Sunday 12 January 2014

5 Key Trends for 2014 - The Year of "Now"

The pace of change bounds on and 2014 will be no different.  Picking up on key trends that have been maturing during 2013, the following are my thoughts on how some of the trends are all coalescing around a single vision of “now”.

1. Enhanced Experiences
One of the promotional mechanics Coke are using for the launch of their new 250ml can is the product recognition app Blippar that allows consumers to use their smartphone to view the coke product and in response, the consumer sees the product become interactive, allowing access to a number of music tracks.

This recent addition to Coke Zone in the UK is interesting in that it suggests two trends.  Firstly, whilst the solution is not strictly speaking traditional loyalty, it does point to an interesting trend about being able to both recognise and reward the customer not just at the point of purchase, but during the consumption/use of the purchase.  This type of enhanced experience could be utilised at any point in the sales cycle, from pre-purchase through to purchase.

Whats interesting about this is that the consumer doesn’t need to enter product codes, send in coupons or even redeem a download code, they simply point their phone at the product.  It’s something that can done “in the moment” as they are experiencing the drink itself, and allows the everyday experience of drinking coke to be enhanced with an interactive overlay.  Coke aren’t the only ones doing this, Blippar (and apps like it) are enhancing everything from magazines to beer mats to ketchup.

It does however speak to the trend of “now” and how being able to provide recognition and interaction as close to the originating event/action is ever more important.

The other part of the Coke Zone promotion - and the second trend it suggests - is the use of Spotify to stream the music tracks rather than provide downloads, and this ties nicely into the next trend.

2. Access, not ownership
Time magazine had a headline at the start of this year saying “Spotify and YouTube are just killing digital music sales”.  Apparently users are choosing to stream music and video as and when they want it rather than purchasing the item; albeit digitally.  Its interesting because 10 years ago, back in 2004, the BBC News website had a headline entitled “Will Napster kill high street record stores” and in January 1990 the Seattle Times has an article entitled “Vinyls Final Days - CDs are gobbling up the market of that old dinosaur, the album"

Things move on and technology and tastes change.  People still want to listen to music, but they want it on their own terms and they want it now.  Broadcasters and publishers alike are scrabbling to keep up with the change as consumers vote with their (virtual) feet and move on.  NowTV from Sky is a direct response to the success of streaming services like NetFlix and Lovefilm.

Even the darling to tech innovation, Apple, is on the back foot.  Streaming service Spotify is now the second biggest revenue service for music publishers after Apple with rumours that it could overtake Apple iTunes in under 2 years.  Whatever the reality, its clear that consumer tastes are changing again and the advent of 4G that enables streaming on the go is only likely to make this move at an ever quicker pace.

In this environment where the purchase transaction is replaced with an all access subscription to content now, the concept of a customer changes.  As competitors provide access to the same content in a different coloured box and essentially commoditise access, creating wider and deeper relationships that don’t just focus on the next purchase but span the total relationship will become ever more important.

3. Ephemerality
In Mission Impossible, Jim Phelps is given a mission via some device such as a tape machine which always finishes with the line “this tape will self-destruct in 5 seconds”.  The purpose of this is both security - so others can’t intercept the mission - but also relevance - Jim either wants the mission or he doesn’t, the information has no value after it has been communicated.  This “ephemerality” of the message is also becoming more relevant to those of us who aren’t secret agents.

When people first start using twitter they don’t always understand how to use it; the more people you follow the more tweets come pouring through your feed and the more out of control it can feel if you try to consume it like a news feed.  This feed is presented as a constant stream of information and the stream can soon become a torrent if you’re not careful.  Instead, twitter is best used as a means of taking a “pulse” - when you choose to read your feed you see what is there at that point.  You don’t go scrolling through days (or hours) of history, the point is to be in the moment - in the now.

