What technology should we be watching?
Technology is changing at an incredible pace, which makes it challenging to stay on top of the latest trends. New technology is constantly changing the way we interact with the world, and consequently, how businesses should effectively market to their audience.
At the end of each year, the leading gurus of Digital Marketing launch their proposals and predictions regarding the main trends in technology, usability, formats and the like for the following year.
But how can you tell the difference between a trend and a fad? How do you know which trends are worth following for your business, and which aren’t?
For me, a fad is “who” you are doing it with. For example, Tinder as a brand may not be around in a year; it could be a fad. But people wanting an easy and direct way to meet others is a trend that shows no sign of slowing, whether it be with Tinder, Bumble or Happn.
It is trends that we, as marketers, need to be looking for.
I like to stop what I am doing and gaze up, I think it is important to take stock of what is going on in the world when looking at the marvels of technology. Trends aren’t about what’s hot or not; it’s about how customers are using technology, and how its integrating into daily life.
People watching is great for this; when you sit in a coffee shop and just look around and observe people, you’re watching your potential customers. It’s important to keep an eye on your consumer and the trends they are adopting, as it can help you monitor your customer’s expectations.
Take a look around your industry, and peek over the fence to see what others are doing. If your customers are already thinking about customising their Spotify, or Bank Card, or clothes, what’s stopping them from thinking about customising their product or service with you?
It’s imperative that you stay curious at what brands are doing, what your friends are doing on your social news feeds, or how they are communicating with you. Don’t be distracted by the “what” of the technology, but look at what it is doing to help customers manage their expectations.
New tech, new me
The core of any trend is that, as humans, we have a need for self-improvement. We all want to make ourselves better on some level. Just look at the current political landscape and you will see as we grow more aware of the echo chamber effect, people want to increase their empathy and understanding of life outside of them. This is a trend that brands can use to help customers to improve themselves and increase their empathy.
A great example of this is the use of social media by charities to educate consumers in an engaging way, whilst raising awareness about their cause. The Hungarian Red Cross ran an Instagram campaign in which people were prompted to tap the like ‘heart’ in time to the rhythm that CPR should be given. This taught people a life-saving skill using the fad (that is, the Instagram app) that fed off the trend of people wanting to be able to be better.
The main trends I’ve identified in this post, I believe, are all interconnected; in some way or another in our driving need to improve ourselves, or the experiences we provide to others. There is a great amount of overlap, but the main areas I want to focus on are:
1- User Experience
2- Empathy and Community
3- Artificial Intelligence
4- Enhance Me
Will it blend?
The trends I’m exploring are all seeking to seamlessly integrate into daily life. I believe that technologies are most effective and powerful when they blend together with others, with the goal of producing something that is totally frictionless for the user.
Picture this. A future not too far away, where driverless cars take us to work. No longer having to focus on the road, we can put on our Augmented Reality glasses and use Voice Search to show us destinations that we can then experience, in the car. With the addition of a shopping functionality, and the flick of a wrist, our ski holiday is booked.
This sounds like a sci-fi fantasy. But it’s closer than you think.
We’re at a point where the scary shit and the exciting shit is meeting in the middle, and even though my mind is boggled and blown by what I read and seen over the last year alone, I am excited for the future. But a red button in my head is flashing. We’ve got to work out the ethical questions raised by unlimited convenience, before behaviours become too entrenched. This has to be done by the community, by us, not a profit focused company.
Whilst my driverless car future gazing example depends on technologies that are still in development, and haven’t reached mass-adoption, smartphones currently bring together the technological trends of today.
Right now, mobile is the glue of technology adoption.
Until we start to embed our technology into our skin (which is happening), the phones in our hands are our passes to technological developments, and as marketers we have to optimize everything we do for mobile. But you knew that already.
It’s not just about adopting new technologies, but how to adapt marketing to fulfil changing consumer needs. Back in 2011, Tesco’s South Korean arm Home Plus put up posters in subway stations, where commuters could use QR codes to order groceries whilst waiting for trains at the station, to be delivered when they got home.
