To some, the relationship between technology and humans is a bit like the “chicken or the egg” question. There are those who feel that technology is in the driver’s seat, and when an innovative technology appears, clever marketers make people believe that they must have it. As a marketing professional, however, you know that it is virtually impossible to sell a product that has no appeal. Even seemingly useless “gadgets” (think singing fish, electronic pets or the iPod toilet dock) have always had some appeal to certain people.
Other products, such as the emailer telephone, digital audio tapes and laserdiscs, faded into obscurity quickly. It was not that these items were useless or unappealing. It was more that superior technology arrived that offered more to the customer. The people chose to embrace the new technology — not because marketers manipulated them, but because the new technology gave the customers more of what they wanted.
Giving the customers what they want, when they want it and how they want it is what successful businesses do. Today, customers want to interact with your company across a variety of channels, most of which are digital. They want to use their favorite mobile devices to access your site, find you on Facebook and manage their accounts online.
Consumer attitudes have changed since the early days of the web. When the Internet was in its infancy, baby boomers accounted for a significant portion of sales across all industries, however, they were not comfortable with the new technology. They were hesitant to place online orders, slow to master effective use of search engines and loathed to spend more time conducting a transaction online that took more time than a traditional interaction.
That was then. Today, you are marketing to a generation that has grown up with technology. Generation Y, also called millennials, have been surrounded by cell phones, home computers and high-speed Internet providers for all or most of their lives. You are also marketing to their parents, who came of age during the transition to the digital age and embraced innovative technology. As for the baby boomers, they too have grown more comfortable with technology. They have become accustomed to paying their bills online, using their smartphones to do more than make phone calls and relying on the Internet to locate the products they want.
What all this means is that you need to embrace innovative technologies if you want to reach your customers. You have probably already realized the importance of mobile technology for your marketing efforts. (After all, the smartphone was one of the most disruptive technologies of the 21st century.) However, you cannot afford to ignore other innovations that are quickly gaining popularity among consumers as well as with your competition.
- The Internet of Things: This term is used to describe the rapidly expanding development of Internet-connected devices. It includes wearable tech, connected cars, appliances that can schedule their own repairs, implanted medical devices that can transmit data to a physician and a host of other devices. Your company does not need to manufacture such devices to leverage the benefits that they can provide. For example, wearable tech devices worn by customers can be used to track movement through a store as well as where the customers were immediately before their arrival. In-store traffic patterns can be optimized, or the information can be used to send an automated, personalized marketing message. Kiosks and iBeacons can also provide you with opportunities to interact with customers and gather important data.
- Augmented Reality: All marketing professionals understand the importance of images. Humans are highly visual, and as such, they would much rather see themselves using a product than read about it. Augmented reality lets them put themselves into the picture. Suppose you are in charge of the marketing for a company that sells high-end drapery fabrics. You add an app that lets customers use their smartphones to upload a picture of their rooms, complete with furniture. They can then select fabrics, have the completed draperies appear on their windows and rearrange their furniture to see just how everything fits together.
- Virtual Reality: Virtual reality is similar to augmented reality. The primary difference is that augmented reality combines virtual elements with real-world elements while virtual reality limits interactions with the virtual world. To illustrate, an automaker could create an augmented reality that allowed people to “see” themselves behind the wheel of a car or “see” their children in the back seat. Alternatively, it could develop a virtual reality program that allowed people to have a “driver’s eye” view as the car sped down the Autobahn or made its way across rough terrain.