31 (126) 2017
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Technological change is shaping tomorrow’s consumer

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Anna Kuprian, head of digital at Grayling Poland, talks to Michael Dembinski about how technology is changing the relationship between business and the consumer, and how corporate reputations can be made or broken in the online space.

MD: Technology is continually putting new tools into the hands of marketing, communications and PR people. But how do consumers use technology to make their choices, what products and services to spend their money on?

AK: When corporate communications respond to these changes they have to keep in mind how people actually use tech. The idea of ‘micro-moments’, as Google calls them, when we use our smart phones to check real-time, intent-driven information about products, brands – this is crucial. The broad deployment of smartphones, of which there are now more in developed markets than consumers, has to be taken into consideration when designing PR campaigns. This is the first touch point in the customer journey. How can we get to use those moments, to be the first to bring information to the consumer’s mobile devices? That’s the challenge in front of every marketing practitioner.

Another thing is constantly-evolving and ever-broadening Google search that changed how we acquire information, with almost 4 million searches a minute. To address that, Grayling has developed GCore - a tool that checks brand resilience and brand appearance on Google. We can check share-of-voice across different searches, keywords traffic, sources; all of this helps us to prepare a communication strategy. We can deliver a comms campaign where we tackle fact-checking, fake news and reinforce credible sources. Reputation management is something that’s happening all the time either through promotion or crisis mitigation. Companies off all kinds have to tackle crisis situations and that’s our expertise, that’s what we do on a daily basis.

These days while preparing a communication strategy we have to scan many more outlets, websites, forums, Facebook pages, Twitter feeds – this is much more time-consuming, but it gives us a far truer picture of the typical consumer journey and how it is established. We get to understand consumers’ media usage and learn from which outlets they gather their information. Using online analytics, keywords, key searches, competitor analysis and social media monitoring, we can build user-tested prototypes of marketing actions. For the first time in the history of PR we can do all this thanks to online tools and platforms. It is important, as the online sphere never stands still; in terms of communication, it is ever-changing. What’s relevant today is out-of-date tomorrow.

Which new technologies will shape the future of marketing and communications?

New technologies that will have an impact on marketing and communications are appearing constantly, every PR and marketing professional has to be in touch with what’s going on. One trend that’s appearing is automation - it is affecting every sector, including marketing. Many tools that use artificial intelligence (AI), when it comes to planning and deploying ads, prove to be much more effective than traditional online media planning. Many case studies of success in UK prove how companies can raise their conversion rates and identify high-value audiences thanks to AI.

Apple’s iOS 11 is boosting augmented reality (AR) to hundreds of millions of iOS devices this month. How will that affect marketing and PR? People tend to think about AR as a technology related to something like Google Glass, a wearable device, but the first implementation of AR that will change the market will happen once there’s a critical mass of usage on the smartphone. Once the technology is mature enough and included on our devices on a daily basis, we’ll see AR taking off. There are many start-ups working on AR at the moment. An example is the Polish firm, Tylko. It offers an app that allows you to custom-build bookshelves for your house. Through this multiplatform app, Tylko shows you how your room will look with different, made-to-measure shelves in place. Once you’re happy with its appearance, the firm will make the shelves to order. I can see many other AR use-cases for consumer brands in the nearest future and AR will have its place in comms and marketing too.

Beacon technology – using short-range radio transmitters to communicate with consumers – is also starting to become established. The first sector to have it implemented was retail, beacons guide you through shopping malls, help you find something you’ve been looking for, steer you towards relevant promotions, sales. But this won’t be the only implementation of beacons – it can be really helpful to many corporate entities – and to the public sector. Airports and airlines are implementing beacon technologies, pointing travellers towards their boarding gates, telling them which documents you should have prepared – this is already happening. It’s not in Warsaw yet, but it will be.

Blockchain – distributed ledger technology – can help us take control of our data, agreements, registers, we’re at a very early stage in the development of this technology, a bit like sending e-mail messages on computers using MS DOS. I was recently at the Techfestival in Copenhagen at which Shermin Voshmgir, founder of Blockchain Hub, gave a talk about the profound implications of distributed ledgers across many sectors of business and for individuals. It’s far more than just crypto-currencies, but still too early to say how exactly it will affect us all.

Should businesses be proactive or reactive when it comes to implementing new technologies in their marketing and communications? How are companies responding? Is it better to be futuristic or traditional? Is it better to be an early adopter or a fast follower?

Let’s look at the hype-cycle – as defined by Gartner Group – it concerns maturing technologies that are currently being developed. It goes through five stages and businesses should look at each of them to investigate possible tech pursuits. Firstly, there’s the technology trigger, with a first successful use case. Secondly, we reach the peak of inflated expectation with massive media attention. Next, there’s the trough of disillusionment – proofs-of-concept fail, many start-ups fail at this moment. Fourthly, there’s the slope of enlightenment, a solution is found, business cases can be solved. Finally, the technology matures. The last two stages should be the most beneficial business wise.

At the stage known as the ‘peak of expectation’ and earlier many companies don’t yet know how to deploy these new technologies. They don’t know how to put it into their business model and make them benefit their operation. Now, PR, communications, marketing – this is a small part of the overall business. So we keep track of them, put forward proposals and ideas to implement, and how to implement – as to the business model, they do it themselves. The hype cycle can help businesses assess emerging tech and related investments.

How is technological advance changing the way new generations of consumers see the world? Are we becoming ‘stuffocated’ with things? Millennials seem to be more interested in buying experiences than owning possessions.

Yes, there’s clearly a switch taking place away from ready-made products towards services. Business models based on products are changing. We are moving from owning a car to using an app that allows us mobility whenever we want it. Companies see that switch coming, their business models have to adapt to that notion. The younger the consumers are, the more online their life is, and the business model has to catch the consumer online.

Equipment is expensive, why own it when you only need it for a tiny fraction of the time for which it has been built. Millennials and Generation Z consumers that are getting to the market and becoming a significant buying force, have different needs and expectations. They are more aware socially and environmentally and want to know who they are buying from. We can educate them about companies. Consumers can change companies’ behaviour and approach to ecology.

Corporate Social Responsibility is becoming crucial, a must-have rather than a nice-to-have. Consumers are looking at upcycling. Fashion brands such as Levi’s jeans are encouraging their buyers to keep their old jeans, maybe cutting off the legs and turning them into shorts. Upcycling can be implemented in many areas of our life as consumers, there are growing communities that recycle and upcycle as much as possible.

We seem to be moving away from mass-production to mass-customisation. Do you think the consumers of tomorrow will want products that reflect their personality, rather than something which signals conformity?

Indeed. They will be seeking something that’s not identical to the mass-market products that everyone has. Businesses, enabled by technology that allows them to capture insights about individual consumers, will be able to prepare individual offers tailor-made for them. The sharing economy has been enabled to a far larger scale than ever before by technology and an online society. In transportation, Uber and BlaBla Car, in other areas, other sectors – Airbnb, eBay, Gumtree – I see this developing further, deepening into a collaborative economy, for services and products in the future. Companies that don’t understand how technology enables consumers will struggle to survive.

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