Stores and billboards that understand what you’re doing. TV sets with content targeted at you. Smart everything.
These are just a few of the ways new technologies that have emerged or gained speed in 2014 could dramatically change how we buy and sell things.
After years of innovation inside the world of bits, a variety of technologies are promising to extend new kinds of tracking, analysis, and immediate response to the world of atoms.
Take Apical. This UK-based maker of vision tech — which the company said is currently “in at least 50 percent of smartphones on the planet” — is in the process of rolling out its new Spirit technology.
As the brand name implies, this “Minority Report“-like new generation of vision tech analyzes the essence of what people are doing in a physical space — which way they’re looking, how they’re behaving, which way they’re walking — in real time. The information can be used by, say, retailers. Other vendors could take the same output and identify faces or discern mood.
So, don’t be surprised if, at some point in the not-too-distant future, you enter a brick-and-mortar store, turn to the right to pick up a shirt on a shelf, and the video screen overhead immediately shows a scene that includes a model wearing that exact shirt.
Or, if you’re in a sad or bad mood as you browse a store, the store app on your smartphone may show messages that are designed to brighten you up.
It’s the next step beyond geofencing, which is now integrated into such marketing platforms as Salesforce’s Marketing Cloud. By itself, geofencing can change a store experience, since a store’s internal system will know not only that a new customer has walked by or into the store, but that it’s you.
Similarly, Apple Pay, chip-based credit cards, and other new digital payment systems that have gained speed this year could make store buying more secure and possibly even somewhat easier.
Coupled with iBeacons and mesh beacons, personalized sales and promotions could become a commonplace occurrence, as retailers and marketers increasingly focus on store-delivered campaigns for targeted consumers.
Taken together, the makers of these technologies are intent on turning store shopping experiences into campaigns-of-one. Just as is now common when you visit web sites, expect to have brands, promotions, and tailored experiences follow you throughout your visit to physical stores.
But stores and malls aren’t the only real-world locations that will become more responsive to what you’re doing.
Startup Pecabu recently announced a new platform for outdoor digital displays, such as those on billboards or at bus stops, that will count and characterize passersby — whether in cars or on foot. The tech uses a camera on the display to register what the company says is anonymous traffic, marrying that information with area demographics, weather conditions, data from a geo-sensing smartphone app people are paid to use, and other details.
Video ads will then be transmitted, nationwide, to individual, targeted displays outdoors. Pecabu says it will not be doing facial recognition and that all data is used only in the aggregate.
It may not yet quite approach the “Minority Report” scenes where billboards show content specifically directed at the Tom Cruise character as he walks by. But it’s getting closer.
Watson and friends
As is the vision of a world where high levels of artificial intelligence are embedded and widespread. IBM’s Jeopardy-winning Watson took steps this year to become much more widely available as a remote service through Siri for consumers as well as for specific industry verticals, like medicine.
Other Watson-like supercomputing services, like Viv, are also emerging. While this kind of remote computing mega-horsepower will undoubtedly have a huge impact in a wide variety of fields, it could dramatically boost the ability for people to conduct pre-sale research before they buy a product.
In B2B sales, one report has found that buyers complete 57 percent of their journey to a sale, on average, before they even talk to a salesperson. Among consumers, it’s not uncommon to thoroughly research a new car purchase — and possibly even get competing offers remotely — before venturing out to take a test drive and sign the papers.
At some point, Watson and his friends have the potential to put pre-sale, B2B, or B2C customer research on steroids. Instead of you having to find and digest trade reports, Consumer Reports, product info, and countless other reviews, for instance, you might be able to instruct a Watson-type service to do it for you. What had been an ad-hoc research phase of information here and there would then become an industrialized power assessment of all available data.
In other words, the customer is on target to get her own, high-end automated research platform — not just a better system for collecting product-related information but one that automatically assesses that information.
Goodbye, “customer journey” or “sales funnel” metaphor. Hello, customer rocket ship.
Marketers: rest up
As for digital marketers, let’s just say you should get plenty of rest over the holidays. Because 2015 could be the beginning of massive new markets and their sidekick, data.
In addition to customers moving in real space in real stores, the digital marketer’s universe will now include an even smarter TV, plus lots of formerly dumb objects that are about to get smartened up.
Salt Lake City-based Sorenson Media recently announced TV-resident apps that anonymously report a viewer’s watching habits and that allow stations — or potentially networks — to overlay content-specific, interactive enhancements like polls or ads.
There are also indications that addressable TV ads — where your TV shows ads directed at consumers in your targeted audience segment — will grow significantly in 2015, led by such companies as TubeMogul, Samba.TV, Brightline, and The Trade Desk. And if ads can be so directed, then addressable content — TV shows — might someday follow.
For marketers, this means their platforms will now have access to buckets more data about what choices TV watchers are making, and they will now be able to narrowcast for that medium in ways barely imagined. For consumers, it means that what we thought were smart TVs were actually only the beginning; TVs will evolve into becoming more like large tablets.
And the Internet of things could turn out to be the Internet of Really Smart Things. Spark, for instance, has announced postage stamp-sized chips that have built-in Wi-Fi transceivers and microcontrollers, with pricing that starts at $10 each for small quantities.
This means marketers may have access to data from heretofore-inert things. A Spark-enabled intelligent clothes hanger, for instance, could transmit how many times that sports jacket it came with is actually being used — as anonymous data, one assumes.
We’ll soon need a new term for what comes after “big data.” Marketers may begin to find some respite in software, such as BeyondCore, which helps to decide what questions to ask that deluge of data.
We’re now halfway through the second decade of the 21st century. But, somehow, it feels like this century is just beginning.
(Thanks to Stewart Rogers and Mark Sullivan for suggestions of technologies.)