Ed Cotton: chairman of the 4A’s Strategy Committee & chief strategy officer at BSSP
It was all so very predictable.
If you were a brand manager at any time during the late 1950s through the mid 1990s, when you looked out into the media landscape, you saw the consistent and the static. You knew exactly what you had to create in order to reach the people you needed to reach.
Today is a different beast, however, as brands now have to contend with a constantly evolving media ecosystem that doesn’t stay still for a second. It would be very naive to expect a return to the predictable days of old and wait for emerging media to become mass. Instead we have to work with the assumption that technology-driven change and fragmentation will be the norm. As we move deeper into 2016, it’s becoming apparent that brands have the opportunity to dive into four emerging tech trends.
In this age of “I need it now,” these trends allow brands to serve users on their terms but also to immerse them in experiences, that just a few years ago were the stuff of science fiction. In addition, these four trends relate directly to mobile, which has quickly become the dominant channel, as Facebook confirmed when they announced 80% of their advertising revenue in the past quarter came from it.
Since these technologies are emerging and constantly evolving, no one quite knows where they will end up. The jury is still out, so it remains to be seen whether any of these will reach ubiquitous adoption in their current forms. However, brands that remain on the sidelines waiting for these trends to become mass will miss the chance to test and learn their way to best-in-class experiences.
So let’s take a closer look at two of the four emerging tech trends — app integration and messaging bots — and explore some ideas about how brands might organize themselves to participate in them.
- App Integration
Brands appear where and when you need them.
For players in certain categories such as travel, transportation and finance, app integration is obvious. For the past two years you’ve been living with Uber integrated inside of Google Maps and Open Table, and credit card brands doing the same thing across a number of apps. This isn’t highly sophisticated; it’s being done in the name of utility, but it’s easy to imagine a couple of scenarios for brands:
a. Exclusivity — They might have to pay for the rights to be the exclusive provider on an app. We recently heard that Google paid $1 billion to be present in Apple’s iOS.
b. Aggregation — This could be a bad scenario for brands, where they are hidden behind a button that simply says “taxi” or “credit card” and the app itself works out the best provider based on a rule set decided by the user.
This isn’t a relevant space for every brand, but you can see it becoming essential for some categories. Imagination is needed to uncover new “white spaces,” but on the downside, there’s danger if a brand allows itself to become demoted to a generic category button within an app.
2. Messaging Bots
Brands appear on messenger apps via bots and might just one day sell you a car.
The premise here is usefulness and usability. AI, messengers, etc. are all at the service of the customer. — Esther Dyson
People might be using voice much less on their smartphones, but they’re doing more text communication. It’s this area, in fact, that has become one of the fastest growing in mobile.
Chris Messina wrote an excellent piece on Medium about this new opportunity he calls “Conversational Commerce,” which is one step beyond static app integration and gives brands the chance to interact in real time with users.
The massive scale of the user base for the major messenger apps is attractive because it means brands can interact with close to 1 billion WhatsApp users and 700 million users of Facebook’s Messenger. WhatsApp is reportedly talking to between 20 and 30 brands, including Bank of America and American Airlines; Facebook counts companies like Hyatt and Everlane as current business customers.
Beyond customer support, we are starting to see media use these channels as well (e.g., the Economist is now using the messenger app Line to post content). Put simply, brands become like contacts, and customers are able to chat, ask questions and, in some cases, even make transactions.
As Messina describes it, one of the major challenges is discovery (i.e., how will the user know what brands are present on their messenger app?). But perhaps the bigger issue is that brands need to learn a new language to operate successfully in this space. “The conversational paradigm is more social, and therefore less technologic. We use humane verbs like add, invite, contact, mute, block and message,” Messina explains.
While some companies might currently be using human beings to communicate within messengers, it isn’t a scalable solution. For this reason, bots are emerging that are capable of doing the heavy lifting and providing the service delivery, but their emergence raises a number of questions nonetheless.
- Does your bot speak your brand’s language?
- Can you train it?
- What data do the bots use to be personally relevant to each customer?
- What level of capability can bots provide on messenger apps?
- How do you handle etiquette (e.g., a bot barging into a personal chat that mentions your brand might not be welcome)?
On the user side, we’re already seeing people becoming more comfortable with bots in the workplace via communication tools like Slack’s Slackbot, which can help with expenses, time sheets and even order ice cream.
Imperson is the company behind some of the first branded bots for characters, like Miss Piggy, for example. Instead of solving customer-service issues, these types of bots fulfill a role in providing entertainment for customers. Maybe they can also sell on behalf of brands.
The development of brands integrated within messengers has the potential to be truly transformative, as it delivers real-time interactions that can solve service issues, sell products, and leverage spokespeople and brand characters to engage customers.
In summary, technology has the ability to change how consumer interact with brands. App integration allows brands to provide pure utility. Messaging bots help brands create new conversations with their customers. Read about two additional technologies that have the ability to change your business in part two.
Originally published at medium.com.