Similarly, the smartphone can be used to unify numerous technologies in order to provide an optimised user experience. With MoBike, users can use GPS to find available bicycles for rent, mobile locks operated by QR codes allow bike-sharing without the infrastructure of docking stations, and mobile payments are activated so the whole process of finding bikes, unlocking and paying for them is smooth – and driven by mobile.
The trends that are taking off best are the ones that feed off core human desires, whilst making interacting with the world easier. Here are some of the things that have caught my eye, and with that, how I have started to group these fun, exciting and sometimes worrying developments that at times, read like a movie script.
1- User Experience
For me, UX is about taking obstacles out of the way to maximise the customer experience. Without UX, you are just guessing; unless you have mind-reading superpowers – which may be closer than we think.
If you focus on UX at all marketing touch points, if you do the work for the customer, you will be rewarded. Tech has made us busy and bombards us with information, so consumers are tired and only able to consume in micro-moments. Good UX does the thinking for the customer.
To market effectively, we need to give customers a seamless and fluid experience and I think UX is the trend that will provide that.
78% of people now watch videos online every week. 57% of people watch them every day. Video is the new medium, and livestreaming has really taken off. Not only is it easier for marketers, eliminating the need of hiring a videographer, but the experience of watching a live video as part of a visible online audience is a really interesting development.
Perhaps the most pertinent example of this would be the infamous #DrummondPuddlewatch of Janauary 2016, which captivated upwards of 500,000 viewers at any one time:
It wasn’t that long ago we were talking about the disruptive potential of Meerkat or Periscope, but it’s Facebook Live that has taken off.
As of January 2016, 100 million hours of video are consumed on Facebook every day by approximately 500 million users. These are the most up-to-date metrics online, but assuming linear growth, it’s predicted that by August 2017 Facebook Video will see more than 64 billion views daily.
And why is Facebook doing so well? They’ve kept on innovating with the changing demands of the user, without changing the experience of using the app. If you remember, like me, using facebook around the 2007 mark, the interface does not look very different to what we see now in 2017.
FACEBOOK PROFILE 2007
C/o Time / Facebook
Video, as a trend, is here to stay, so it’s surprising the number of content producers that aren’t using captions. Whilst plenty of people are watching video content, they aren’t necessarily doing so with the sound on, and so may be totally losing the message of the video. It’s also a key accessibility feature that makes content accessible to people with hearing impairments, to people whose first language is not English, and it reinforces the message people are hearing.
Money invested into video content without captions is a waste. Hold your customers hand; give them no reason to drop interest.
Vertical video = better UX
Visual content was first consumed on the landscape screens of the cinema, which then translated to the widescreens of TV and computers. Youtube built their platform optimised for this horizontal content, but if you take a look and see how people are filming content on their phones, you’ll see they’re doing so vertically. When people are scrolling through content on their phones, it’s in portrait. So we have a disconnect with the content output and how your consumers actually consume it.
Rather than follow the rules set bythe technology, as marketers we need to look at our customers, see how they’re doing things, and adapt our strategies around them.
On demand services
Services like Taskrabbit, or Treatwell mean you can book someone else to do anything from furniture building, giftwrapping or beauty treatments, right in your home, within the next hour.
This is going to be really disruptive to some businesses as staff opt for the freedom of self-employment, and consumers grow accustomed to instant satisfaction. Now, this does raise a load of ethical concerns about the lack of benefits or support for gig economy workers, but it’ll be interesting to see how the trend for convenience sticks.
Amazon Dash buttons
Ordering services to our homes is just a step up from ordering groceries, something we’ve been able to do for over two decades. But Amazon’s looking to innovate this further – and as a marketer I absolutely love this.
Around 250+ brands have teamed up with Amazon to create these Amazon Dash buttons: little tags that you can stick around your house, close to where you consume products. You can put your detergent tag on the washing machine, paper tower tag next to the kitchen roll, and even a condom tag for wherever you might need those…
Simply tap the tag when you’re running low, and the item will be added into your Amazon basket. It’s important, especially if you’ve got children, to be able to confirm your purchase, but it removes the mental load of remembering what’s running low, where you’ve made a list and when you’ve booked your shopping delivery. This is a habit forming cycle that locks you into a brand; whoever gets into this space now, will own that customer.
