CES is the annual focal point for technophiles and, for marketers in particular, the trade show provides a glimpse of new innovations that will impact how we connect with our audiences. This year emotive robots, gesture-based interfaces, virtual reality, holographic computing and, once again, wearables were touted as the technologies for our industry to watch. But which technologies are worth the investment?
Here’s my thoughts on which cutting-edge technologies marketers should consider in 2016…
Virtual and augmented reality
Having grown its CES presence by 68% this year, virtual and augmented reality is beginning to prove its worth, making investment in these technologies far more appealing. With Facebook’s Oculus VR and Sony Electronics showing us how to co-create content to embed products in immersive experiences that align with a brand, the savviest marketers will be imagining their own ways to make this medium a commercial success.
In the past, virtual reality headsets may have been a little rough around the edges, but Oculus and HTC have come a long, long way. There are still challenges like spatial audio, shared experiences and straight up resolution, but the products we see now are refined enough to offer real consumer value – if customers can stomach the cost. We expect to see marketers experimenting with this tech ready for the consumer price drop, when the price of these gadgets becomes more palatable.
The wearable crusade continues as digi-health leads the charge with even more innovative health monitoring devices. However, the on-going issue for this technology is its genuine “wearability” with many consumers refusing to put “ugly” devices on their wrists, necks, ankles. Up until now, the wearable aesthetic had been taking away from the devices’ usability, but CES saw some pretty funky-looking new designs this year.
For example, Fitbit announced the Fitbit Blaze, a basic smartwatch that retains the company’s focus on fitness with a digital personal trainer, heartrate measurement and GPS tracking – while being suitably slick. Meanwhile, HTC announced a partnership with Under Armour, which will see the two companies launching the action-hero style UA HealthBox; a $400 fitness system comprised of an activity tracker band, heartrate-monitoring chest strap, and connected weighing scale. With new technologies becoming more attractive to the consumer, we’ll see more people recognising the value exchange offered by wearable tech. If this is the case, the digital marketer can look forward to more agreeable data-collection which will set them up to serve better customer experiences.
Gesture-based interfaces look set to provide an entertaining mechanism for marketers to connect physical and digital worlds. With extensive publicity around X-box’s kinetic gaming features, or the in-car gesture control that Volkswagen just added to its Golf electric model, this type of user experience is generating much hype. The question is, do we really have the common need for this solution? For fields like medical science, gesture-based interfaces like eye-tracking and proximity-based control have an understandable need in terms of patient care, but we find it harder to imagine universal integration of gesture-based interfaces into consumer products and services. Gestures vary from culture to culture and the notion that consumers would learn a new sign language to activate tools is an impossible vision. Despite this issue, gesture-based interfaces point to a future where our devices will no longer passively wait for our commands, but will actively use contextual data to anticipate our needs and serve us before we even lift a finger.
Emotive robotics excited marketing audiences in Vegas with new possibilities for delivering highly contextual content. For example, Pepper - the emotional android created by Softbank - boasted of its customer service capabilities which are already being tested in banks and stores. While robo-service is quite the consumer novelty, we find it hard to believe that Pepper will win “Employee of the Month” until it overcomes some limitations in the development phase. At $2,000 a pop in Japan, Pepper doesn’t seem like the wisest investment but we’ll be keeping an eye on this sector. Once refined, emotive robotics holds massive opportunities to better understand and serve your audiences.
So, where is best to invest?
While innovative new practices are exciting, our advice to marketers is not to rush into anything blindly. Question whether new tools and services will really impact your business and how much value investment in these areas will deliver. Follow your business needs, rather than a curious crowd.