10 Technology Trends Radically Changing How Businesses Will Engage With Customers in 2016



Howard Tullman, CEO of 1871, offered SMW Chicago attendees a rapid-fire review of major technology trends that are radically changing the ground rules and the new ways in which businesses will be reaching and engaging its customers in the near future.


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In the near future, the way businesses interact, engage, and sell to customers will be entirely different. The ground rules and the new ways of communicating with individuals will take the best of the best that exists today, learn from the failures, and make both sides happier along the way.

At Social Media Week Chicago, 1871’s CEO, Howard Tullman, presented 10 cultural trends and technological innovations that will impact businesses around the globe next year.

1. Time is the Scarcest Resource of All

Simply put, time matters. Time is the scarcest thing we have, and we must admit that we can’t do everything we need to get done. Once we realize this, companies and services such as Uber, Instacart, Amazon, and even Starbucks are catering to our needs with unique programs and clever ways of thinking like a customer.

One example Tullman gave was Mastercard, and the ability to use facial recognition to pay for something instantly. No credit card or even Apple Pay required. If customers could pay for groceries, clothes, and other goods in the same way you pay for Uber and other “no-touch” interactions, it will save individuals time, and optimize processes for businesses.

From a customer service perspective, it’s no longer acceptable for brands to tell customers, “we’ll get back to you in 1-2 days,” Tullman says. Now, your business must provide on-demand answers and support. So much so that the expected time for a response (not necessarily an answer) is 3-5 minutes. Allowing customers to have that initial interaction (even if you automate the process), is a step in the right direction.

In fact, 3-5 minutes feels too long for some companies. Amazon, Tullman said, is thinking about new ways to ship items to individuals before they actually make a purchase. Amazon uses machine learning, data, and a specific metric loosely called “digital drooling” (also known as “cursor hover time” on a product page) to help with these types of forward-thinking decisions.

Whether your Starbucks order is waiting for you as you arrive, or your Target shopping list is curb-side as you pull up to the store, the accessibility to data, and the shift in consumerism, is combining more and more to make both businesses and customers incredibly happy.

2. The Consumer Wants Full Control

Tullman advised attendees to think of games, and how individuals interact with them, when considering the future customer. “It’s all about control. The consumer wants to sit behind the wheel and drive the car.” People who download and play games decide when they play, how much they play, and what they play. Adding onto this control, gamers don’t want to commit in the beginning, but rather, they want to make decisions as they play. It’s part of the reason why many individuals end up paying more for games because they pay per month for add-ons and upgrades instead of a one-time fee.

Once individuals gain more control over their decisions as consumers, this power shift will creep into other areas of life. Binge-watching, on-demand livestreaming, and content-sharing across devices are all current examples, and other businesses will take inspiration from this, and implement it in new ways. Consumers want their own terms, their own price, and on their own time, all without asking. And as crazy as that all sounds, Tullman says, it’s not just possible, but likely going to happen too. Fixed pricing is dead, and products and services will have flex-pricing in the future based on individuals’ information, convenience, accessibility, timing, and intent to purchase.

3. Attention is the New Currency

“Everything, and I mean everything, competes for your attention,” Tullman said. Every single thing, big and small, competes for your attention, mindshare, focus, and engagement. At all hours of the day, you are forced to decide on what deserves your attention, and how you want to behave as a result. Right now, Tullman explained, our attention span is like a flea’s. A real-world example of this, he explained, are Tic-Tacs that change flavor as you suck on it. Not entirely the same, but the analogy is spot-on.

The shift for businesses that want consumers’ attention is entering a “pay for their attention” world. If you can invest money, and your time, in gaining more eyeballs, it will pay off, especially if you ask yourself some vital, simple questions most consumers ask themselves:

  • Will your business save me time?
  • Will your business save me money?
  • Will your business make me a better decision-maker?
  • Will your business improve my personal status?

The fourth question is more important than most people realize. Today, businesses exist purely for improving one’s status. In a way, Tullman said, Facebook exists because it personalized the Internet, and allowed individuals to change others’ beliefs about themselves, and those around them. More businesses will emerge based on status, and how to successfully change your status through a product or service.

4. Context is More Important than Content

“If I’m not listening,” Tullman said, “it doesn’t matter what you say.” Context trumps content on the web, where consistency is more valuable and trustworthy to individuals. This “smart reach” is customized for individuals at the right time, the right place, and the right message. It helps consumers answer the questions: What do I need? When do I need it? Where can I be to benefit from it? ContextMedia is one business that understands the value of context. They specialize in advertisements and marketing materials for patients in doctors’ offices and waiting rooms, where the time, place, and type of messaging all makes sense.

Tullman explains that contextual commerce is someone saying, “You have to reach me, the message must change my attitude, and ultimately change my behavior.”