Personally, I am a huge fan of the convenience of subscription boxes.
For usability, HelloFresh has to be one of the most game-changing subscriptions I had when I went back to work after my second tiny human was born. They provided a meal plan with all of the necessary ingredients already portioned and ready for me to assemble, the hassle of shopping and planning meals for the family is gone, freeing me up to spend more quality time with my family.
With convenience, comes opportunity for surprise and delight.
A subscription to Glossybox gives me a low-risk way to trial new products. At around £13 a box that includes £50+ of products, I get a little box of treats without the stress of choosing, understanding the products, how to use them etc – followed up by a link to buy any of the products in the box with a little discount.
There’s now subscription boxes for anything; mindfulness, shaving, period care, flowers, dog food, sports supplements, covering cheap and cheerful to high end luxury options. I don’t know which brands will stick, but providing moments of surprise, packaged in convenience and delivered right to my doorstep is going to stay on trend.
Whilst loyalty programs aren’t new, making it easier for customers to be loyal is a developing space. Brands want to reward us, and most of us are pretty happy to be rewarded in exchange for a little data – we enjoy the slightly misguided feeling of getting something for free.
Whilst there are plenty of apps trying to replace loyalty schemes, I’m really interested in this Helsinki startup Physical Cookie. No sign up, no cards, just a little keychain. Tracking your movements around the store, your preferences are tracked in real-time instead of at purchase, allowing the store to offer you customised offers before you leave. This is another great example of businesses doing the work for customers to reap the benefits with a low barrier of entry.
Retail Interactive Mirror
Another interesting project tackling the retail pain points was a recent collaboration between eBay & Rebecca Minkoff. Tackling the poor user experience of changing rooms, the interactive mirror could provide the customer with more information about the product, alert customer service to bring in a different size, and take photos to send to friends.
This kind of enhancement is making the experience of shopping more fluid, faster, and makes spending money a whole lot easier.
As well as making the in-store experience better, there’s still a lot of scope to improve the delivery side of online shopping. Enter, Amazon Prime drones. I really think Amazon is looking at ways to enhance their delivery network, and I think the Whole Foods acquisition was a part of that. With a wider network of distribution centres, comes a greater opportunity to deliver locally.
Unlike the cartoon predictions of the 20th century, it looks like drone delivery will beat commercial space travel
In our high-rise cities, where going up and down in buildings represents a great misuse of time, could drones delivering directly to your door solve the issues of missed deliveries and impatient couriers? Amazon have already sucessfully delivered a TV streaming stick and bag of popcorn directly to the garden of a nearby customer.
The user experience of payments has already come a long way, and keeps on developing to make it easier and faster for us to spend our money!
When the Apple watch first came out, I thought everyone who owned one was a bit of a, well, wanker, but since I’ve got mine I love it, and I don’t care if my family thinks I am an Apple wanker. I am enjoying, among its other apps and whistles, the no hassle payments; no more rummaging in my bag for my purse, I just pay for the tube or a coffee.
On the other hand, you’ve got America only just introducing chip & pin, so we’re at different stages of progress in different countries, but the trend for easier payments isn’t going anywhere. Speaking of which…
Amazon Go Store
Amazon has been struggling to master payments since they launched Amazon Payments in 2013, so I think the Amazon Go store is a test case for their technology. You simply tap in, take what you want off the shelf, and go. Your amazon account is charged for the purchase.
I don’t think this is Amazon trying to take on bricks and mortar stores; more trying to master their payments infrastructure so they can begin to profit from it.
We Brits do love to queue, but what if there were no need for it any more? If Amazon gets this right, and gives away the technology to other stores, this takes payments to the next level.
