In the years before brand engagement was “A Thing,” consumer interaction with brands was limited to TV ads and in-store end-caps. Brands did not demand "moments" from us, nor did they even attempt to "surprise and delight" with anything other than their actual products.
But brand engagement is here to stay, and on the whole, that’s a good thing for everyone. I’ve come to enjoy the content created by clever brands, and look forward to seeing Oreo in our Twitter feed, Barbie on LinkedIn and Dove videos on Facebook. Beyond coupons and offers, brands are entertaining us on our mobile devices, educating us on social media and offering us helpful tools in our everyday lives.
As technology evolves, however, so will the way consumers engage with brands. New trends like the Internet of Things and Big Data are forcing brands to think about engagement points, end-user experience and consumer privacy in new ways.
With that, here are my six predictions about how technology will change consumer engagement with brands:
1. Bifurcation in privacy will take place between U.S. and Europe. Stateside, privacy issues will begin to ameliorate, allowing brands to pinpoint advertising to consumers’ needs on a micro level. However, in Europe, privacy will become even stricter and marketers will continue to face hurdles as they seek meaningful engagement with consumers. This has already begun, where cookies require express permission in the EU and IP addresses are considered private. So what’s the implication for brands? In North America, brands will build conversations, engaging consumers in more relevant and dynamic way. But brands that are marketed in Europe will have to rely on content as a proxy for audience, using engagement metrics to determine what resonates with their prospective customers.
2. The Internet of Things will unlock new opportunities with regard to relevance. Brands will gain insights about consumers through all the connected devices they use and wear, enabling them to be there when consumers need them most.
3. Bowling together, virtually. We may have been Bowling Alone 15 years ago, but the proliferation of social media and advances in virtual reality are enabling us to rejoin the group, in a sense. We may soon be bowling together with friends all over the world via Oculus Rift or some next-generation VR technology. So while brands may no longer be able to reach crowds quite as effectively via billboards in the town square, they may be able to reach groups who meet virtually to engage in passion-based activities.
4. Virtual currencies like Bitcoin will gain ground. After the Silk Road scandal, Bitcoin itself faced some brand image issues, but the case for virtual currency, for better or for worse, has been made. It’s real and it’s growing, and combined with ever-improving virtual wallet technologies, direct commerce will be easier and lower-friction than ever before.
5. Minority Report becomes real. In the U.S., where the concept of privacy has all but disappeared, brand experiences may eventually become custom-tailored to the individual. When consumers willingly exchange their privacy for unique brand experiences, the result could be almost creepy: With a retinal or fingerprint scan upon entering a store, the racks suddenly become a curated collection of clothing in exactly your size and taste. Sound crazy? Well, we’re practically there with customized digital experiences today. Why would similar scenarios in stores like Starbucks or Banana Republic be far off?
6. Brands become so relevant they’re actually helpful. As brands develop real relationships with consumers, their understanding of daily pain points can become a real benefit. Imagine a universe where Charmin knows your household is down to the last roll and auto-ships more toilet paper, or when Advil realizes you’re having a stressful day and offers you some relaxation tips via SMS? We’re already seeing some signs of brand marketers crossing the line into customer service, particularly in travel. Stranded travelers can tweet airlines and get results faster than they can on the phone. Mobile phone companies have also jumped on this trend, addressing unhappy customers quickly and efficiently on social platforms.
Technology is bringing about more changes to customer behavior, giving brands more opportunities than ever to create meaningful and relevant experiences. It’s up to brands to stay ahead of the trends and make the most of the exciting future ahead.