5. A World of Constant Connectivity

Back in the day, there were 22 million nightly television viewers, and that seemed like an astronomical number at the time. But now, as Tullman explained, we see more than one billion people use Facebook every day for 30 days straight, a goal that Facebook is proud of, and one that tells us quite a bit about how technology, media, and our interactions with each other have changed over the years. Now, we are constantly connected, for better or worse.

The average person looks at their smartphone over 160 times per day, our cars are increasingly becoming media and connectivity hubs, and our mobile devices leave endless trails of data and information wherever we go. Tullman painted the picture of retailers using data on window-shoppers to improve sales, and offer loyal customers special discounts as they enter the store, instead of as they exit. In sports, decisions to substitute a player are made by computers that know how tired an athlete is, rather than coaches that think they can make the best call. We, as humans, create data constantly.

If you can imagine, Tullman warned, Disney has Magic Bands that you can wear in the park, make purchases with, unlock your hotel door, and many other capabilities. These bands can also tell Mickey, Goofy, and the characters around Disney the name of your kids, where they’re from, and what they like merely seconds before asking for an autograph. Incredible but spooky to say the least, and more experiential interactions will enter our lives in this fashion.

6. Messaging Trumps Email

Mobile messaging is simple and accessible. You can use your phone, smartwatch, tablet, and any device for most platforms, and some countries are ahead of others in the messaging space. WhatsApp, Messenger, Weibo, GroupMe, and Snapchat are just a few.

These platforms simplify communication exchanges, yet incorporate the necessary features of email such as attachments and threads. They also offer users the opportunity to be more productive. We’re also getting into AI fusing together with messaging, where individuals want immediate answers. It’s what Facebook is certainly thinking about. They’re testing artificial intelligence within Messenger, using an AI digital assistant called “M” for a small group of testers. “‘M’ can actually complete tasks on your behalf. It can purchase items, get gifts delivered to your loved ones, book restaurants, travel arrangements, appointments and way more,” added David Marcus of Facebook’s Messaging team.

7. Search Is Changing, and So Are We

Just because more people are connecting online each day, and our web use continues to grow, that doesn’t mean searches, especially on Google, are increasing. Instead, we’re seeing the rise of niche mobile apps that provide the value and info users want. There are 3 billion Google searches each day, which still ranks as the top search destination. However, Facebook receives 1 billion searches each day, and Twitter sees 300 million every day. And from an e-commerce perspective, two-thirds of all product searches begin on Amazon.

We’re living in an age when searching on Google might not be the right place. Instead, Twitter offers hyper real-time results through users’ Tweets, which include rich information such as location and personal details. Facebook relies on their incredible social graph to provide the info and answers you’re searching for. For example, if you’re planning a trip to Australia, you can search on Facebook for “my friends that have visited Australia” or “restaurants in Australia my friends visited.”

8. Personal Data is the Oil of the Digital Age

Data is, and will continue to be, the oil that drives everything we do for business decision-making. If 30 million people use #lunch on Instagram, those photos of food are so much more than just that. They can tell us where people eat, what time they eat, what their favorite food is, and how often they eat the same meal. We can also extrapolate their future behavior if we recognize patterns. Real-time data allows us to notice these patterns, and change consumer behavior in response.

9. Access is More Important than Assets

Consumers fear ownership of assets, such as cars, houses, and even routine items. We’re shifting more and more towards the “use it, and lose it” mentality where renting and sharing items, both for free and paid, are not only preferred, but the norm. Uber, Airbnb, Alibaba, and even crowdfunding sites are proving that businesses do not need to own assets in order to be successful.

“The Uberization of everything” is underway, said Tullman. Most businesses are subject to making their service faster, localized, and inexpensive. We’re also witnessing individuals that have disposable time, and want to monetize it. This results in Uber drivers, Amazon delivery men and women, Postmates couriers, and other forms of surplus time translating into extra income. This has pulled people back into the work-force, and confirms that business is everywhere, both inside and outside of office walls.

10. Video Content Continues to Dominate

Photos, videos, and other visual information is processed 60,000x faster than text-based content. It won’t be irregular, Tullman said, for companies to communicate with customers solely through video content.

One can even build a business and media empire out of his or her bedroom via video content. YouTube creators, Snapchat artists, and Vine celebrities take advantage of this shift by consistently producing videos and visual content to their dedicated audience, and there are no signs of this trend stopping.

The next phase for video content, both from influencers and popular creators, is the implementation of data, artificial intelligence, and machine learning to create more engaging content. AI will enable businesses to customize and personalize video content for specific individuals, and the next amazing story you ready might not be created by a human. AI is expanding, growing, and learning at an incredible pace, and its ability to formulate stories and content is going to play a vital role in the near future.

This article is part of our “The Invisible Hand: Hidden Forces of Technology” series. In 2016, Social Media Week’s global theme will explore the intangible, under-valued processes driving our technology, and ultimately, our decisions, forward. As we become more efficient, dynamic, and diverse human-beings, we have the responsibility to understand the present and future potential of these hidden forces all around us.

Image credit: Kay Kulkarni

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