Mastercard Selfie Pay
As of July 2015, 14.5 million selfies are taken every day in the UK, but only 4.3 million are posted online. Just a decade ago, the thought of pouting and posing in public, alone, to take a photo would’ve been unheard of, but we’re now at a point where we’re so comfortable taking photos of our own face that Mastercard is rolling out ‘selfie’ payment technology.
Facial Recognition for flights
It’s not just payments solutions that are using facial recognition technology to remove barriers for customers. Dutch airline KLM are testing facial recognition software to speed up the boarding process, whilst in China, Face++ are using facial and body scanning technology for payments, crowd monitoring and for security access to buildings.
This is more than making payments easier; it has the potential to improving our safety as people can be tracked for both consumer benefits, and in the interest of security. This, of course, flags the issue of ethics and relies on consumer acceptance and rock solid data protection. This power could be used for good, but it’s a fine line to cross into evil.
I think we’re going to see more collaborations like this one between Google and Levi’s, where industry leaders come together to use one another’s expertise. Project Jaquard is ‘weaving’ technology into denim, minimising the effort users have to expend in tasks like following directions, answering the phone, and changing music.
At around £150 a jacket, the cost isn’t that prohibitive, and you can still wash it and wear it like a jacket, so it’s technology like this I see slipping into our daily routines quite well.
Another of Google’s projects, Project Soli, is a new sensing technology that uses miniature radar to pick up touchless gestures.
This is really reaching into the most innate aspects of human behaviour, working out how to maximise the user experience of using our bodies. Imagine the possibilities of being able to ‘touch’ and interact with items in virtual reality using your hands and movements!
Amazon Echo & Google Home
Although not quite wearable, Amazon’s Echo, Google’s Home and any other competitors are part of the trend of hands-free interaction with technology.
At its core, user experience is about offering the user a path so easy to follow that they don’t have to question any choices. So it’s interesting to see that the Wynn Hotel, Las Vegas, has installed Amazon Echo in all 4,748 of its rooms. Guests don’t even have to interact with a concierge, lighting console or look into the little hotel room manuals; simply addressing the room will find their requirements met.
2- Empathy & Community
For me, the next important trend is empathy and community. It harks back to what I define as a trend: something that changes our expectations and interactions with technology or the world around us. A significant part of this comes from how we interact – or don’t – with others around us. As humans, we’re hardwired to be social, and as influencer marketing and social media have shown, we still require and trust social proof.
Omni Channel – SMIIRL
Very simple, but this brings me personal joy. Smiirl is a real time social media counter. It looks like an old school ticker, but it’s linked up to a social account like facebook and twitter, and the number will tick over if you give it a like. There was something very satisfying for me to be in a local London restaurant, liking their facebook page and seeing ticker drop to reveal another fan. Not only is the novelty of an online interaction cause a real life reaction a bit of fun, it provides a tangible example of social proof.
C&A Fashion Like
Another example of online interactions influencing real world decisions is this project with like-updated hangers. As the collection was launched online, the tickers on the hangers would update to show the social liking. This resulted in around 1000 new fans per hour, the creation of almost 1,700 blogposts, and part of the collection sold out within a day.
Print magazine featuring Facebook ‘like’
From the same agency and company came the Like Ad, where users who pre-registered for the magazine received a copy linked up to their facebook account. Throughout the magazine were adverts with two fashions to vote on. The user’s vote would trigger a post on their facebook feed, and their vote would be registered in real-time at the store.
Allowing users to see real-time social proof gives reassurance to consumers, and social credit amongst peer groups. It’s a really fascinating way to blend online interactions with offline impact.
So, unsurprisingly, messaging continues to reach new heights. But it might not be with the platforms that are first to mind.
We can’t be sure that Facebook will be around forever (although, that’s looking pretty likely) but each generation is finding a new place to talk. Right now, Kik is used by 40% of American teens, as it lets them seamlessly mix different media into messaging.
Whether or not Kik is the brand that takes the majority of the market, our continued appetite for messaging seems to be a trend here to stay.
Chatbots taking our jobs?
Spotting our appetite for chat, 80% of businesses want to be using chatbots by 2020.
