In this opinion piece, Isobar’s strategy director Samantha Hardman discusses her favourite findings from the Australian Edition of Isobar’s 2016 Trend Report which aims to not only classify some of what we’re seeing into manageable trends, but also highlight the opportunities and challenges that exist as a subset of each of these trends to start the discussion around the inevitable so what.
At this point, (almost) no one is kidding themselves. In centuries to come, the era in which we currently live will likely be described as the most significant in generations. Though an even casual consumption of mainstream press (or your garden-variety social feed) would have you believing we’re one minor event away from Armageddon, as Angus Hervey wrote late last year, there’s a lot of evidence to the contrary.
Franklin Roosevelt once said: “The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.” And if we apply that criterion to the world as a whole then 2015 was a very good year indeed.
The first self-driving truck is on the road in Nevada and Google cars went almost two million miles without an accident. Singapore has a goal of making a third of its taxis driverless by the end of this year and the Netherlands is just weeks away from launching a driverless shuttle. Solar cells are twice as cheap as they were about 18 months ago and drones are delivering medicine to remote areas like Haiti or even rural Virginia, and delivering mail in Switzerland. Meanwhile 3D printing is estimated to require as little as 10 per cent of the amount of material needed in conventional manufacturing.
But in practical, day-to-day terms, what does this all mean? What are we supposed to do at an organisational level today to not just survive but thrive in this environment?
At Isobar, we’ve just released the Australian Edition of our 2016 Trend Report which aims to not only classify some of what we’re seeing into manageable trends, but also highlight the opportunities and challenges that exist as a subset of each of these trends to start the discussion around the inevitable so what.
Our overarching theme is the continued rise of what we call brand commerce. Through the connected world, the once substantial gap between the point of inspiration and the point of transaction is rapidly closing. Once upon a time (not so very long ago), inspiration came in the form of television commercials, billboards, print advertising, celebrity endorsement or recommendations from friends or family. Whilst those are all still very much points of inspiration today, the key difference is that there are not only more opportunities for inspiration, having that product or service in your hot little hands can be just a tap or swipe away… and increasingly, within a matter of hours. No longer is there a significant transaction decision event. Even substantial transactions can be made almost as a matter of impulse.
This world of brand commerce manifests in a number of ways, each of which we see as being underpinned by a series of sub trends with their own challenges and opportunities and this is what we unpack in our trend report. Broadly speaking, we cover four key areas:
1. The rise of artificial intelligence. It’s fast becoming a constant part of our lives and we’re starting to see the transition on behalf of consumers out of being surprised by these highly predictive and tailored interactions and into minimum expectation territory. In other words, if you’re not getting clever about how you use your data and automating the application of it, you’re going to get left behind.
2. The on-demand economy. A new economy is growing up based on fulfilling the needs and expectations of the new on-demand consumer. This is the Uber model applied across a host of other industries, creating a flexible, on-demand workforce, enabled by mobile and powered by a new currency – trust.
3. Invisible interfaces. What we commonly understand to be an ‘interface’ will dramatically shift over the next few years as we experience the rise of the invisible interface and we’ll see more and more sophisticated interactions, from authentication to transaction, taking place with minimal conventional interaction.
4. The new storytelling. It almost goes without saying, but all this juicy data and unprecedented connectivity of consumers presents us with some pretty spectacular opportunities for reinvigorating brand narratives in ways which are highly tailored and meaningful to customers.
I won’t spoil it, but in preparing the Australian edition I got pretty excited about more than a few areas in particular. Or more to the point, what I believe to be the obvious potential in the intersection of a few of these areas.
Here are just three.
Today the concept of auto replenishment is surprisingly rudimentary given where we’ve got to from a technology perspective – both societally in terms of uptake and capacity. As it is, all current forms of “auto” replenishment are far from actually being automated, relying on time lapses in the case of subscription services like Dollar Shave Club and Pet Circle or manual intervention as is the case with Amazon’s dash button.
When considered in conjunction with the wider predictions around connected homes however, it’s not a big leap to suppose that in the near future we’ll be living with true auto replenishment – consumables that trigger their own repurchase based on usage without human intervention.
Useful aside, consider for a second the considerable impact such a model would have on the relationship brands have with their customers. As it is today, a brand – let’s say a laundry liquid – must constantly compete for customer’s favour and dollar. And it’s easy for them to be lead astray by price, packaging, placement and so forth. With this new model however, a brand need only keep their customer just happy enough to prevent them actively terminating this automated arrangement and creating a new one. Getting and retaining customers then will become a very different world than it is today.
On-demand, dynamic delivery
The last mile – that is, the last part of the journey made by an item which has been ordered remotely – is unquestioningly going through a huge time of turmoil. There are three subtrends in this category which we call out in our report; on-demand delivery (for example, the four hour delivery offered by The Iconic, enabled by StarTrack, responsive delivery and, well, drones.
On their own, these are interesting but perhaps not game changing. They’re nudges in existing services, simply responding to the whims of an increasingly impatient consumer. What I’m really excited by however, is the intersection between on-demand delivery and dynamic delivery – that is, the ability to alter the destination of a delivery in-flight, or to deliver to a device rather than a fixed address. In real terms, this creates a new service model of impromptu, pop-up anything. Sunscreen and a swimsuit delivered on Bondi Beach on a Saturday afternoon. An impromptu midweek warm-weather picnic in the botanical gardens. A collared shirt for that last-minute client meeting, delivered to your table at lunch.
Better yet, overlay this capability with new data sets – weather, events and so forth – to predict the demand of such things and be ready to strike when they occur.
Speaking of data, it’s a nice segue into my third passion point from our report…
Big data + small data = new industries, opportunities and markets
As an industry, we’ve been bandying around the term ‘big data’ for some time now. With programmatic and other such areas however, data at scale has had meaningful and demonstrative application. The potential goes well beyond the realm of marketing, but it’s in the two-way flow of this data that I’m most interested.
Farmers in Australia are using yield monitors to act like personal agronomists supplying information to optimise the real world – dial down the fertiliser here, up the water there. With this data, equipment can be programmed for optimal results, not only resulting in increased yield but also decreased costs which can run into the late six or early seven figures depending upon the size of the farm.
At this stage, the data is used mostly by individuals, however the opportunity and capacity for sharing and associated macro analysis is enormous. Let’s think about that for a second though. How valuable is this data as a commodity in its own right? And what happens when we layer it with other data sets such as historical weather patterns, global market demands and so forth? Crucially, this data isn’t just useful en-masse. The application of that data and the inherent insights are useful back to an individual level.
But before I get ahead of myself and start solving for world hunger and hypothesising as to the impact of new commodities on Wall Street, what might the application of such advances be in our industry? Consider the possibility of consumers not just using the aggregate data of other people like them to inform their purchase decisions, but placing a value on having their data being available for this use. In a sense, we’ve been working up to this for years with stores like Amazon and their ‘customers who bought this item also bought…’ and more recently with Apps such as The Net Set allowing users to see which items are trending around the world. But what about for insurance, health or fitness where both the provision and availability of data potentially has real value?
I’ll stop here; clearly I’m excited by where the world is going. Fundamentally we’re in the process of our entire economic system being tilted on its axis and I’m thrilled that I’m around to see it happen. There are so many possibilities on the cards today and one look at a trend report like this illustrates the exponential rate at which they’re being spawned. We can pretend it’s not happening, we can wait and see where it goes, or we can get in there, get our hands dirty and be part of history.