Each year the world changes slightly. New technologies and innovations come to the fore whilst old ones become discarded. Each decade brings about major changes to the world we live in as these changes agglomerate; the ’80s saw the rise of fax machines and photocopiers (interestingly these are now becoming obsolete themselves showing the pace with which our world is becoming more and more digitised).
The ’90s saw the rise of cellphones, personal computers and the internet. The 2000’s (especially after 2006) has seen the rise of Web 2.0 (social media, incredibly fast internet speeds etc.) and the integration of many older technologies into one; the cellphone, internet and personalised computer all popularised in the 1990s has been moulded into one device that has revolutionised life for millions.
For those who wish to take advantage of all these new technologies, being ahead of the curve is vital. I have taken the liberty to list a number of key trends in both technology and media that I feel will become commonly used throughout this year.
The rise of the machines?
Hollywood and writers have often used civilizations increasing reliance on technology to paint horror pictures of humans being overthrown by the machines we create (Terminator and Battlestar Galactica being examples). Jokes and fictional universes aside, humans have become more and more reliant on technology/machinery, with that in mind:
Everything except the kitchen sink (smart devices)
The advent of so called ‘’smartphones’ has led to a communication revolution in the last few years – now new technology is poised to change many aspects of our lives in the next 12 months…
Wearable computer devices primarily used for health and fitness purposes have begun to take off. In China in 2012 over two million of such devices were sold. The release of a wider range of products will accelerate developments in this area.
Nike’s Fuelband, the Adidas miCoach (health and fitness devices) and Samsung’s Galaxy Gear smart-watch are just some examples of what is already available. Google Glass is expected to launch to the public sometime in 2014. The major theme throughout all these smart devices is that they offer customised options to appeal to people’s individual personalities and experiences.
Rising healthcare costs have accelerated the development of digital solutions to healthcare in a preventative sense. This revolution has also allowed people to monitor their own health more easily as well as enabling more access between consumers and healthcare professionals (doctors/nurses/ psychologists etc.).
Pioneers in 3D printing are now printing medicines and have begun to experiment to create artificial organs. As I mentioned in the section above on smart devices, both Nike and Adidas have launched products related to health and fitness, but they are not alone: Apple’s APP store now features a dedicated section for healthcare professionals and consumers concerned about healthcare. The Scanadu Scout app reads your vital signs, and tracks them over time. SkinKeeper lets patients monitor their moles over time and then send the information to doctors. The LadyTimer helps women track and predict menstrual cycles whilst many others track calories and nutrition, for example Daily Carb.
Location, location, location
Despite the many changes I mentioned earlier certain fundamental dynamics will remain forever unchanged: One of them being where your business is in relation to your brands consumers will affect how your business performs. Similarly the more you advertise your product (especially if done cleverly), the better the likelihood that your sales will increase. I find that the more things change, the more they stay the same:
The great internet ’land grab’
While all of the major technology companies are now actively incorporating and asking for location information. Google, Facebook and Twitter – currently there is no one dominant service for ‘location’ – are all participating in a huge land grab taking place both for services to target ads based on location (hence the push notifications and Bluetooth beacon technologies), and also to provide local and location based services to consumers.
A key benefit of the mobile device was always said to be location – the phone moves with you – and local mobile advertising will grow fast, especially if Facebook and Twitter start to offer tight targeting.
Modern life is often a deluge of information as I’m sure many of you experience; a deluge of emails Facebook feeds, Twitter and news websites among many others are all vying for our attention in an information obsessed age. In response to this, companies have begun to offer individualised ‘push notifications’ to users/customers who decide to opt in to the service:
Twitter is developing a service that will allow emergency services to send out disaster management related information in times of crisis in the form of SMSs.
Google has developed an app that allows users to set reminders of things they need to do/or buy – say petrol for instance. When the user gets close to a shopping environment that is relevant to the item/service listed (garage in this case), a push notification is sent to your phone that reminds you that you have a task to do and the means to do it is nearby. This app could see massive growth potential in the African continent; not only would there be the initial influx of users as the service is released, but the future growth potential is especially large in Africa as more and more people move from rural to urban areas. Furthermore, the brands that subscribe to this service from Google will have positioned themselves in a prime location when it comes to advertising their products to a large audience with increasing discretionary spending.
Old technologies are finding new niches where they can still perform for both consumers and business. Both Apple and PayPal have developed systems that use Bluetooth to interact with smart phones inside buildings. This was done due to the clogged nature of Wi-Fi and other internet roaming technologies as more and more people use large amounts of bandwidth. This could be especially helpful in Africa where internet speeds are well below the world norm (though they are faster than they used to be) and Bluetooth enabled phones are also wide spread. The single source tracking within iOS could potentially track exposure to advertising, and correlate that with purchases. If paid using the same iPhone (or other smart devices in the future), then the entire process provides lots of retail analytics, a key piece of data for those companies looking for an edge in an increasingly competitive environment, the world over.
If a system whereby Bluetooth beacons and push notifications can be made to operate harmoniously (and no doubt one of the tech giants will synchronise these two very appealing innovations), companies that adopt and embrace these technologies will have a significant advantage over their competitors.
