With the start of the new year, everyone (from techradar to Forbes to the BBC) is predicting the consumer technology trends for 2017. Many of the same things are mentioned again and again – such as chatbots, artificial intelligence (AI), virtual reality (VR) and the Internet of Things (IoT) – but are they on your radar and do you know how they might impact your marketing plans?
One way to ensure you can continuously deliver products, services and campaigns to your customers in a meaningful way, is to follow a User Experience (UX) approach. In a nutshell, UX is all about understanding who uses your products and services to guide the design of optimised experiences. By focusing on users and their needs, you are able to go beyond the technology to make sure it provides real value, both to your business and your customers – helping to inform your business as to which new technology trends to take note of and which to implement in your marketing plans.
To help make sense of all the predictions, we’ve grouped the technology trends for 2017 into four main areas of impact for marketing, showing how a user-centred approach can help you to get the most from these new developments:
1. Ensuring a unified experience
Key trends: AI, voice search, audio user interfaces (such as HereOne), chatbots
The way in which consumers are interacting with companies is changing rapidly. Voice recognition, voice interactions, automated interactions and audio interactions are starting to become more commonplace and increasingly useful and natural.
More than ever before, companies need to provide a joined up coherent experience across multiple devices, contexts and formats. To get this right, you need to go beyond simply adapting your content and interactions to work in new ways. Instead this is about using each channel or medium to the best of its potential in a way that supplements and complements your customers’ other interactions with you. You need to understand the context in which each interaction occurs and tailor it accordingly.
For example, as Pete Rojwongsuriya at The Pete Design says on forbes.com, “Imagine an internet provider customer service bot that contextually knows all about your router setups, and can troubleshoot your problems promptly at any hours and provide a richer services than the usual customer service. I would kill for this kind of product to exist right about now”.
By thinking about key customer journeys, you can map out how best to use each channel to meet different needs at different points while keeping the customer at the heart of everything. The information your customer wants through an audio interface if they’re quickly checking something while driving their car will be different to their needs when doing in-depth research on your product at home. But, you will want to make sure that in all situations they get the same core messages and experience. Using journey maps will help you to keep sight of the big picture and make sure it all remains coherent and joined-up.
2. Using data to meet increased expectations
Key trends: AI, machine learning, IoT, humanised data
Connected devices have been around for a while, but 2017 is predicted to be the year when better platforms and interoperability will emerge to help them really take off. Greater uptake of connected devices, in simple terms, means more data. Again, big data is nothing new, but recent advances in machine learning are helping us to make sense of and use it in better ways.
There are many impacts of AI and machine learning, but for marketing one of the most important is that the bar is constantly being raised: people expect ever more meaningful, personalised and tailored experiences based on their past interactions and behaviour. AI is becoming increasingly affordable and within reach of many companies to better understand their customers and mine untapped data, whether through analysing social media comments or categorising email complaints.
But, it is important to understand what customers expect in order to meaningfully enhance their experiences. You need to know what data is important, how to interpret it and how to use it. Which aspects of your content, interactions, products and services can be tailored based on what you know (or what you could find out) about your customers? Which of these enhancements will be most valuable to your customers and help you to stand out in a crowded marketplace?
Solid customer insight, provided through detailed user research refreshed on a regular basis, will provide the information you need to develop an evidence-based strategy for personalising and tailoring experiences. User research differs from market research in that whereas market research is about understanding unmet needs (to answer the question of whether there’s a market for your product), user research is about gaining insight into actual and potential customers (to guide how you can improve your product). User research is therefore perfect for helping you to answer detailed questions about how to tailor experiences.
3. Blurring the digital and the physical
Key trends: augmented reality (AR), VR, smart beacons
The physical and digital worlds are becoming increased blurred. A smartphone camera can be used to trigger an image search on Google or to find matching products on Amazon. Beacons provide a way to reach and communicate with people when they’re indoors, such as in your store. Pokémon Go has put AR firmly into the mainstream.
Image credit: Unsplash
What does this mean from a marketing perspective? Obviously there are the fun examples like bus shelter experiences, but how can you make use of these new ways to reach and connect with customers?
Don’t just create an AR experience because your competitors have or use beacons to inundate customers with marketing messages when they step into your store, but think carefully about how to add value for your customers while keeping true to your brand. Again, understanding customer journeys gives you a great way to understand and plan how to use these new technologies. Are there current issues or pain points that could be resolved? Are there opportunities to go beyond expectations and surprise your customers? Questions like this will make sure you add to their experience and leave them with a great impression of your brand.
Getting it right: planning for 2017
So taken together, what does all this mean for your marketing plans in 2017? Well, given the pace of change, it seems sensible to throw five-year digital strategies out of the window and take a new approach.
Assess honestly where your business is and what your goals are for 2017 and create a one-year digital strategy accordingly. If you haven’t already, create a solid evidence-based set of customer journey maps and personas as part of your strategy. You will need to keep these documents refreshed and updated throughout the course of the year as the technology picture changes and as you learn more about your customers. Take an agile approach so that you can try things out, learn from your experiences and adapt. Make sure you are only using new technology when it will genuinely be of use to your customers, not just because it’s the latest trendy buzzword or fad.
Being flexible, being open to new ideas and putting customers at the heart of everything you do will be the key to success and getting the most out of new technology in 2017.