For those of you following along since the beginning, we have reached Part 5 of our Strategic Foresight series! If you are just now joining us, I suggest reading the series intro article to get a feel for concept details and overall context before continuing – read the intro article here.
As I have done throughout this series, I want to reiterate a key principle of Strategic Foresight: We are not predicting the future. Rather, we are taking a structured approach to exploring possible future-world scenarios based on the information available today. This enables brands to make strategic planning decisions today with an eye on tomorrow.
Here is a look at the five topics included in this article series:
Part 1 – Life From Home (Read Here)
Part 2 – Global Social Responsibility (Read Here)
Part 3 – Reputation Currency (Read Here)
Part 4 – New Rules of Engagement (Read Here)
Part 5 – Hyper-Personalization
As with other trends and patterns, this topic is not conceptually new. However, as it grows in importance and evolves in its application, we must consider its future: Hyper-Personalization.
“Personalization” has become a buzzword in many cases, which can be dangerous because buzzwords often lose their meaning over time. Think of terms like “Big Data” or “Brand Synergy” – how often are those terms used in vague and ambiguous ways? The more components we try to fit under the umbrella of a buzzword, the less impact the buzzword has on its own.
So, to help maintain its specificity and impact, I want to explore the world of personalization and consider how current trends are shaping its future.
The Rise of Hyper-Personalization: 3 Billion Options
Customer personalization has become synonymous with digital brand engagement for a variety of reasons. There is the ease and flexibility of dynamic online experiences that react to a user’s behaviors, and there is the digital footprint left by users which allows for data collection and performance tracking. However, the limitless nature of an online world will make it increasingly difficult to stand out among competitors.
In Q3 of 2020, there were 20 million new website domain names registered, and as of January 2021 there were over 1.8 BILLION websites to be browsed (Statista, 2021). It is safe to assume that growth rate will accelerate over time, but even keeping it static, by 2031 there could be nearly 3 BILLION websites vying for user attention. Let that number sink in. Then picture an individual user in Tustin, California, sitting at home on their computer with the TV on in the background and scrolling through social media on their phone.
What is your plan for reaching that person and capturing their attention? Or better yet, what is the plan for motivating them to take some action related to your business goals and objectives?
Obviously, mass marketing and generalized brand messaging will not do the trick. Content must be directly relevant to that individual, not only in that specific moment, but within the broader context of their daily lives. This goes beyond product recommendations based on previous purchases, or dynamic ads based on recently searched items. Way beyond.
So, this idea of Hyper-Personalization centers on building fully customized experiences that not only meet customer expectations but anticipate and exceed them. A top-to-bottom immersive world that places an individual consumer at the center of a universe that currently hosts 5.5 billion users. Today, these numbers seem astronomical and present a daunting task for marketers. However, the solution is not about reinventing the wheel, it is about reimagining how the wheel can be used.
The Effect of Hyper-Personalization: Different Fruit, Same Basket
Customer Personalization is most commonly a digital brand engagement tactic, and omni-channel strategies are implemented to ensure cross-platform consistency. The goal is to ensure a balanced brand experience regardless of the channel or medium. But where do person-to-person experiences fit into that mix?
Every positive experience sets new expectations, demands, and standards. This is true not only in terms of competitors, but also within the complex web of a single brand’s engagement touchpoints. Person-to-person experiences exist within that brand engagement web, and so they must be considered in direct relation to digital brand experiences.
The clear challenge is that a digital experience allows for more creative flexibility and variety than a brick-and-mortar location. Dynamic online content can change from visit-to-visit whereas the design and layout of a storefront cannot. The voice and tone of digital brand communication can be strategically controlled whereas the voice and tone of a customer service agent is an uncontrolled variable. Comparing digital brand experiences with person-to-person experiences may seem apples-to-oranges, but to a consumer they are both fruit in the same basket.
Based on the technological advancements and applications over the past ten years, it is reasonable to expect that ten years in the future we will see a consumer world in which digital engagement and in-person experiences are intertwined. Going even further, imagine a future world in which one cannot exist without the other. Are your current efforts doing enough to prepare for that type of competitive environment?
This train of thought is exploring the potential effects of hyper-personalization. As digital engagement becomes more creative and customized, the person-to-person experiences cannot be left behind. The reason is that every single touchpoint is building consumer expectation and shaping demand. The online world, with its billions of websites and users, will always exist within a physical world. So, there is a balance to be found ensuring all expectations set in a digital world can be upheld in the physical world as well.
The Future of Hyper-Personalization: Realities Combined
Looking back throughout history, we can pinpoint key moments that shifted the way brands interact with their customers. The internet, for example, was a game changer in many ways. For the early adopters who established an online presence for themselves, I wonder how many of them thought, “You know, in 20 years I can see people accessing the internet wherever they are using a device that fits in their pocket.”
As the internet became a mainstream business tool, it was all-hands-on-deck simply trying to figure out what exactly the internet is and does. If thinking were confined to the world as it existed at that time, there is no way anyone could have imagined the internet as it exists today. So, learning from that example, let us expand our time horizons and consider how trends today might be shaping the world of tomorrow.
Real-World Personalization seems to be an obvious next step in the evolution of customized experiences. But less obvious are the strategies, tactics, and implementation tools. It is important that we consider how current digital personalization strategies and tactics might translate into a real-world setting because this is how we get our minds thinking forward.