BI IMAGE http://www.businessinsider.com/80-of-businesses-want-chatbots-by-2020-2016-12
This is a personal love/hate topic for me, as I find holding interesting conversations with a machine disheartening, whilst unsophisticated text recognition chatbots can provide truly frustrating experiences.
For businesses, they represent a way to save money, but I see it more as a better investment of a salespersons time. Chatbots can pre-screen customers, acquire all the information needed, before passing them on to a real person to seal the deal.
Chatbots will be here to stay, as they work for businesses, but they’ll only work for the user if they’re answering questions properly
That said, when they work, they work really well.
My personal favourites have to be the Whole Foods recipe finder, which gives you ideas for dinner based on the ingredients you have, Sephora’s tips and tricks bot that learns your preferences and makes custom recommendation, and H&M’s fashion chatbot, that shows you styles and tailors suggestions based on the preferences you give.
Chatbots are a chance for you, as a business, to make your customers feel good – not a way to avoid talking to them.
Are you ok?
Now whilst social media has presented new opportunities to communicate and connect, it’s also created a new suite of problems, and is finally stepping in to help fix them.
Suicide rates amongst young people have surged, and worldwide you’ve got cyberbullying, people feeling isolated and miserable as they watch what the feel they’re missing out on. Facebook is using its AI to detect people at risk, based on the content of their recent posts or from a tip-off by a user. A human reviews the post, before a message is sent to the user offering them ways to seek help.
Be My Eyes
Whilst some technology has isolated us, there’s other ways it’s bringing us together, and the app Be My Eyes does just that. Allowing any blind person to request help from a sighted volunteer, the video function of a smartphone enables a stranger to see for a blind person.
This is encouraging selfless giving and builds a sense of community. The only problem is the volunteers far outnumber the blind app users – so many don’t get to help in the way they want for a couple of months!
Open Source House
Now there’s selflessly giving, and then there’s redefining the notion of ownership. Architect Alastair Parvin has proposed ‘WikiHouse:’ a library of creative commons architecture that enables anyone to design, print components and build their own house.
I’m all for capitalism, making profits and paying taxes, but this really is a game-changer in giving communities fair access to tools that could build better societies for all.
Building information management
Building on the building theme is the rise of information architecture. Architecture is in the midst of an upheaval, and Building Information Management (BIM) is the focal point for a number of different changes. BIM acts as a central database for clients, suppliers, architects and builders to all work together in creating something.
We love feeling part of a community, and sharing experiences. So much so, that the top 5 unboxing channels on youtube have 33 million subscribers between them.
It’s an interesting trend that shows no sign of stopping. Despite all that’s going on in the world, there’s still shared joy to be found, even if its watching strangers open up subscription boxes that I’m waiting to come through the door.
3- Artificial Intelligence
Artificial Intelligence is a huge, meaty subject. But as we’ve had it around for a while, we’re now seeing it mature in really interesting ways, and a classification system based on intelligence has begun to rollout.
From the video games of the 1980s, instant messaging chatbot of the noughties Smarter Child, through to our Facebook ad buying, AI is seamlessly integrating into our lives. It’s not something to freak out about – but it is something we do need to keep considering the ethics of.
18 year old Joshua Browder created a simple ‘robot lawyer’ AI to contest parking tickets. As of June 2016, it had a 64% success rate, claiming back $4m for users. It’s a simple chatbot interface, made by someone who hasn’t been to law school, and has some pretty huge implications for the future of our legal system.
IN PROFESSIONAL SERVICES
Another Google AI project, DeepMind, is able to make informed and logical decisions that far surpass the abilities of a human, like reducing the cooling bill at its own data storage facility by a sweet 40%. The team in London is currently making huge leaps and bounds in mastering the ability to create artificial speech that sounds truly human.
Similar to Google’s DeepMind, IBM’s Watson has been in development for a while now, and is learning fast. Its current use cases vary from content making to tailoring education and automating marketing.
