Technology is often used by consumer brand development and product innovation departments as a catch-all term. It encompasses everything from data analytics and aggregation via Artificial Intelligence to Virtual or Augmented Reality. Investment in technology has become an implied strategy for either the replacement of human involvement or the enhancement of human performance in the workplace. In pursuit of operational efficiency benefits, companies identify technology as being critical to obtain enhanced bottom line performance and this has given way to a topical discussion on whether or not robots are about to disintermediate the human workforce. Overall, the aim of investing in technology across a brand experience is to reduce costs in the long term, and in the short term improve the customer's experience to generate preference and loyalty.
How does adopting new technology help brands?
New technologies help consumers connect with brands in several ways:
- Recognition – the enhanced ability to create a connected experience. It might be passwords that sync across devices for log in, or transacting securely without a physical interaction. Increasingly, this has been the advancement of voice recognition and biometric identification. It can also refer to the ability to 'know' your need in advance of interaction, based on past behaviour, current circumstances or crowd-sourced information.
- Automatic transaction – allows you to function more seamlessly and simply in your environment, whether that is for a financial transaction, retail purchase or recurring payment.
- Usage and Performance metrics – initially developed for operational efficiency, data-trail analysis has become a dashboard for the customer, based on activity and performance tracking (e.g. FitBit). By connecting data to behaviour, a person and a company can better predict and guide decisions for products, services and experiences.
- Order delivery control tracking – coordinated delivery and management of orders using geo-location technology, command recognition and shared data allows consumers and companies to pinpoint supply and delivery chain information, better control inventories, and forecast supply and demand with more accuracy and relevance to users/choosers (think AR/VR headsets to manage the supply chain, as in the photo).
The intersection of transactional data plus geo-locating offers brands the opportunity to create immersive and personalised engagement strategy. It is possible to segment users in real time by preferences (even via search before purchase) and during the customer journey at multiple touch-points, across devices and interactions. If you then consider, that all behaviour and activities can be analysed and recorded via a data-trail, it allows for both better informed product/service development for a brand and more relevant personalisation for a user.
As we become accustomed to a touch/swipe (and increasingly voice/face recognition) world, we expect brands to offer highly personalised products and services that are fully Internet of Things (IoT) enabled. In fact, whole business models are emerging to harness this power of data-led and incentivised participation which uses technology to disintermediate industries that have historically controlled or mediated the connection between customer and supplier. This is the 'gig' economy model, exemplified by Uber or AirBnB. These capabilities allow for a highly flexible, nimble and responsive approach to managing supply and demand as well as a consumer-centric means of developing products and services.
How are brands leveraging new technology?
In hospitality and retail, we can point to a few examples integrating these new technologies and tools:
- Identify and transact – one of the earliest examples was Disney’s MagicBand. Although all of the elements are owned by Disney in this example, it is the ultimate link between food & beverage, accommodation, entertainment, retail and service brands. It is a 'seamless experience' wearable that allow visitors to a Disney location to 'unlock' the opportunities of any visit. As this technology evolves to include face and voice recognition, it will truly embrace a ‘seamless’ experience for a recognised loyal customer. The new Carnival Corporation OCEAN (One Cruise Experience Access Network) medallion previewed at CES 2017 places a personalised, seamless wearable travel experience at the heart of cruise holidays. Allowing customers to plan and shape an experience before travel, adapt and access the plan during the trip and share experiences afterwards; these integrated tools of technology are vital to creating customer engagement and loyalty.
- Guide in real time (on/off line) – the new on-demand audio-visual guide for MoMa is seamless and useful. It combines the best of pod/voice-cast narration with an amazing ability to ‘guide’ using content under your control as a visitor. As personal devices incorporate the ‘point and view’ abilities of AR/VR, immersive learning and access to knowledge expands beyond a geo-fenced locale such as a museum. New technologies that allow for live virtual shopping allow consumers to discover a connected means of finding exactly the right product at the best price, interacting with sales assistants in store for personalised advice. The new HERO live shopping eCommerce app allows sales assistants to amplify sales online and in store simultaneously.
- TRVL – when a traveler becomes the travel agent for friends and family, and is incentivised to help, why do you need a travel agent? Peer-to-peer disintermediation at its best by rewarding and incentivising consumers to become participants aligned to their knowledge or expertise, and at the same time creating a platform for individuals to commercialise their passions and expertise. (www.trvl.com)
Technology and innovation go hand-in-hand, and brands must continually approach developments with a mind-set of creating value, utility and relevance. Regardless of the sector, technology enables brands to create both bottom-line and top-line growth if aligned to a customer focussed approach for product, service and experience innovation.
Chris has worked over the past 25 years across all sectors in the area of Brand Strategy and Marketing for Corporate, Consumer and NGO Brands around the world.
A passionate innovator, Chris believes in the power of creativity to define the future through branding. In particular, Chris is a lead practitioner in Corporate Vision and Purpose strategy.