There’s no need to go back hundreds of years to imagine the complete bemusement people would have experienced when faced with an everyday device such as an iPhone: what would have been science fiction only a generation ago can now be found in the pockets of many average high-schoolers.
With technology evolving in leaps and bounds and new trends coming and going at the speed of light, imagining the future of communications is a task that’s both challenging and exciting.
It’s no secret that data will be increasingly important in the day-to-day workings businesses and the lives of consumers, with the former increasingly adept at collecting, analyzing and utilizing data for marketing and communication purposes.
Real-time data gathering will enable real-time responses, with brands empowered to react to consumer experiences and feedback as it happens. Advances in artificial intelligence – and above all, its increasing availability and affordability in the shape of user-friendly software solutions – will make AI-powered data collection and analysis a reality for even small companies.
With these advances come legitimate concerns about user privacy and misuse of personal information. Data privacy and security must become first-level concerns for businesses wishing to utilize data to create truly meaningful customer experiences. One major evolution in this field is the recent implementation of the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which aims to fundamentally reshape the way personal information is handled across all industry sectors by making its sharing as modular as possible and granting consumers ownership of their own data.
While GDPR compliance can feel burdensome and restrictive, increasing consumers’ control over their data will encourage companies to focus on their reputability, user-friendliness, security, and transparency, thus fostering customer trust.
They say a picture paints a thousand words. One way to truly harness the power of data is to channel it into highly visual formats that everyone can understand, with data visualization (or DataViz) becoming an increasingly hot topic with a myriad of potential applications from a communications and marketing point of view.
The human brain processes image better than text, making design elements, charts and graphs a highly efficient way to get the message across, especially when dealing with raw data or large amounts of information that can seem overwhelming. Data visualization helps break that information down into easily understandable chunks that on the one hand help businesses discover insights to boost their sales and marketing, and on the other provide consumers with appealing interactive information that is far more captivating than raw data.
While data visualization in one form or another has been around for years (notably in journalism), it’s now entering a new era as more and more companies realize the potential of the information produced on a continual basis by their day-to-day operations. As businesses become more and more data-savvy, data visualization will play an increasingly large part in the way they communicate their brand.
Last year, the music streaming service Spotify collected data from millions of users and cross-referenced it with locations and demographics to create their “How Students Listen 2017” microsite. The storytelling potential of data is huge and set to increase exponentially once it’s no longer restricted to a rectangular browsing window. As we discussed above, humans are very visual creatures and their perception system is optimized to seeing in three dimensions, which means that virtual and augmented reality is a huge deal for the future of brand storytelling.
While the technology has existed for decades, VR and AR devices only recently left the realm of science fiction to make their way into the average consumer’s day-to-day life, notably via games such as Pokemon Go.
The tech giants Apple (with the recent iPhones 8+ and X) and Samsung (who recently strengthened their partnership with Google) are currently leading the way when it comes to augmented reality via mobile. At the same time, VR headsets that offer a totally immersive experience are becoming increasingly accessible. What does this mean for brands? While AI-powered data analysis enables marketers to create meaningful experiences that are tailored to fit individual needs, consumers are increasingly bombarded with advertising, meaning banner blindness is becoming a real issue – and that’s before taking into account the problems posed by ad blockers.
By offering captivating immersive experiences with high entertainment values, brands can circumvent shortening attention spans and connect with consumers put off by more traditional formats.
AI-powered chatbots are already a fixture for thousands of brands across the planet. Beyond their obvious (and increasingly sophisticated) uses from a customer support perspective, chatbots use Natural Language Processing to converse with consumers in human language, respond to complex requests, recommend products, receive payments and offer post-sale follow-up, all within a brand’s own app or via popular messaging platforms such as Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp.
Voice-based chatbots form the basis of virtual assistants such as Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa. Unlike with traditional search engines, customers are able to actually “converse” with brands, thus bridging the gap between consumer motivations and keywords. And with online experiences increasingly likely to move away from the aforementioned rectangular browsing window, chatbots are ideally suited to fit right into more immersive interfaces that are intuitive to users’ daily lives.
We’re not quite there yet, but the possibilities are endless. And let’s just leave this one here: Facebook, whose Messenger platform currently has one billion users and counting, also owns Oculus, one of the biggest VR tech companies out there.
In conclusion? Increasingly sophisticated AI-powered data collection and analysis is creating huge opportunities from a marketing and communications perspective, with brands already able to create customer experiences that are simultaneously highly personalized and entertaining – and the possibilities are endless when it comes to what can be achieved once you add VR/AR, chatbots and a sprinkling of storytelling into the mix.
At the same time, there’s a growing concern when it comes to user privacy and misuse of personal data. By working hand-in-hand with consumers to build trust through transparency and genuine involvement in their online security and privacy, brands can only strengthen their ability to create meaningful relationships with their customers. The sky’s the limit.
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