Whether used as a memory, knowledge or socialising device, mobile phones have become an extension of our human-most activities. They’re so much a part of our bodies that I’ve heard a comedian joke that when he sees his battery losing its charge he feels that his own energy level must be dropping as well. It’s an intimate man-and-machine relationship that keeps inspiring marketers to discover the next technologies that can be leveraged for more personalised, engaging and thereby more effective communications.
As we look ahead to Mobile World Congress next week, the question is whether we will see technology advance more along these lines, or just see more of the type that dazzles. Based on other technology conferences, we are already seeing directional signs that new offerings are evolving by becoming more "humanised," and therefore more responsive to people’s needs. The car will feel if you are sad; the robot will wink at you and tell you if you need to wake up an hour earlier because of traffic; the toothbrush will play with your kid. In other words, we are seeing more than just things connecting with other inanimate things.
If it can continue, this is an importantly relevant technology trend for marketers. Successful marketing is increasingly focused on delivering brand experiences, not just messages, and these new, "more human" technologies can open up new ways in which brands can insert themselves as part of the overall consumer experience.
There are three broad trends along these lines that we are spotting this year. They point to technology taking on the role of the "assistant," the "documentarian" and the "sage." They were evident last month at CES and we anticipate seeing them emerge at MWC as well.
In recent years, we’ve seen an increasing focus on "one-touch" in consumer mobile experiences—that is, minimum clicks to get what you need in the easiest way. "One activation" in the form of voice activation is also part of this trend, as is typified by Siri, for example. As much as we love our mobile devices – in our homes, our cars or even maybe while shopping – we wish to have a "hands-free" environment and this is where the assistant takes on a major role. Whether Amazon’s Alexa or Google Home, these assistants enable us to get information and control machines only by using simple voice activation.
These "one question, one answer" assistants demonstrate that machines can understand you, talk to you and respond to you. We are probably going to see a wider range of applications. We will soon find Alexa in our Ford cars, or Microsoft’s Cortana in Nissans and BMWs. And there will be similar responsive voice-activated services in our homes with the Whirlpool dishwasher and the LG hub robot that will do almost anything we require.
For brand marketers, there is an opportunity to explore how they can become part of the one-activation assistant’s services. Can they add value by providing recipes or beauty tips or by enabling faster purchasing? Can they play a role at retail through branded assistants that are located at point-of-sale? Taking these baby steps will require formulating the human needs first and then trying to prototype and test some of these ideas.
Mobile changes the way we document and even experience our lives. It’s like an added set of eyes. Just try to go and enjoy the sunset at the beaches on Santorini and you will see how many people are holding their phones in front of them and trying to catch the best pic to post on Instagram. And let’s not get started on the subject of selfies.
Also, phone camera technology has been substantially improved, and now we can find great 360 cameras on mobiles. But here too, people are in search of the hands-free, seamless experience. We want to share our lives, but feel immersed in them and not disconnected because of our phone screens. Snap has already created a different camera experience by launching Spectacles and now we should be seeing more and more options on documenting our lives in better and easier ways. Plus think of all the ways in which better cameras are available: Egg drone, fish drone, paper airplane drone, floating camera, 360 camera, skin camera, VR live camera, button camera, glasses camera, oven camera – and so on.
Everything in our life can be captured, documented and broadcasted: Just choose the best angle and the right camera. Now, through access to better and more flexible cameras, the new technologies will make it easier to share experiences as if you are actually there. And again, there is an emerging opportunity for brands, in this case to start exploring how to become part of these captured moments and video stories, and how better to share interesting moments with your audience.
If our phone were to have a body and a face it would probably be an attractive robot. And of course, we are seeing more and more robots, again as part of the artificial intelligence trend.
But we are also seeing how robots can be used to teach us new skills and knowledge. We are going to see kids emerge as a really strong new target audience for these types of innovations. Lego recently created the "Lego Boost" that can teach kids how to code (among other startups doing the same), "Emys" that employ technology to teach kids new languages, and "Robot Einstein" which teaches them science. All of these robots look like cute humanised toys. It will be interesting to see how this "techucation" for kids actually gets played out.
But even for those brands not targeting children, this technology can also be a great tool, whether in teaching adults new languages before they travel, or in financial education, or relative to careers where people can be better prepared for job interviews or even helped in learning new work skills.
As with brands themselves, those technologies that can play meaningful roles in people’s lives are the most likely to be appreciated and adapted. The challenge for brand marketers is not to view the exhibits at CES or MWC as the end product of their own innovation. Brands should first understand what the unmet consumer needs are, and then search for the relevant humanised technology that can be adapted to help brands better tell their stories and deliver life-enhancing, meaningful experiences to their customers and prospects.
Elav Horwitz is global innovation director of McCann Worldgroup