4 futuristic technologies that will change marketing

In advance of our upcoming Marketers Summit (October 6 in NYC), a day-long dig into the hottest trends and biggest current challenges in the marketing world, I found myself thinking a fair bit about the future.

A number of conferences and seminars lately have been wholly devoted to the great unknowns of futuristic marketing; at IIeX 2014, per Keen Strategy’s Greg Dolan, the line between marketing science and science fiction was tantalizingly blurred. Which of the potential buzzy marketing trends of tomorrow actually have a chance to reshape your day-to-day work – and which will ultimately look ridiculous in hindsight?

(If you have the answers, do tell!)

Virtual reality

Marketing technologyOne safe prediction for the future is that it’s going to be harder and harder to get people to go anywhere for any reason whatsoever. Movie theatres and even professional sports franchises have already been battling this problem as home technology bridges the excitement gulf between “being there” and “being on your couch.” Thanks to tech companies that make it easier for people to work from anywhere without missing a collaborative beat (ahem), it may even be harder to get your employees to come into the office.

“Virtual reality” has been hovering around the mainstream so long that it already feels played out, when in actuality it seems about to finally come into its own; anyone who wants to give me an Oculus Rift test drive is welcome to hit me up.  But I digress…

Home improvement giant Lowe’s is rolling out a Holoroom to help shoppers better visualize their DIY missions. Create your dream bathroom on an iPad, then, voila, step inside it! Sephora’s mirror-from-the-future lets you see yourself in different colors without, y’know, actually wearing any makeup; Burberry and De Beers are among the other retailers getting in on the fun.

And to jump back to science-fiction for a moment: Lowe’s Holoroom was spun straight out of a sci-fi story. The partner on the project, SciFutures, uses sci-fi writers to imagine the next steps of marketing technology. Pretty cool. I mean…pretty nerdy? Moving on…

Facial coding

From Ricky Roma to Tommy Boy to the deal-closing superstar on your own team, a savvy salesperson knows the importance of reading cues. Digital marketers are at a disadvantage there, of course; on one hand, they have more consumer data than ever (to put it mildly), but data can lack nuance. It can even tell lies. Does your latest Facebook fan really like you?

Digital facial coding can not only measure responses on an unprecedented scale (facial coding has been discussed for a long time, but used to be very labor-intensive), but also holds the promise of picking up on subtle variations that may otherwise go unnoticed. In other words, yes, the marketers of tomorrow may know you better than you know yourself, at least when it comes to your honest feelings about a tearjerker commercial. But they will get your permission first, they promise.

“The idea of measuring a consumer’s subconscious seems a bit too Orwellian, it seems,” Roger Dooley acknowledged in Forbes. “But, it’s now public news that Coca Cola will use neuromarketing in all quantitative ad performance projects in the coming year.” The BBC is also experimenting with facial coding to “measure people’s emotional responses” to their television programs.

Proponents hope that facial coding will create the ultimate workshop for creatives and copywriters, who can tweak work before pushing it out to the public at large. To date, though, many of its biggest cheerleaders remain people with a vested interest in its success.

Actionable data / improved data visualization

Expect even more vendors to jump on the big data bandwagon, but now touting the promise to help marketers make sense of the bottomless ocean. Data visualization will go well beyond Excel charts or Google Analytics graphs. Phil Simon, author of The Visual Organization, stresses that businesses have an immediate opportunity to use data as a competitive advantage, using dataviz tools to “identify trends, make better business decisions, and possibly predict what will happen next.” Real-time data will continue to help marketers re-shape campaigns on the fly; while this is already happening to some degree, the next generation of dataviz tools may make your 2014 efforts seem quaint and sepia-tinged in hindsight.

bytecover-530x712Wearable tech

A lot of people have said that the current year is “the year of wearable technology,” but that recalls how every year for the past dozen has been declared “the year of mobile” – and, in hindsight, it’s clear that marketers didn’t have a very strong handle on mobile during those early years. Consumers usually adapt to innovation before marketers figure out how to leverage it.

From a typically insightful piece on the topic from CMO’s Giselle Abramovich:

Marketers can glean new data by integrating wearables–capable of receiving text messaging, GPS directions, and mobile coupons–into their existing marketing campaigns, said David Hostetter, chief technology officer at Hipcricket. Did someone receive a location-based SMS and then look at that specific brand? Or did a TV or print add trigger an action?

As for the companies providing the technology, they’d do well to heed the advice of Adam Levene in Wired: remain customer-centric, remember the real-world problems you’re trying to solve, and don’t underestimate the importance of design. The next company that becomes as ubiquitous as, say, Salesforce won’t necessarily be the first company to show up at the party.

Post by Adam McKibbin

Adam McKibbin is the content marketing manager for iMeet Central. His writing has been featured in Adweek, the Chicago Tribune and The Nation, and he’s produced content for some of the leading tech brands on the Fortune 500.