As people become ever more occupied with both personal and professional tasks, so the need for convenience increases. However, consumers are not only looking for this ease of access and streamlining of services, businesses are as well. Here are just some of the innovations I think will come to the fore this year.
Facebook popularised the term ‘frictionless sharing’ to describe the making of sharing news articles, links and music, etc much easier in 2011. From this, the idea of frictionless payments has begun to take shape, making payments between people and companies much easier over social networks, messaging platforms and smartphones. In the US, Square Cash enables customers to send cash to friends through email. In the UK, Barclays’ Pingit lets people send money by phone to friends and businesses.
Amazon is rolling out a ‘Pay with Amazon’ button for people to embed on their sites, and PayPal has launched ‘Login with PayPal’ that will allow something similar. Unfortunately due to its relative lack of development and unemployment when compared to the rest of the world, Africa has high crime rates, and this option that allows people to not have to carry cash on their persons will ensure a greater sense of security, never mind the convenience that such an application would provide to consumers.
Give it to me NOW
A key advantage that physical retail stores have over e-commerce is that the consumer can immediately access the product/service they have just paid for. Whilst many e-commerce companies still manage to deliver their products within three working days, the immediacy with which consumers demand products and services has led companies like Amazon to develop the means to deliver products on the same day that they are ordered.
eBay has bought Shutl, the same day delivery company, and also signed a deal for click and collect at other physical stores. eBay now offers delivery ‘in about an hour’ in some of the larger US cities (Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Atlanta, Washington etc.).
We’ve struck gold! Data mining comes to the fore
Social platforms now have volumes of information on their members gathered over a number of years but the meaningful use of this data is only just starting.
Many services that let you sign up via Facebook – for example airbnb – can use this data to perform sophisticated forms of credit and character checks, based on non-financial factors, like the number of friends, frequency of posting and so on, based on past customer data.
Lots of stories are emerging about what you can tell from social media data: Each tweet contains 31 publicly documented data fields – followers, likes, re-tweets, time, location and more – which if analysed could give lots of insights on both users and followers in the Twitter universe.
Researchers at Facebook and Cornell University were able to predict a relationship break-up 60 days in advance from changes in behaviour on the site. Recent acquisitions – Twitter and Trendrr, Facebook and Onavo, Apple and Topsy – show how seriously the big companies are taking measurement, and exclusive access to data Twitter is actively working with companies to link their data to TV data, to find correlations, and provide data on how television and internet ads are consumed and acted upon.
Everyone’s a content provider
From the man on the street using YouTube videos to promote his/her talent, to business’s having to adapt to a changing economic environment (think of the effect the internet has had on print media and the entertainment industry, movies, music and television series especially), content and how it is disseminated has become more and more pivotal in today’s internet age:
In the next three years, the world’s burgeoning internet population will grow by another billion people. Most of these users will rely on free services as they are expected to come from the developing world where disposable incomes are significantly less than in the developed world.
At the same time however subscription services like Spotify and newspapers will try to transition more people to paid services, by increasing the difference between the paid and the free versions; the idea being that the free service will entice the user/consumer to access the extra functions that are available once paid for.
Already the signs of this polarisation are becoming apparent:
• In news content we’re seeing a polarisation between new, very immersive content forms being trialled by newspapers, like the New York Times’ ‘Snow Fall’ feature, and the more immediate and basic content of sites like Buzzfeed
• In video we’re seeing a polarisation between the glossy series like Netflix’ House of Cards, which cost over $4m an episode, and the YouTube-only content which costs next to nothing to produce.
• In advertising we’re seeing a polarisation between long form content, like Jaguar’s 12 minute film Desire, starring Damian Lewis, and all of the six second Vines that brands are producing
Brands need to decide (and relatively quickly) where on this spectrum they wish to fall. Will content/services/products be free to attract as many users as possible (revenue would then come from ads placed on the website; YouTube is a great example of this). Will there be a mixed model whereby some content is free but access to more in depth features will require a payment of some kind or lastly will all content/services/products need to be paid for before access/use is granted?
The growth of video content and video advertising has led to a large scale borrowing of formats from other media, including TV and print (hence the term ‘’borrowed formats. An example would be the Harlem shake video; the original went viral on YouTube and spawned literally thousands upon thousands of videos of people doing their own versions of the dance, including some famous sport teams like Manchester City). Many of the most popular brand videos are shorter versions of hidden camera shows; the short video formats that are being popularised through Vine and Instagram are an example of this borrowing of formats in action. The movie Carrie was marketed with a two minute video showing a hidden camera stunt in a New York coffee shop.
DIY chain Lowe’s has produced a series of ‘Top Tips’ as six-second Vine films, covering lots of common ‘fixes’ – a strategy that has also been used by the bank Nat West – re-appropriating formats popular in magazines.
2014 is going to be a year of change with many great innovations coming our way. Sit back, buckle up as it’s going to be an incredible ride and business is going to flourish in so many new ways.
Dawn Rowlands is the CEO Aegis Media Sub Saharan Africa, part of the Dentsu Aegis Network globally. Follow her on Twitter @dawnrow.