Where is Digital Marketing Headed?

How 5G and Other Technology Trends Will Drive Digital Marketing to Be More Experiential

Brand marketing continues to experience huge shifts precipitated by the drastic changes in technology and electronic communication. To give you some perspective: It took us 500 years to go from the invention of the printing press to the rise of mass media, which gave us TV, radio and newspapers. Yet, it only took a couple decades for the media landscape to be transformed yet again by the advent of Web 2.0. In only the span of 20 years, our eyeballs have shifted over to personal computer screens and mobile devices. Additionally, we’ve seen the rise of digital marketing, which has experienced an evolution of its own. We’ve gone from static banner ads to targeted video spots embedded in social feeds.

Considering these recent changes, what comes next? What new evolutions in marketing are happening? How will this affect how marketers reach out to audiences and what are the new opportunities and new capabilities that marketers can take advantage of with Web 3 on the very near horizon?

From Ads to Customer Experiences

Perhaps the most fundamental change is the shift from marketers delivering ads to what we call “experiences,” which means trying to engage and grab the consumer’s attention through something immersive, memorable, and relevant. These type of ad experiences are a far cry from the static banner ads of the early web.

Suppose you are watching the Walking Dead and suddenly one of the undead from the show pops up in your living room through your phone. Not only would it grab your attention—it would be a memorable experience aligned with the brand delivering it. This can happen today. There is now native phone-enabled technology that could contextually select and present content on your phone depending on where you are, the time of day, or special event (like the Walking Dead season finale).

There are few ways to make that happen. One is the simple use of a QR code, the two-dimensional barcode that is starting to trend again in marketing. For example, as a viewer watches the show, they could quickly scan a code on the screen. (If you tuned in to the Super Bowl this year, you know exactly what I’m talking about.) Then, as a menu pops up, they can select which character they prefer to walk around the living room.

Smart glasses are another example of a technology that can enable a memorable and relevant experience. Smart glasses allow people to experience cool content that’s delivered right in front of their eyes according to the environment they’re interacting with. Which could easily be done by a brand. Notice again that brands are not delivering ads. Instead, they are focused on providing relevant, never-before-experienced moments. These could be through AR or VR.

As brands begin to consider experiences as compelling mechanisms to reach audiences instead of ads, there are some trends occurring in marketing technology and technology at large facilitating all of this. Which are these? To that we turn next.

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The Development of 5G Networks and Greater Connectivity

Perhaps the most fundamental trend that will drive marketing––as well as other trends that will propel the push—towards providing more experiences will be the further development and evolution of networks to support these experiences. Networks truly matter, especially if a company plans to deliver AR content to millions of users based on their location or time of day. The quality of a network, such as 5G, will determine whether super animated content looks jumpy, choppy, and pixelated versus looking crisp and life-like. This will mean that carriers and their networks are going to be in more control of how these experiences are delivered as opposed to the apps and device manufacturers.

The evolution of networks will also drive greater connectivity. When a parent goes to his son’s baseball game, not only will they be able to livestream it through smart glasses but also friend Bob, who is on the right side of the field and wearing the same glasses, can share his stream with him. There might be 10 cameras that provide different angles to the game that someone could choose and switch between. Again, this type of interconnectivity will give marketers greater opportunities to put themselves in front of consumers in a powerfully relevant way in something as everyday as a baseball game.

That infrastructure will also connect consumers with brands more seamlessly in the objects that they use or come across. Maybe fast-food locations and gas stations pop up in a heads-up display through the windshield in your car or through your smart glasses. That is the direction that we’re going.

As mentioned, in addition to its own unique contribution to the new shift, 5G will also help drive two other trends in helping drive digital marketing towards being more experiential: The focus on usability/functionality and the mixing of the real with the digital.

Functionality and Usability

The second trend will be the increased focus on functionality and usability in product development. For technology companies, there will be more of a focus on the “value giving” aspect when developing new gadgets.

Take Google Glass for example, which is gaining popularity. An earlier version debuted back in 2012, but it was ahead of its time. There wasn’t the focus on wearables and VR as we see today. Timing is certainly one factor, but as mentioned, the other one is functionality and usability. Consider the iPad. HP introduced a tablet before Apple did, but they launched it years before people were ready for touchscreens. It wasn’t very cool looking either and it was most likely too bulky and far from the lighter, sleek design that consumers are used to today. Following Apple, more companies are getting it right by addressing ease-of-use and attractive design and by making sure the user could use it in their everyday life.

That is what is driving much of the innovation behind the Smart Glass today. Companies like Snap, Facebook, and Ray Ban are considering how the product can be woven into the moments that matter. If someone is at their son’s baseball game trying to record him at bat, about 90% of the video will be wasted with unnecessary footage. With smart glasses that problem is solved—they can just put them on, record via voice command, follow the action with head movements, and capture that home run moment.

As mentioned, along with that focus on relevancy of use is the push towards “fashionability.” More companies are making their products sleeker and more fashionable. In other words, many are making their gadgets popular by making them look like non-gadgets. We are moving towards an environment where you would no longer need to wear a big oculus headset. In fact, some of the new VR glasses are already looking like normal everyday wear glasses.

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The Real World/Online Play

The next trend will be how marketing and MarTech will increasingly move towards how the digital world can help a brand or business add more value to a good or service. There will be a push for combining real world experiences with the online/virtual. Imagine buying a pair of sneakers and you notice a tag that comes along with them. What if you could scan that tag and be able to wear those sneakers in a Metaverse experience or video game? Or imagine if you are already in a virtual experience and buy a shirt in a virtual storefront, but along with that virtual purchase, you get the physical version? These are the kinds of cross-plays between the online and offline worlds that you can expect to see in marketing.

Additionally, and like the Walking Dead example, if you buy a pair of shoes, there could be a QR code that launches an AR experience and suddenly Michael Jordan appears on your driveway basketball court. It would be a unique experience that a brand like Nike could deliver, and it would add exclusive value to that physical good. What’s more, because of that never-before-seen interplay, as a consumer sees Jordan dunking in his yard, they’ll want to capture that moment and share it with their friends to say, “Look! I just bought a pair of sneakers and now here is Mike in my yard.”

Bringing It All Together

Experiential marketing has historically required a heavy lift to pull off. It has come a long way, from walking people through elaborate sets so it would look like they were close to football players as they ran by, to a whole new world of possibility. The development of data networks, the push for usability and functionality, the interplay between the real and the virtual and an orientation for delivering experiences versus ads will get us to a point where experiential marketing can all happen from an individual’s device, or smart glasses, without so many millions to activate it. No longer are brands limited to a supermarket or newspaper stands. Whether in the Metaverse, or outside it, our digital world provides them a reality bending ability to engage with consumers in a memorable, relevant, and value-adding way.

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