Speaking about this in The Atlantic in an article entitled “2013: The Year ’the Stream’ Crested”, reporter Alexis Madrigal says:-
The Stream represents the triumph of reverse-chronology, where importance—above-the-foldness—is based exclusively on nowness.  No matter how hard you sprint for the horizon, it keeps receding. There is always something more.  
In response to this, some solutions are taking ephemerality seriously and building it into the heart of the offering. Snapchat is a great example of one way this is working, with people sharing pictures at that moment for consumption at that moment.  There is no preservation or history, no ability or need to roll back and look at something from last week.  The whole point is that it’s relevant now and Snapchat defines it as:-
If we can't disappear completely, let's leave as little of a trace as possible. Let's be water vapor, a passing fog, not the stream.
With consumers drowning under these ever increasing volumes of “now", it raises the question as to how we plan and communicate to consumers.  Madrigal highlights this further in his article saying:-
When the half-life of a post is half a day or less, how much time can media makers put into something? When the time a reader spends on a story is (on the high end) two minutes, how much time should media makers put into something? 
This isn’t suggesting that we don’t communicate, just simply that we think about how this communication will be relevant and it’s longevity.  It also introduces some thoughts about where else it’s possible to build ephemerality into our wider marketing programmes.  Either way, we can expect to see more of these types of applications in the future as consumers increasingly try to both manage their time and their privacy.

This leads into the next trend for 2014, that of communications context.

4. Communications Context
CRM matra talks about the Right Time, Right Place and Right Message when discussing about how to manage targeted and relevant communications.   Increasingly however there will be a new one added to this about Right Context.

If indeed, people are over communicated to and are starting to treat communications as a stream, then getting your message into the right stream at the right time will be critical.

Whether it’s email filtering or mail box redirects, people are just trying to limit what gets through the gate before they even look at it.    However, when the message is more directly related to the context of what they are doing then they are more likely to review it.  Messages sent via social channels like Facebook and LinkedIn tend to be consumed in a different context to general email.  Gmail for example has introduced tabbed email folders that automatically separate emails into difference contexts such as Social or Promotional so you can choose when and if to read them.

Discussing this treatment of email, in recent article on Tech Crunch, Peter Yared, CTO/CIO at CBS Interactive is quoted as saying:-
Mail systems are evolving to match the new volume of email, and users will increasingly see only algorithmically vetted emails. Some other emails may be shown below the vetted email, and the rest will flow away into temporal oblivion, just like uninteresting social posts from a few hours ago
Responding to this will mean being more flexible in where a message is delivered.  A siloed approach to communication with specific campaigns for specific channels will be replaced with cross-channel capability that allows the relevant message to be communicated to the customer at that channel at that time, whether it’s a POS till receipt or a in-app notification.  Just as important, and tying back into the previous trend, the message will also need to disappear as quickly as it appeared if it subsequently becomes irrelvant.  Context is king.

5. Quantified Self
Finally, a trend I’ve written about previously looks to be continuing to gain ground in 2014 and continuing with this overall trend of the “now".

With an increasing use of wearable and connected technologies becoming available, more and more people are starting to monitor more day to day activities.  At CES 2014, amongst the many “quantified self” technology launches, Sony showed off its life logging app and kit called the Sony Lifelog which not only tracks activities like walking or running, but also claims to know how you’re travelling such as by train or cycling and linking this information to your behaviours such as social interactions or photos.  This is a real extension of the basic “fitness” apps current available and is starting to extend into recording more day to day activities.

It’s interesting that the core value of this technology is quickly recognised with Marketing Magazine headlining the article “Sony makes a data grab”.  However Daniel Matte from tech consultancy Canalys goes one step further and indicates that with all this data, the winners will those that both grab user attention and keep it by providing actionable insight saying:-
“The end goal of these companies is to provide actionable advice and not just data logging [..] I don't think the average user frankly cares if, for example, they slept eight or nine hours. What they want to know is whether that was adequate and what they can do to sleep better, eat better etc. [..] Creating change should be the primary goal these technologies are striving for"
With this area continuing to grow and dedicated industry conferences just on the use of Personal Information, the challenge for loyalty programmes - typically the largest uses of consumer data - is not only how to integrate this level of behavioural data, but how to provide members with actionable insight - with utility value.

All 5 of these trends really do coalesce around the concept of “now” - from enhancing the experience the customer is presently having, utilising real-time data about where they are and what they are doing and communicating relevant and timely messages that cut through the stream - 2014 as ever is about grabbing a consumers attention whilst you have it.