This year, mobile researcher Chetan Sharma referred to the current era as “The Future of Connected Intelligence.” Link: http://www.chetansharma.com/the-history-and-the-future-of-connected-intelligence/
We frequently tell clients that when everything is connected to everything else over an insanely fast global network, where mobile, web, and IoT connectivity all converge, it’s likely that corollary growth in brand awareness will and services attach will also grow astronomically for well-designed companies.
Moreover, in this accelerated space, technology challenges the boundaries of a huge range of social norms that in some cases have existed for millennia, including the fundamentals of personal privacy.
As a result, we’re now seeing an emerging trend in how businesses of all sizes are going to identify and manage their customers in the future. Initial growth of this technology is likely to start out slow but accelerate very quickly into nothing short of a revolution in how we communicate, market to, and manage our customers.
If this hypothesis is true, how do we plan for the future as brand or product owners, and how do we respond to this change as an increasingly global society?
Figure 01: “Advanced Facial Recognition tied to user profile and other meta-data is likely to revolutionize “anytime, anywhere, brand marketing”
In addition to the interconnectedness of everything, our ability to analyze, predict, and even inform behavior through user profiles and other forms of data is now becoming a reality. So not only is the speed of information and the opportunity for engagement accelerating, but the meaning of the very data being created as those exchanges occur can be understood in near real-time, as opposed to the months or years it may have taken previously.
Figure 02: “Advanced Facial Recognition tied to user profile and other meta-data is likely to revolutionize “anytime, anywhere, brand marketing”
“Even 100 years ago, people worked and lived in highly de-centralized societies and economies. In today’s climate, we have social, political, and economic norms from a de-centralized age co-existing with a completely connected technological backdrop.”
Age of the Asymptotic
A concept we routinely explore with clients and in workshops is what author, technologist, and Singularity proponent Ray Kurzweil likes to call the “Age of the Asymptotic.”
Such curves invite us to consider that technology may be growing faster than we can process socially and may be a major driver for the evolution of politics, economy, and social norms.
Figure 03: “Advanced Facial Recognition tied to user profile and other meta-data is likely to revolutionize “anytime, anywhere, brand marketing”
We have all seen the astronomical growth of the Twitters, Amazons, Facebooks, and so on, but abstracting the symbol of growth, the actual math of the curve itself exposes the realization that there is a new mechanism in product and brand development, a demonstration of how quickly growth can take place and an implication for how the collective impact of this trend exerts force on social awareness and behavior.
For businesses of any size seeking to engage in strategic planning, this curve is a critical tool for understanding the astonishing rate at which something can be built, launched, and accelerated to become a disruptive global market leader.
Figure 04: “Data + Network Technology + Social Promotion can drive brand attach at record speed and value”
In real terms, companies such as Tinder have gone from zero users to tens of millions in around two years and are stating $3.5 billion in Enterprise Value without having a physical product, retail space, or really any brand marketing whatsoever. This is just pure value being spun out of network, a user interface, and millions of users driving viral attach.
As nearly all businesses gradually move from basic websites and mobile applications and into advanced areas of IoT and “Connected Intelligence,” the next tipping point is certainly going to be real-time understanding of the customer and what that means to our current interpretation of norms like privacy and security.
Organizations that can easily solve for this service will become the next high-growth platforms and services providers, while businesses that can effectively adopt these trends without tripping over some of the existing residual concerns about data privacy and “big brother” invasiveness will be especially well-positioned to become early adopters.
The fact that such a high percentage of consumers are already sharing fairly personal data on Twitter, Facebook, Amazon, and other sites and in some cases EXTREMELY personal data on dating sites such as Match, Bumble, and Tinder suggests that technology is very much pushing the legacy boundaries we have talked about to a greater degree of social leniency around the use of personal data. This is especially true if the incentives to provide it and allow it to be accessed are desirable enough for the end-user.
That is to say, if a provider can make an experience efficient, cost-effective, and differentiated enough to forsake some areas of privacy, users will likely concede to that because they already are socially acclimated.
One of the next generations of services that is likely to be introduced as part of brand marketing and “big data analysis” is the ability to identify an end-user when they enter a storefront or even if they are near a storefront.