It’s basically taking the analytical side of decision-making away from our inferior human brains, freeing us up to provide an empathetic ear. A great example of this is an AI that detects cancer; taking the burden off of doctors to diagnose and instead freeing them up to provide the human face of healthcare. The implications for this in developing countries, where it would take 300 years at the current pace to train an adequate supply of health professionals, are really staggering.
Putting words into Obama’s mouth
A team from the University of Washington has been exploring the use of AI to learn mouth movements and speech patterns, in order to doctor video footage to appear to be saying something entirely different.
The ethical implications of this one, given our current climate of fake news, are pretty big.
AI to rule?
Given the ability of AI to make better informed decisions without any human emotions or prejudices influencing it, could we begin to see it sitting on the board? Would we have an AI boss? An AI running the country? Theo Priestley’s TED talk looks at the possibility of artificially intelligent poticians. Would you be happy to follow a robot leader?
Given the extremes of global politics at present, an AI interested only in serving a common good, that doesn’t get tired or make embarrassing blunders, could pose a popular leadership candidate in the not too distant future.
4- Enhance Me
Whilst improving ourselves is arguably the foundation of human motivation and the force behind most of these trends, I’d say some of these technologies fall specifically within the personal realm. There’s certainly a lot of crossover with UX, and I’m really interested to hear any points of disagreement!
Whilst it is arguably making our user experience of the world around us, I’ve put Virtual Reality (VR) into enhance me, as it’s a tool with which we can improve our own performance.
There’s VR gaming, which is providing us a way to get better at games, but I’m interested in the way that VR is gamifying our experiences.
ICAROS IMAGE Via http://www.ispo.com/en/products/id_78064652/icaros-virtual-reality-for-athletes.html
Icaros, for example, encourages the user to hold the plank position (working out all the core muscles), but tricks the user into feeling they’re flying a spacecraft. It’s enhancing your body, but in an engaging way.
Another way to enhance yourself, is through enhancing experiences. Marriott hotels are now offering VR postcards through their VRoom service, which has huge potential from a content marketing perspective. Guests can order VR experiences to their room, which could act as a gateway to book people onto tours or other complimentary packages.
3D printing is another trend that could fit under UX, but a lot of it is about making things better for me, as a person. At the moment, the cost of 3D Printing technology is pretty prohibitive, but when you consider the technology in your standard iPhone is far superior to the first rockets NASA sent to the moon, it isn’t too far-fetched to imagine a world where we all have our own 3D printers at home, printing on demand.
My personal favourite application is the ability to print 3D from ultrasound scans, allowing blind parents-to-be to ‘see’ their unborn babies.
For sport and payments
Personal fitness tracking has been around for a while, and I don’t see it going anywhere. Again, these could be considered UX for the fact they make interactions with the world easier, but for me they’re mainly about improving the experience of the self, and optimising the life of the individual.
For recentring the self
There’s also another side to the self-improvement wearables; that of mindfulness. In addition to tracking sleep and exercise, Bellabeat products allow you to track your period, your reproductive cycle for conception and stress levels, encouraging a more holistic approach to your health. It also looks beautiful as jewellery in and of itself.
For keeping safe
An interesting development in the wearables space is the development of safety wearables, that offer a peace of mind. Of course, kid trackers have been around a while, but I personally like the Wearsafe. Designed for grown ups, it uses the power of your phone whilst keeping it out of site, letting you reach someone in a time of need without further putting yourself in danger.
As a Brit without a second language, I say all hail the Babel Fish. As Amazon & Google tussle to create the most useful voice assistant in an increasingly loud ecosystem, a device that lets you simply plug in and understand someone in a different language has huge potential for both individual gains whilst travelling, and the global business landscape.
Already offering translation services is Skype. This allows users to hold conversations, via the app, across languages, in real time.The verbal translation sounds truly native, like you are actually speaking that language.
From a marketing perspective, this will make it easier to target international audiences without hiring interpreters, but also brings in interesting new challenges of different cultural norms and practices.
