It has been a hectic 15 months for marketers. The sudden, almost full shift to digital channels, changing consumer behaviors and declining budgets have left many marketing departments in a tailspin. The return to normalcy, if it happens at all, will be slow. The pandemic has accelerated disruption in marketing so much that areas like immersive tech and advanced AI — areas where marketers probably thought they had more time to research before deploying — are now necessary to meet the needs of consumers who are demanding a hybrid channel customer experience. Let’s look at few topics that marketers will ignore at their own risk. 

Digital Guardianship

One look at the headlines and you'll know that data breaches against organizations happen almost daily. These breaches include illegal access to millions of accounts and terabytes of data. Understandably, customers are rattled. McKinsey found that 87% of consumers would not do business with a company if they had concerns about their data security practices. And 73% of consumers believe the use of their data is "out of control" according to Futurum Research. That is a pretty staggering number.

Why should marketers be concerned? Because the bedrock of any relationship is trust. Digital guardianship, or protecting customer data, is not just a necessity — it’s a competitive advantage.

How can marketers aid in safeguarding the trust that is given to them by consumers?

  • Use thoughtful data stewardship efforts such as governance, compliance, security and protection.
  • Deliver proactive and transparent communications with consumers on how their data is being used. This includes information on what preferences they have selected, what opt-out options exist, and what data is being collected.

Related Article: Customer Trust: Are We Experiencing an Existential Crisis?

From Customer Engagement to Customer Participation

The pandemic has significantly changed consumer behavior. We are consuming services differently. We are switching loyalty from one brand to the next. Expect to see a new marketing term ascend in significance as brands respond to these shifts.

Have you heard of “relevance as a service”? Or creating a participatory customer experience? It’s where products, services and experiences constantly adapt around the changing needs of the customer. A great example of relevance as a service are many of the subscription services offered today. Spotify, Netflix and Amazon Prime are all great examples — they are rolling in tenure, highly personalized and constantly changing and morphing to deliver ongoing relevance at the individual level.

So how do marketers deliver relevance-as-a-service?

Learning Opportunities

  • Brands will need to rely on agility and automation more than ever before.
  • Rely on immersive tech to engage with customers in real-time such as the use of mixed reality for customer support, prototyping and learning.
  • Use conversational AI to deliver personalized and participatory customer engagements.

Related Article: Moving From Customer Engagement to Customer Participation

Understand and Prevent Bias in AI

AI in marketing is developing rapidly — aiding in the selection of content, offers and delivery cadences for better personalization. As analytical algorithms used for marketing become more advanced, it’s imperative that AI results are not misinterpreted and inadvertently deployed in a biased manner through customer engagement channels. How can marketers prevent this?

  • Test algorithms and models against samples as well as whole datasets where possible. Code review the algorithms.
  • Run control groups through personalization initiatives to see how personalization results are being delivered and how much bias exists.
  • Remove data variables that contribute to biases from models, re-train the models, and then measure the difference in predictions (which inform personalization) to help understand which variables contribute to bias. 
  • Finally, explain the algorithm to downstream marketers to help identify and resolve deficiencies in the algorithms. 

Related Article: Ethical AI Is Our Responsibility

Lead the Way in Areas Like Immersive Tech

Futurum Research released its "The Experience 2030" survey in 2019, which found that 60% of consumers expected to use immersive tech by 2025. Fast forward to 2021. Having lived (and adapted) through the pandemic, consumers have significantly accelerated their timeline. Consider these stats:

  • In 2019, 23% of consumers expected delivery by drone or autonomous vehicle in the coming year. Now 60% expect it by 2022.
  • Pre-pandemic, 65% of consumers expected smart assistants by 2025, but now 70% plan to use them by 2022.
  • In 2019, 69% of consumers surveyed expected to use AR and VR to sample products in 2021. Now 63% of consumers are willing to use AR and VR to visit remote locations, up from 56% in the previous survey.

How does this affect marketers? Immersive technologies will allow brands to engage with customers in real-time (see the previous section on relevance-as-a-service). According to the survey, one-third of brands will speed up investments in technology over the next two years with the top immersive tech areas being prioritized including voice-based AI assistants for sales and marketing, holographics for customer support or instruction, voice-based AI assistants embedded in products or services, and AR and VR for customer instruction and support.

So what’s the takeaway? Marketers have some big new frontiers to account for.  Let’s lead the way — adapting to new operational and engagement models and modernizing our technology infrastructures as we go. Dealing with these emerging topics now ensures our brands remain relevant to consumers of the future.

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