Brand marketers must prepare to overcome a host of challenges they will soon face in a world dominated by the Internet of Things (IoT) where we are always connected via personal trackers, appliances, cars, and beyond. Haydn Sweterlitsch, Chief Creative Officer at the HackerAgency, gave this warning to those assembled at MediaPost’s recent “Reaching the Consumer Through the Internet of Things” symposium. In a world where AI and robotics converge to produce a perfect storm, marketers who cling to outdated interruptive communications models will find themselves facing extinction, but there are strategies for a successful transition.
Brand stewards have faced tectonic shifts in marketing and advertising before, but nothing like what experts forsee emerging in five years. The year 2020 is widely seen as opening a new era dominated by an always-on environment in which always-connected people traverse their daily lives, transmitting a constant stream of behavioral data to brands, and receiving ever more personalized communications in return.
Get Started with the IoT
“For the first time since digital marketing emerged in the ’90s, we can actually prepare our user experience design and interaction design for the task ahead,” said Sweterlitsch. “We have an opportunity to get started before the IoT hits and get ahead of the game.”
For the next five years the advertising battleground will be “man vs. machine” as AI, deep learning, IBM’s Watson, etc. fight for creative supremacy. Data and technology have their hooks deep into advertising, which many creatives bemoan as dehumanizing forces, and while Sweterlitsch tends to disagree, there is no doubt that the move toward big data and automation will become central forces in marketing.
Connected devices are already infiltrating our lives, becoming part of the fabric that connects us to the world. From smart-watches to fridges, hundreds of devices are available today, and we can expect 50 billion to be online by 2020. While some see a connected utopia ahead, the current IoT lives on competing platforms and operating systems that produce cacophony rather than harmony. Instead of making our lives easier, we may soon face the dystopian kitchen, which will require us to update our connected appliances before we can get the lasagna in the oven.
“How do we escape this state of distraction by interruptive design where marketers have from one to two seconds to capture consumers’ attention?”
Distracted, Interrupted, Angry Consumers
People will not stand for this sort of distraction, for such interruptions have been the essence of advertising from its beginnings in print to digital pre-rolls. “Over the last 10 years, we’ve seen people go from viewers to users, from a passive audience to an engaged, active audience that lives in a constant state of distraction; an environment in which attention is the scarcest commodity. How do we escape this state of distraction by interruptive design where marketers have from one to two seconds to capture consumers’ attention?”
Technology, A Darwinian Continuum
Technology exists in a Darwinian continuum, where survival of the fittest brands, platforms, and applications based on user adoption, rule. That’s why Friendster gave us Myspace, which gave us Facebook, etc., as platforms, functionality, and monetization evolved. “Hopefully the IoT will be an extinction level event for interruptive marketing. Brands need to attract without distracting, to inform without interrupting on a one-to-one level. We need to make people aware that there is a message they need to attend to, take action, and move the needle on transactions. In this world every action is a transaction, of value or of information.”
One answer lies in the “calm design” of technology, promulgated by Mark Weiser. The classic example is the tea kettle: simply set it and forget it until it whistles its readiness. Roomba is a contemporary example, in which it communicates to its owner by audio tones. “Calm design is about using our peripheral senses, from haptics and tactile, to sound and light design, there’s a myriad of ways to tell people they have a message. Think about all of the information provided by your car’s dashboard, from traffic conditions to engine status to audio entertainment, and driving is still relatively safe. But throw in sending and receiving a text message and things become exponentially more dangerous.
Technology should not require all of one’s attention, only some and only when absolutely necessary. When we’re living in a state of constant distraction, people resent and rebel against uninvited brand messaging, and this places brands in great peril of alienating their core customers.
The next wave of user experience will be dominated by “conversational design,” a la the Echo’s Alexa, Siri’s pending reboot, Google’s entry, etc., the concept of conversational interaction will present major opportunities for brand stewards to differentiate. Whether its ordering an Uber, retrieving sports scores, or conducting a financial transaction, conversational design will enable people to seamlessly interact with digital properties without any other interface, simply by making a verbal request to an engaging and empathic entity, all the while folding laundry. This scenario pictures an environment without distraction, where information is literally on the tip of your tongue.
This is the future of calm design and the promise of the Internet of Things to come, on a good day.