Microchipped people at work
This is where we are truly entering Black Mirror territory: chipping people. Now this example in Sweden was totally opt-in, but it allowed employees to access the building without needing an access pass. It didn’t seem to catch on so well, but it’s important to remember that even if a trend doesn’t catch on, it doesn’t mean it failed. More that it was a step in the development of technology.
It was just over 20 years ago that Clifford Stoll, acclaimed US astronomer and author, decreed that the internet would fail. Pioneers now will undoubtedly make mistakes, but they’ll learn from them.
Microchipped people for fun
Biohacking pioneers are really driving enterprise-level technology with the technology they’re developing for personal use. Digiwell is a German company offering cyborg modifications that allow industry leaders like Theo Priestley to insert NFC chips into their own bodies; enabling users to make payments or enter spaces without using a device that could be lost, or run out of battery. Having an apple watch, I really see the appeal for this and would get one implanted.
Now here’s where it gets controversial – and where we need to really look at the ethics of changing our bodies. The FDA has improved an implant that monitors conditions like Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and depression. For Emily Borghard, a chronic seizure-sufferer, this implant allows her to live a normal quality of life, whilst also tracking her seizures and brain activity, which can be sent to her neurologist in real time.
Interestingly, Facebook is also applying VR technology to the brain implants sphere, using the kind of technology that could allow paralysed people to type with their mind. Whilst this raises a number of privacy fears, especially from a company that at its core sells advertising based on user information, it’s a development worth watching at least for the technological advancement in the health sphere.
In creating an online world that goes largely unregulated, our trust all lies with central systems: banks, government, large businesses. Consumer data is becoming an increasingly valuable asset, and when hacks happen, the ripple effects are spreading faster.
Which is why decentralisation is the final key trend that we, as marketers, need to keep an eye on.
Fundamentally, it’s about increasing transparency and accountability, whilst offering protection for the user.
The Blockchain acts as a giant ledger, where users record transactions. Once something is recorded in the Blockchain, it can never be deleted or tampered with. THE best explanation I have found on this topic is from Blockchain expert Bettina Warburg, her TED talk is well worth a watch.
This is an enormously reductive explanation as the Blockchain is a huge topic in and of itself, but to monitor trends we don’t necessarily need to know the mechanics of the technology. People use Google everyday and have no idea how the technology works.
Blockchain technology is still in its early development days, and suffers a lot of criticism, but it’s got some really enormous implications in all systems of society, and is well worth monitoring as marketers. I think it’s going to be the lynchpin of future developments in UX, community, AI and self-enhancement – all my other key themes to watch.
Chronobank TIME tokens
As the rise of the gig economy and automation increases the number of freelancers in the workplace, there comes a need for a system that manages workers seeking work and companies in need of assistance. Lykke, a Swiss Fintech company, has launched ChronoBank: a platform that matches workers to business. Funded by a token aptly named TIME, this could be a fad company, but its feeding off the rising trend of flexible working.
The car eWallet
Also using the Blockchain in order to solve multi-dimensional issues is the UBS Car eWallet. Designed to manage payments for charging electrical cars, it lends itself to other payments related to being on the move, like tolls and parking. Being built on the Blockchain, which takes out the middleman of financial services, there’s a capacity for making micropayments without the charges of traditional banks that still use legacy software.
Blockchain identity verification
Thomson Reuters have developed an identity verification platform that manages access to blockchain contracts. Being open and transparent keeps the blockchain as an ecosystem accountable, but has its own shortcomings in that there’s no security or management system. The BlockOne ID system allows developers to set conditions that users have to meet in order to have access to this blockchain. This acts as a due diligence system, and ensures users accept terms and only are granted access to the right data.
Another interesting space where blockchain can be used for identity verification is human resources. Currently, fact-checking CVs involves extensive outreach to different institutions, with falsified documents falling through the gaps. Ascribe is creating a secure blockchain in which original documents can be uploaded, shared and never tampered with. Not only does this save HR professionals time and resources, it enables a new level of fraud detection. This use case of document verification has truly enormous implications.
One of the most remarkable things about the blockchain is the sheer volume of investment, even when ideas are pre-launch (such as ICOs – Initial Coin Offerings or cryptocurrency presales).