Using hardware, facial and other biometric recognition software, access to user profiles in social and mobile and real-time data crunching is just now available to provide very powerful predictive analytics around the end-user.
Will growth of these types of services become the next “asymptotic business curve” and result in the next suite of billion-dollar valuations?
The emerging trends in real-time customer analytics underscore that many technological advances that we once considered futuristic are now being adopted by current business applications. raising issues of privacy and security. In addition to raising issues of privacy and security, the businesses that have started to apply these technologies face questions of how to best engage with the end-user both physically and digitally.
These new applications will enable brands to understand customers before they even walk in the door, tailoring ideal experiences based on who they are, their historical behavior, and even how they are feeling in the moment. While the technology may become accessible to any brand, the winners will be those who curate the experience with a balance of sensitivity and execution, so customers gain the benefits without feeling that their privacy has been violated. As consultants, we are increasingly being asked to make use of technology mashups such as military-grade facial recognition, access to users’ social media, web, and mobile profiles, and increasingly inexpensive network and high-def video cameras. Many innovators in product, marketing, and data intelligence are exploring some combination of these tools to instantly transform verticals such as retail or live events from experiences where there is zero understanding of the audience to one that is spectacularly nuanced and well understood.
Figure 04: Real-time analysis of an individual’s profile data using various different types of authentication (including biometric) might seem futuristic, but it’s happening right now and will factor into how all brands market, sell and promote their services in the near future.
Given this backdrop, the worst possible case is to have customers’ personal information used in service of an intrusive video ad or high-pressure sales pitch from a smarmy clerk.
These examples are no longer the stuff of Minority Report or Blade Runner futurism — they are current use cases that are not only likely but probable. It is completely within the realm of possibility that a firm like 23andMe might give clients the option of sharing private real-time DNA data in return for receiving high-incentive offers.
The thought that a highly connected, technologically driven understanding of your customers is suddenly de rigueur might be daunting for businesses that are just now getting their arms around multichannel retail, their e-commerce platform or are even launching their first mobile application. However, it was not that long ago that the idea of subscribing to a service that allowed you to host your customer information probably seemed altogether futuristic.
As innovations emerge, brands can anticipate the development of third-party solutions that will enable them to harness and leverage the opportunities of new technologies.
Even for tools like Salesforce.com, achieving wide-scale adoption required building momentum, socialization, and an emerging understanding of the value proposition, as well as the engagement of early adopters. Over time, these tools that enable a highly nuanced understanding of consumers will become a significant part of the landscape of consumer engagement.
Tools such as Salesforce.com also provide an ERP backdrop whereby real-time customer analytics can be brought to life. In other words, cloud services that are already network-enabled, reasonably understood, and are currently capturing unfathomable amounts of data serve as a bit of a technical midwife for the transition to real-time customer management.
Figure 06: Salesforce.com Growth since their formation in 1999 is yet another “asymptotic” growth curve. What will the next evolution of this company be? Will Salesforce.com become the leader in Customer Data brokerage?
As we begin this next stage of digital collision, evolution, and transformation, the biggest question for strategists and leadership teams is: “What do we do now? How do we bridge the gap between the way we run businesses today and the point in the future where everyone ‘gets it’? What do we do while we’re waiting for the evolution of tools that tell us everything we need to know about the customer and what to do about it in real-time?”
While the engine will be technology, the ultimate answer to the question is very much human. The firms that are successfully leading the way in Net Promotor Scores Link: https://www.netpromoter.com/know/]and J.D. Power and Associates awards are simply using better customer intelligence to guide them — they don’t confuse the data with the work itself. The real work begins with better sales and customer service training, brand management, communications, and business space.
In the end, the greatest beneficiaries of a technologically powered understanding of customers are the brands that already work on the fundamentals of customer engagement, using whatever level of understanding is available today and then evolving those fundamentals into more sophisticated management of both digital and real-time data applications of core strategies. This insight has been a major theme in the work we do and, in the media, and literature that we have produced. The constant adjustments businesses and business leaders need to make between the technology that drives growth and the very human decisions that are required to effectively wield technological changes as they emerge. David Howitt is the CEO of Meriwether Group and Author of Heed Your Call, a book that celebrates entrepreneurs and the journeys they embark upon. Piper Carr is the Co-Founder of Dojo, a recognized leader in Digital Product Innovation