2016 saw a lot of brands rushing to use new technologies (think everything from VR/AR to chatbots), but in many cases this ‘quick on the draw’ attitude saw brands miss opportunities to push the technology to its full potential.
Would brands be better served by showing patience over rushed attempts to use technology just because it’s new?
The past shows that first-movers aren’t always the most successful and history is still repeating itself; Alta Vista revolutionised web search, but Google commercialised it. More recently, Apple tried to pioneer the smartphone-based voice assistant with Siri, but in their haste failed to hit the perfect balance between useful and intuitive. Whilst Siri was the first to market, Google bided their time and showed innovative thinking; truly seamless integration.
If we want to use new technology to the best of its ability, we need to identify the ‘why’ before the ‘do’. The past year saw a lot of delivering, but it could have done with more thinking.
Virtual is finally a reality
What started out as a gimmick in the 90s has resurfaced in the age of content saturation where people want richer experiences. Now that the hardware is more affordable (HTC Vive, Samsung Gear VR), accessibility continues to grow, and with it, brand interest.
2016 saw the first real surge in dedicated VR content, however some campaigns gained far more traction than others. For those who waited, the real opportunity within VR addressed the limit to engaging with content via a device screen. Bringing users closer to content through immersive storytelling allowed brands to bring people closer to 'real' experiences, evoking empathy and true brand relationships. Stella Artois partnered with Water.org to create a VR campaign that compared quality of life in Honduras, both with and without access to clean water. The user's view was split between the two perspectives, so that they could compare similar situations at the turn of a head. This was a fantastic use of VR to communicate a message that evoked a deep sense of empathy for a charitable cause, and it won them several awards.
The first movers within VR didn’t have the benefit of hindsight to understand the ‘why’ before the ‘do’. It's the responsibility of brands to push new technologies to their limits and bring something to the table the consumers aren’t expecting. For Stella Artois, this was bringing people closer to less-fortunate environments than they’d ever been before to create a ‘desire to help’; using the perfect mix of shock and empathy.
Big Data needs bigger oversight
Big data seems to be the latest buzzword that won’t die, but are we successfully embracing it? The appetite to utilise data is growing, yet for many brands its real value has yet to be defined.
Personalisation was the big drive in 2016, but there is a limit to how far down you can drill into your customer’s personal details before the value starts to get distorted. Granularity and mass reach find it tough to get along. Understanding the complete profile of an individual customer has limited value, but understanding the common interests that tie your audience together is where human reasoning gains an edge over a research method that’s so close to automation.
Let the machines take control of scaled programmatic marketing and retargeting. That’s what they’re good for. Humans use initiative to look past the numbers and create experiences for audiences using organic reasoning. That’s where truly useful data-powered experiences come to life. Superstore Macy’s brought personalised digital touchpoints to their physical retail space and Netflix offers time and context-specific content depending on previous behaviour. These are great examples of data-inspired experience where the value proposition has been identified through human needs and behaviours; not the use of data for data’s sake.
Walk like a robot, talk like a robot
2016 saw a huge surge in chatbot integrations, although only in a few circumstances did these enter messaging platforms seamlessly. Brands rushed to the front line, but in their haste, missed the key benefit for what makes chatbots so useful; convenience. At its simplest, if you need to explain to a person how to use a chatbot, it’s too complicated. What use is an automated chat service if it doesn't understand the way you talk? Brands needed to be intuitive enough to foresee how users would naturally request their service within a brand new platform, whilst keeping it simple and natural.
In some cases, brands hit the mark. Summoning an Uber within a private message with a friend seems like a seamless, useful integration of the service at the exact point of need. The process of requesting a car and providing basic pick-up and drop-off locations are information exchanges that people are mostly used to.
Where an information exchange hasn’t already been established, some brands failed to differentiate between the novel and the useful. Take the example of Hi Poncho's weather chatbot. The brand placed so much effort on making the chatbot personable and friendly that in essence, it became useless. Instead of providing concise, useful information, the user spent far too long trying activate a simple response. For a weather app, is there really a need to give the service a personality? In truth, there’s a balance. For chatbots, their integration needs to be both seamless and natural, leaving space for users to feel like they’re in control, not the other way round.
Straight-to-market ideas have evidently shown their pitfalls. Brands need to stop rushing and start realising that technology can sometimes be a vehicle for innovation, not just innovation in itself. Content created for new technology will only truly engage if the real benefit of using that technology has been well-defined.
Throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks just isn’t viable anymore. Create rich content and experiences for a purpose, not ‘just because’.
By Kulvin Kailey - 29th January, 2017.