Your refrigerator is going to get me fired

by Jed

There was news this week that a gentlemen in the UK had spent eleven hours trying to make a cup of tea via his newly purchase wifi-enabled kettle. For those of you who don’t appreciate the virtues of tea, that is ten hours and 58 minutes too long. The man in question had purchased the kettle, plugged it in at home, and found that it didn’t come packaged with any software or instructions on how to integrate it into his existing connected devices (in this case, Apple’s HomeKit, and Amazon’s Echo). So he had to code it himself, but rest assured, eleven hours later, he had his cup of tea.

This is technology that is very much in it’s early, novelty phase.

By most people’s reckoning, we’ve got about three to four years before these things become properly mainstream. So that’s three to four years before my gran has a wifi-connected toaster. There is, of course, a lot of excitement about all of this in the world of advertising. “Imagine what it’ll be like when we can pepper someone with radio advertising until they hit their Dash! Full attribution!” “Imagine all the data we’ll be able to capture from someone’s oven!” “Imagine how we’ll be able to adapt banner ads for kitchen mirrors!”.

As ever, lots of excitement.

I’m excited too, don’t get me wrong, but I’m a realist. If you read my last post, you’ll see that I think that there are many existential threats facing marketing, and that’s not because I like to mope about, or generate unnecessary fear, but because I actually bloody love my job, and I’d quite like to keep doing it. At least for the next thirty years, anyway. So on the other side of my excitement for our impending completed connected world, I have some mild trepidation. Again, in my last post, I mentioned the big four (GAFA) wanting to capture more time and attention from consumers, and using first party data to do that, and in turn that being a threat to marketing. As it stands, many large technology companies only have access to people (and their data) through communications hardware (the phone, the tablet, the computer), and software (OS, browser, shop, social network etc). When the time comes where there’s a bit of internet in everything, this will be different.

Earlier this year, Ben Evans wrote about artificial intelligence (or more specifically, it’s output applications, such as chatbots, virtual assistants, etc) as the third runtime. The first runtime being the browser, the second being the mobile application. The four horsemen of the marketing apocalypse (Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon) are betting big on artificial intelligence. It’s been in Siri forever (ever wonder how your iPhone knows what app you’d like to open?), it’s been improving search for nearly a decade, Amazon arguably created one of the earliest consumer facing AI’s with it’s recommendation engine, and Facebook is in the throes of launching ‘M’.

However, having a bit of internet in everything won’t be enough though – we’ve had connected devices for a long, long time now. To move past that, there’s going to need to be a step change. Those connected devices (be that a kettle, a home security system, or a pacemaker) are just outputs – the operating system will be built on artificial intelligence, and/or complex algorithms. The step change will be that those devices, driven by AI, will predict and / or anticipate your behaviour. You won’t need to press your Amazon Dash button, because your washing machine will know that you’re out of powder. Your Amazon fresh delivery will automatically include broccoli, because it knows you juiced the last lot this morning. Google will have a driverless cab outside your office to take you home before you’ve hailed one. Your iPhone will automatically cancel your plans when it knows you’re running late. You can see this already with Facebook Messenger alpha tests – in San Francisco, when you’re having a conversation with a friend, and agree to meet at a certain time, Messenger will pull Uber up, and ask if you’d like to book now. This is basic, but it’s indicative of where we’re heading.

Great, right? I’m not sure.

When you search for a product, be it on Amazon, Google, or Facebook, your presented with a selection of choices. Some of these will be organically listed (as they appear to be most relevant), and some of these will be paid listings (likely the product you searched for, as well as competitors). As a consumer, even when you search for a specific product, you’re presented with choices. This isn’t new. When you go into the supermarket, you’re presented with relevant choices on each aisle. When you test drive a car you physically see other cars, so you have an opportunity to change your mind. When you buy a house, you look at the one just around the corner that wasn’t on RightMove, because it had a local ‘for sale’ sign outside. You make decisions, thousands of them, every day.

When AI anticipates the decision before you make it, it will remove friction, and the sell will be that you have more time for living life. However, you’ll be ceding control to a company that makes those decisions with a commercial outcome in mind. These decisions are what created a space for marketing. We’re in the business of influencing those decisions, and reducing friction to purchase as much as possible. However, nothing removes friction as much as anticipative virtual assistants. Marketing has, for a very long time, made making a decision difficult, by demonstrating choice and highlighting benefits (and sometimes hiding drawbacks).

When this happens, marketing is going to have to work even harder in order to overcome the defaults, and not only influence a decision, but to actually create a moment for someone to realise that they can make a decision themselves. Everything we do is going to need to be actionable, direct, and effective.

Alongside being much more direct, and focused on effectiveness, arguably brand perception and image is going to become even more important than it is now. Many marketers see performance and brand as being diametrically opposed, but in the new world (and I believe, right now), we’re going to have to inextricably tie them together. We’re going to have to invest more heavily in brand to overcome defaults, but also establish your brand and product as a heuristic. We’re going to have to get a lot better at identifying intent – not just purchase intent, but intent to actually make a decision, and intent to consider that a decision must be made.

Ultimately, we’re going to have to make brands more desirable than every before, we’re going to have to understand what makes people tick, establish brands that play an active role in culture, and then make it as easy and frictionless as possible to purchase.

I’m still trying to figure out the answer to this, and where we fit, so please, let me know what you think.

This post originally appeared on AgencyVoices on LinkedIn.