Same, same but different (utterly different)

In the past 6 months, we’ve witnessed some seriously innovative thinking. Instead of reinventing the “technological wheel” from scratch, brands and companies are getting cleverer at deploying existing technology in radically new ways.


We’re watching you

“Targeting”, not to be confused with “stalking” (although the line is thinner than ever), has made the shift from online to offline. Piccadilly Circus unveiled a digital billboard that uses various recognition technologies to display targeted ads. Its full set of capabilities are being underplayed, however rumour has it, facial recognition, weather adaptation, news feeds and data capture (from all the users of the billboard’s free WiFi) are significant features (read more here).


Shopping just got interesting

Meanwhile, shoppers too are doing it differently, with the likes of “staff-less stores” from Alibaba (read more here), and a cliff-side pop-up shop by technology company 37.5 and Cocona that is literally on the side of Bastille in Eldorado Canyon (see more here). Of equally out-there proportion, the traditional, cheap vending machine has been taken to new heights with Autobahn Motors in Singapore opening a 15-storey building vending luxury cars. Customers pay by touchscreen and 2 minutes later, voila, their car arrives. Word on the street is Alibaba will roll this out in China soon. Extremities aside, eBay’s “snap shopping” has taken a more practical approach, and leverages an existing consumer behaviour – snapping images from social media. These are uploaded or shared onto ‘Find it on eBay’s’ platform, which employs AI and machine learning to create a list of related items for you to buy. In a similar vein, more platforms are diversifying from their original utility. Make-up artist Pat McGrath and singer Maggie Lindemann partnered to sell a beauty line via Spotify so Lindermann’s fans can shop her beauty looks too.


Automotive gets a make-over

Lastly, we observed some pretty interesting developments in the automotive field. Recall those hundreds of hours you logged when trying to get your license? AAMI, an Australian insurance company launched SmartPlates, an app intended to train new drivers to drive safely. Users can log training time against their friends and practice driving in different traffic and weather conditions. Safer drivers’ means less accidents, less pay-outs, and eventually, lower premiums…win win! Opel have also figured out a way to keep its costs down by turning their own customers into media platforms. They ran a campaign accepting YouTube views as a form of payment, challenging potential customers to post videos of themselves test-driving their online edition vehicles at the going rate of 40 views for 1 Euro.


So, what do we anticipate the next 6 months having in store for us? Here’s a few likely possibilities:


Do good or go home

More purpose-driven, action-oriented, citizen brands driving a cause will go mainstream. In wake of the “me too” campaign, and the continual fight for equality, beer brand Skol, acknowledged their own history of sexist adverts, and took steps in hiring 6 females artists to create new posters that help replace the past with a better future. Over in the US, Airbnb is providing free housing to refugees and anyone not allowed in the US. Whilst this isn’t a new trend, we can certainly anticipate to see more brands leading by example and dedicating much of their marketing budget to cause-related initiatives.


Can you hear me?

Voice recognition is the latest channel everyone wants a piece of (with just over 1 in 5 people in the US having a voice-enabled system in their home), however over here in NZ, we can expect it to pick up wind and sail well and truly into 2018. Before we get too excited and inventive, the systems that have worked to date, are ones that are simple and add real value to people’s lives – think order dinner, pay a bill, or transfer money. Similarly, voice search is heading for the critical mass, with friends like Alexa, Siri, Corana accepting directives and growing smarter in the process (read more here). The fun part will be developing SEO and content strategies in response to longer and some unexpected customer voice queries. As our reporting sheets start populating themselves with surprising slang, we’re betting the urban dictionary will be getting a lot of hits in the next 6 months!


You’re no one without a chatbot

Is this the year sales personnel will be replaced and chatbots take over the front line? Unlikely, however, those companies that have effectively employed chatbots to assist in answering customers’ queries in real time have seen greater efficiencies in service and sales conversion (read more here). Interestingly, customers love the seamlessness of chatting with a virtual assistant – just so long as the bot is smart enough to hand you over to a real human when the time calls for it. Long story short – customers have come to expect fast, smooth service, which means 2018 will be the year for some seriously brilliant virtual assistance.