It is easy to scoff at this type of exercise because our ideas may seem impractical within current circumstance, and therefore unworthy of even discussing. But remember the internet example and imagine suggesting to a consumer in 1992 that one day they will carry a computer in their pocket everywhere they go. What was scoffed at then is reality now, and those crazy early adopters have become revolutionary figures in social evolution.
Pulling back, here is a Real-World Personalization experience I had a few years ago. During a trip to Atlanta, GA, I visited the College Football Hall of Fame. Upon entering the facility there was a touchscreen which asked for some basic contact info, but also asked me to select which college team I support. As a University of Colorado Alum, I chose the Buffalos. As I walked from room to room, everything was branded with University of Colorado colors, logos, and content. On the TVs there were highlights of famous moments in Buffalo football history. Accent lighting added highlights of the school colors, and digital displays offered detailed team information and player performance records.
There are 130 Division 1 football programs in the NCAA, and I doubt the personalization settings were exclusively for University of Colorado fans. I will never forget the feeling of walking through that building as if it were built and designed specifically for me. That experience also left me wondering, what is stopping other brands from offering similar experiences?
The use of Artificial Intelligence and facial recognition is driving next-gen personalization tactics. While many feel this technology is “creepy” and intrusive, just remember we are all currently being geo-tracked by our cell phones and monitored online in ways that we have come to accept as part of the deal. Yes, there are plenty of data privacy and behavior tracking concerns within modern society, but those concerns are not enough to forego a cell phone or stop online activity. So, removing that veil of discomfort or hesitancy around social acceptance, we consider what the future might hold when facial recognition is commonplace.
As customer insights professionals, we at MacKenzie are always looking for ways to capture the essence of a customer’s thoughts, feelings, and emotions. As the industry stands today, we rely on direct customer feedback which typically provides conscious responses to structured questions. With that in mind, we put forth considerable time and energy to word questions creatively and structure surveys in non-traditional formats hoping to tap into the subconscious aspects of consumer behavior.
In our world of customer insights, the progressions of Artificial Intelligence and facial recognition would revolutionize the way we gather quantitative and qualitative data. Rather than getting hung-up on the logistics of backend processes and software coding, we can see that the physical setup already exists to facilitate facial recognition software within a market research study. Most surveys are completed online, and most online devices have built-in cameras. So rather than asking a customer what they think about an image, video, or brand message, that brand content can simply be displayed on-screen, and an emotional feedback score can be calculated based on a consumer’s immediate reaction.
If facial recognition software were commonplace and readily available for use in market research, how would our strategic approach and methodologies change? What elements of brand identity or consumer sentiment would be most impactful to our clients now that we have access to the subconscious mind? These questions embody Strategic Foresight, and they play significant roles in how MacKenzie operates.
Quantum Computing is leveraging Quantum Mechanics phenomena to accelerate processing speeds and expand capabilities. The principles of Quantum Mechanics are complicated, to say the least. So, rather getting into subatomic particles and Plank’s hypothesis, just think of it as a supercomputer among super computers. This may sound like science fiction or a distant reality at best, however IBM already has 20 of the world’s most powerful quantum computers accessible for free on the IBM Cloud. The question is not if or when, but rather how will Quantum Computing influence our daily lives.
Full disclosure, I sometimes struggle to add my Instagram stories to a highlight bucket. I am in no position to discuss the technical capabilities or functionalities of a supercomputer. However, I can grasp the fact that the future of computing power will open doors I never knew existed. Rather than getting hung up on the technical details, I am out there searching for new doors and envisioning what might be on the other side so that when those doors unlock, I am ready to burst through.
The power of Quantum Computing might enable facial recognition software to process the emotional reaction of a room full of people accurately and instantaneously. Imagine how powerful that would be for movie screenings or amusement parks. Advanced computing speeds might enable a retail store to point shoppers toward their preferred items the moment they walk in by referencing their online shopping habits or purchase history. For all we know, these strategies are already being tested and are only a few years away from commercial launch. By removing thought barriers and lifting perceived restrictions we can prepare ourselves for the future and strategically plan accordingly.
Final Thoughts & Action Items
As I have mentioned throughout this entire series: Strategic Foresight is NOT predicting the future. The objective is to explore possible future-world scenarios based on the information we have available today to identify emerging trends that are shaping and influencing your business, market, and consumers. From there, expand your time horizons and consider what your business, market, and consumers might look like if those trends continue.
When addressing the future of Hyper-Personalization, it is natural to consider the how both in terms of logistics and strategic application. Through this exercise, we shift away from the logistical attributes which tend to steer us away from thinking outside the box. Instead, we focus on how current trends and patterns are shaping the future of consumer behavior, brand engagement, and the overall competitive environment. In doing so, we can place ourselves within different future world possibilities and develop success plans for each.
Rather than looking into practical features of facial recognition software, we discuss ways it can be used to better understand consumer preference and behavior. Instead of falling into the rabbit hole of quantum physics, we explore how unimaginably fast computing power might introduce new research tactics and methodologies. By starting broad and identifying significant high-level trends, we paint a picture and then place ourselves in it.
With that in mind, I encourage you to do the same. Consider how the trends and patterns discussed throughout this series might be shaping the future of YOUR market or industry. Envision the ways you will be able to advance your value propositions and uncover areas that may no longer be relevant. Take a collaborative approach to this exercise because the more perspectives you can include, the more diverse those future world scenarios will be.
If you are interested in learning more about Strategic Foresight, whether the exercise we did here at MacKenzie or are looking for guidance on how to conduct your own, please do not hesitate to reach out. We are absolutely LOVING this world of futurism and are happy to chat with anyone looking for more!