Customer Experience, Are Digital Marketers Ready for the Age of Context?And as important, are we all?

If you can move past the picture of Robert Scoble in the shower sporting a pair of Google Glasses, you'll hear some interesting thoughts on what trends will be shaping our not so far off future.

Scoble took the stage at Social Data Week in NYC last month ready to look beyond the social data question on the table to discuss the "Age of Context." Social data factors into this future but it's only one part, so if you're struggling with social data now, you might want to listen up.

Five Trends Shape The Age of Context

Scoble identified five patterns as shaping this coming age: wearable computing, big data and data computation, sensor data, social network data and location. Combined, they will offer deep insights into customers and will in his words let you "see everything in sharp detail in your business."

He delivered these predictions with a warning: "You will be watched."

Wearable Computing

Though Scoble didn't wear his Google Glasses during the presentation, they would have been appropriate eyewear -- these devices will respond to our surroundings, performing functions and changing how we interact with our environment and people around us. 

Big Data and Data Computation

The growth of data, storage space and compute resources will only increase the available knowledge out there on every person. The activity in the database sector is a direct response to the increase in data coming from sources like social media but will need to grow to incorporate data from wearable devices and sensors.

Sensor Data

You don't need to be detected by items on your person, there will be sensors in every space you enter. Think Nest thermostats (and now smoke detectors), think Spotify on your stereo, adjusting the music as you enter the room to match your tastes. 

Social Network Data

The amount of information being shared on social networks is growing. Think your Twitter stream is overwhelming now? Just wait.  

Location Data

The amount of data that these devices and social networks send out will help fill in all of the blanks on the status updates found on social networks. "Great day at the beach" will go to great day at Jones beach, with these friends, eating this food, driving this car and listening to this music on the way.

What Does this Mean for Marketers?

As with many trends, there is a good side and a bad side. Approaching this specifically from a digital marketing standpoint: Good side? More sources of data create an even greater potential for marketers to really know their customers.

Bad side? Marketers who are already struggling to digest the amount and variety of data currently coming in will have to scramble to get the resources together (on an already limited budget) to handle these multiple data sources.

These trends are inevitable.The tech exists -- it's already estimated to become a US$ 290 billion industry by 2017 -- its impact and presence will only continue to grow. 

So what can marketers do? Scrambling vendors are doing their best to meet the needs that this new reality will create, with databases created specifically to handle the internet of things and app developers looking to create the killer sensor driven app. With a predicted 24 billion connected devices by the year 2020, the potential to reach your customer at all times, through more channels, with even more specific offers is only growing.

Marketers will need new strategies for data harvesting and use, and to handle the challenge of data integrity. They will also need to work harder than ever before to toe the line between delivering customers contextually relevant information and retaining trust. 

Which brings us to ....

What Does this Mean for All of Us?

The future Scoble described is not without its creepy factor. Scoble admitted that privacy will be thrown by the wayside for the benefits that handing this knowledge over will give. Scoble doesn't limit his future predictions to refining marketing and manufacturing. Some of the benefits he described, specifically in the medical realm, sound incredible. The technology will impact every aspect of our lives -- how we work (according to Scoble we will do more, faster), our healthcare, the cities we live in -- and will change the face of every product and service out there.

"You're going to be wearing a whole lot of new stuff in the next few years," said Scoble.

Scoble has been vocal in his criticism of those who worry about loss of privacy in this world of context, pointing out the benefits that handing over this data will give. While he suggests that we need to have a conversation about "privacy and the utility we're going to get" in this new world, I'm not sure how far the conversation will go when it starts off by telling those concerned with privacy issues to "get over it."

The privacy conversation needs to happen. While the technology may be inevitable, people do not have to give up all agency in creating guidelines for what is and isn't acceptable -- this is the "age of the customer" as we are constantly reminded. It's hard to believe that the options are either a. all in or b. all out. Will people who reject this tech, such as the Google Glass, suffer social isolation and feel "naked and lonely" as predicted by Marc Andreessen? The verdict is out.

"People will give up their privacy for ice cream," quoted Scoble, but judging from the number of hands raised in the auditorium when asked who was concerned about the future he painted, some further examination might be required before embracing our all ice cream future diet.   

Title image courtesy of Jim Grant (Flickr) via a Creative Commons Attribution License