyalty. An example of this is Dollar Shave Club, a startup that lets customers choose the type of razors and shaving products they want and a curated box filled with products that fit their personal preferences, budget, time of year, and other factors, is sent to them. If an incorrect product is delivered or if the package is late for any reason, the company will send a free “sorry” basket with shaving cream and a T-shirt. Companies that don’t make super-service a critical part of their business model or treat customers as real people are less likely to retain or grow their customer base.
10. The Sharing Economy will continue to create opportunities for brands to shift the human network.
The Sharing Economy fosters collaborative consumption across all types of trades, including transportation, hospitality, healthcare, finance, and personal services. This new type of marketplace will continue to gain traction in the coming year with an exponential growth in consumer adoption, emergence of new startups and the transformation of current business models to become more accessible, convenient, and instinctive for users.
Marketers and consumers will continue to encounter a myriad of radical digital revolutions in 2016 and beyond. Technologies are becoming more encompassing as quickly as they’re becoming more transparent, resulting in stronger trust and connections between brands and people. Brands need to stay atop of all the incredible things happening in the digital arena and carefully evaluate what makes sense for them and their customers.
Here’s to an incredible 2016.
Laura Markewicz is the VP of Digital Strategy at Laughlin Constable, where she leads digital and mobile strategy development across a variety of clients and industries. She considers herself a data scientist specializing in leveraging analytics and research to inspire creative ideas that move businesses forward. Her strategies range from single site and application plans to full cross-channel, digital communications strategies for businesses of all sizes and across many industries. Find her on LinkedIn here.
Ceara Milligan is a Digital Strategist at Laughlin Constable, where she develops and oversees digital strategies and inspires creativity for clients across trades. She conducts research and synthesizes insights about brands, categories, and consumers to develop overarching strategic and creative visions across communication channels. Find her on LinkedIn here.