In preparation for speaking at the Local Social event in Dallas last month, I wrote up thoughts on a few emerging areas that I think will have a big impact on digital marketing, and marketing as a whole, in the coming years. In the spirit of “leveraging content” I’ll publish them here…
One of the most interesting areas we’ve been exploring — and this is a big area, admittedly — is the intersection between the real world and the digital world, sometimes called augmented reality.
When you think about it, we live in the real world and the digital world is just a reflection of that. Why should we have to be tethered to a certain screen at a desk at home to see that digital world, when it’s so much more useful when it’s integrated into our daily lives? We’ve gotten a little taste of that with smartphones, but we’re still mostly looking into a world that’s totally different than the world around us — watching videos, checking Facebook and email — which is one reason why smartphones are criticized as being harmful to society and human relationships.
The Physical Web
The gist of the Physical Web project is that, given there are so many real-world objects — refrigerators, slow cookers, thermostats, etc. — that are now connected and possess digital information, that there should be a way to search and find all of them, and they should be ranked by your personalized level of interest in that particular thing.
This is starting to happen now, where when I go near a Walgreens, a notification pops up on my phone with my loyalty card and a link to the week’s specials, and when I’m near my local grocery store, I get a notification from my Ibotta app reminding me to use their coupons. All of this, of course, is permission-based.
Imagine when we’re wearing Google Glass or Apple Watch, and we can pay for things by waving our devices. And of course, we’ll be wearing our heart-rate-tracking monitors, pedometers and glucose monitors — sharing, or not sharing, the information they’re gathering. So maybe, as a marketer, you could learn whether someone’s heart starts racing when they come into contact with your products or your ads.
Meanwhile, we’re seeing an amazing proliferation of tracking devices, most of them using Bluetooth Low Energy and some using GPS and Wi-fi. The obvious use — already happening with Apple’s iBeacons — is messaging customers when they’re in proximity of your store. Or, in an even more granular application, marketers could virtually show people around a store, and passively observe what aisles are most popuar with different types of consumers — data which can then inform merchandising and future marketing campaigns.
According to ABI Research, indoor beacon installations could top 30,000 worldwide by the end of 2014. We’re already seeing things like an in store proximity based mobile ad exchange, where a brand could pop up a notification when you approach its product display at a retail outlet.
Maybe the next wave of content/experiential marketing is curating a real-world walking tour or sponsoring a complimentary entry into a museum exhibit for a valued prospect or customer.
And brick and mortar marketers aren’t the only ones deploying these trackers. You’ve probably seen consumer-focused Facebook ads or Kickstarter campaigns for the Tile, StickNFind, Duet, Chipolo, Gecko, Lapa and Guardian. The most common pitch here is that they’ll ensure you never lose your keys, your wallet, your pet or your child. Other variations like Flower Power and Plant Link check whether you need to water your plants and how much light they’re getting, and possibly even open a valve to get a sprinkler going.
And you thought you were overwhelmed by the amount of data you’re dealing with now!
That leads me to another area where I’m seeing a lot of promise — tag management. It’s sort of outgrown that moniker but the idea is that you can have a central interface to all of those tags that live on your web site — analytics, ad networks, remarketing lists, a/b testing, etc. etc.
The beauty in this is that all of the data flows into one place, too, making it easier for you to change vendors perform tests, because you have access to all your customer and prospect data yourself. In addition, you can get a more cross-platform picture of your customer, when information about their interactions with email can be married to their location history and even an Apple Pay-enabled transaction record.
We’ve seen a lot of consolidation in the marketing technology business lately, partly by big companies set on building an end-to-end solution that uses and shares the same data in multiple marketing disciplines. But with tag management, theoretically, you could choose best of breed solutions in each of their respective categories, yet still control and integrate the data.
Seeking Marketing Technologists
Of course, I’m talking in a very blasé way about technology that’s going to take some serious smarts to deploy and use well, especially given the need to respect consumer privacy. And that’s not to mention the challenge of choosing the right technologies among so many competitors.
And that brings me to the third area, which is the important need in our industry of hiring and training marketing technologists — those rare birds that not only understand the needs of marketers and consumers, but also “get” technology at a bit of a deeper level.
This is going to be a huge challenge but also a big opportunity for those individuals who have the skills to really take advantage of the vast array of tools at our disposal — but in a clear-headed, and not starry-eyed way.
P.S. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that the event was a fundraiser for traumatic brain injury support charity Trymunity. Given the prevalence of TBI in all of our lives — concussions among football players, strokes, etc. (I’ve had two people close to me have strokes in the last month) — I believe it’s a critical issue that should be supported.