China’s largest car part manufacturer is investing $30bn into a 770 hectacre smart city. Looking at completion within the next seven years, this project is looking to stimulate the use of blockchain in cities. This is certainly one to watch as they’re creating an entire ecosystem to test out this new technology, where they can learn lessons and adapt technologies in a safe, trial environment.
As information on the blockchain can’t be tampered with or edited, it offers artists and creators new opportunity to protect their intellectual property, and capitalise on a market without losing to the middleman.
UJO is a blockchain-powered platform that enables creators to upload their music online whilst retaining full control over the rights, licensing and distribution. Imogen Heap’s ‘Tiny Human’ was the first song to test out the platform.
National & global applications
The opportunities for the blockchain are so numerous and game-changing for society as a whole, I couldn’t help but mention a few more…
- The Republic of Georgia are now using the blockchain to keep an accurate and up-to-date record of the land registry.
- Estonia have built their entire government around technologies such as the blockchain, which has been used in their health, judicial, legislative and other registries since 2012.
- Dubai is going paperless by moving all state documents onto the blockchain in a plan that aims to save 25 million work hours per year.
- The UN is pioneering a scheme that uses the blockchain to track the identity of refugees who often lose documents or proof in the turmoil of war, enabling greater access to aid services.
What does this mean for us?
Adapt, Innovate, or Die
As a marketer, as a business person, as a citizen: you need to adapt, or innovate. Or you will die. Ok that sounds a bit dramatic, but look at the likes of Blockbuster and Netflix.
Starting from the same industry of renting out DVDs, Netflix suceeded where Blockbuster failed, monitoring consumer changes and innovating; expanding their offer to include on-demand streaming, international subtitles, global distribution and original content.
This is why watching and analysing both trends and fads is important. We can’t be sure if Netflix or Kik will be here forever, but the behaviours on instant gratification and constant social connection which they’ve become synonymous with are unlikely to go anywhere.
But this raises a lot of ethical questions.
One popular startup maxim dicatates that it “is easier to ask for an apology than permission.” The speed at which technology is developing makes it difficult to track and monitor. As so much of this technology is so new, untested, and unregulated, we marketers need to be cautious with our ethics.
The lasting effects of a lot of these technologies can’t be known, and whilst technology is bringing incredible opportunities, there are a lot of questions worth asking about how the ethics of progress are being monitored; especially as change is being driven by private companies.
Innovating may benefit a greater good, but businesses need to make a profit. Facebook, Google and Amazon have the resources to conduct this research, but are they the best people to trust with potentially world-changing technology and incredibly intimate personal data? The Economist recently published an article with the headline “Data is the New Oil” which raised some interesting questions about the tech titans that dominate our information landscape.
Fortunately, most of these companies are making the effort to at least address these ethical quandries. The MIT Media Lab has established a $27 million initiative on the ethics and governance of artificial intelligence, whilst Amazon, Facebook, Google, IBM & Microsoft have come together to create a Partnership on AI that will research and promote best practices and ethical AI.
It’s your consumers driving this change
Despite the power that big corporations now wield, it is still consumer behaviour that drives trends, and the way in which we as businesses are able to interact with them.
Whilst some of these developments may scare customers – which is rational, given the magnitude of change – as marketers, we need to ensure we are educating consumers about the benefits and use cases, and providing them every assistance they may in adopting new technologies, habits or products. Ultimately though, if consumers do not latch on, it won’t take off if no one adopts.
Get your house in order
There’s going to be some major failures, and we’re likely to see the technology that we once thought foundational fade into obscurity, but we are able to futureproof our businesses.
A good product should rise above the medium or technology; it should offer a valuable experience for a customer whether it be a theatre ticket, on-demand hairdresser or driverless car. No longer is business about what we provide, it’s about the why.
By ensuring our products are customer-focused, our business plans focus on UX, and our analytics track trends with a religious ferocity, we should be able to adapt and innovate our strategies to changing consumer demands.