The role of technology in customer communications is changing rapidly. The rise of artificial intelligence, virtual reality and augmented reality is already started to influence what customers expect from brands, and that will only increase in the future.
What kind of changes can we expect to see in marketing? And how will the marketing structure have to change to accommodate evolving technology?
As part of the research for my new book, I spoke to marketing communication expert Tom De Bruyne, a leading expert in the science of consumer purchasing habits and the owner of behavioural design agency SUE Amsterdam.
Changing consumer choices
Tom believes that there are now two developing areas of marketing that will influence the success of a business. On one hand, businesses need to know about behavioural psychology in order to understand how and why their consumers are making certain choices. This helps create a strategy that gets people to connect with their applications and products.
On the other hand, they have to utilise the explosion of technology and data so that it benefits their business in the long run. In order to succeed, businesses have to use both technology and behavioural psychology to target their customers.
We now know this level of microtargeting and behavioural psychology was used in the American election to manipulate the public into voting for a particular candidate. The power of influencing has increased hugely, and technology has made it easier to persuade the public.
The traditional rules of influencing customer behaviour have been replaced with a new world of technology, including AI which can test for different triggers and create persuasive profiles of people accordingly. Certain parties have the funds, creativity and intelligence to use this process and utilise both technology and behavioural psychology to dominate the market. This means that a small group of platforms including Amazon and Google could soon dominate the entire market.
What does this mean for marketing managers?
“The role of science and technology in marketing still isn’t recognised,” says De Bruyne. “In marketing we mostly plan our brand strategy based on intuition.”
All the time marketers are doing this, the powers of technology and science are influencing the marketing industry more and more, and if a normal marketer is unaware of them they will quickly be pushed out of the market by new players who excel at technology and behavioural psychology.
Customers will instantly choose to order from an Amazon drone that can deliver a product to their doorstep in half an hour, over any other delivery site. Businesses need to become obsessed with science and technology and use them to get ahead in the market. De Bruyne predicts it will be two years at most until huge brands begin to dominate the market, so other companies should be planning ahead for these developments.
"It’s the interface, not the brand."
People no longer care about brands – it’s all about the interface. This has been proven with Uber – they have been through scandal after scandal but they are still successful because users love the easy-to-use interface.
“The major battle going on today is not about technology, it’s about the interface," De Bruyne adds. "The brand of the hotel doesn’t matter – on Booking.com all that matters is that it is a 9.3 hotel that suits my budget. The company doesn’t even need to do any branding, all that matters are the reviews.”
In the future, Tom predicts a dramatic shift towards customer experience. Because customer experience is what feeds the review sites and interfaces, the focus for companies will shift dramatically towards customer satisfaction, rather than focusing on building a brand. A future job in marketing will centre around how to get more customer satisfaction, because that will contribute much more to reach and growth than pure marketing efforts.
The end of classic communication?
Does this new way of marketing mean that we are evolving towards more functional relationships, rather than focusing on classic communication with customers? Tom says no. Customer experience is increasingly pivotal for brand growth – but communication is even more important.
People no longer care about brands – it’s all about the interface
For new markets and brands, you should always start with a bottom-up approach. Focus on giving amazing customer experience, and build on your brand through your customer recommendations. The old view of marketing where brands try to build themselves in the mass media to boost sales is outdated. The real way to build a brand is through fantastic customer experience, then organising the tactical and technological media mix around it.
“Perception is reality”
The statement “perception is reality" has always been popular in marketing. But will the philosophy of perceived value remain as important in marketing? Will people still carry a love of the brand, or will they care more about functionality?
“What I know from behavioural analysis is that one of the main roles of a brand is to take away your stress of choosing. Our fear of making the wrong choice is bigger than our desire to make the best choice, so we go with the brand that we know.”
But new interfaces eliminate the need to do this – Amazon Echo can compare flights for you, but all the flights are good enough – the price is the only thing that varies. Amazon becomes the trusted party that takes away the stress of choosing.
One way to succeed as a brand in a world of interfaces is to make sure you are not the cheapest option to come out of a search engine. “Second or third place is usually better. If you are the cheapest, people will think the product is inferior. But if you are the second or third cheapest, customers will think that it is a luxury product.”
Prof. Steven Van Belleghem is an expert in customer focus in the digital world. He’s is an award-winning author, and his new book Customers The Day After Tomorrow is due to be published in December 2017. Follow him on Twitter @StevenVBe, subscribe to his videos at www.youtube.com/stevenvanbelleghem or visit www.stevenvanbelleghem.com