VR, voice and artificial intelligence: digital’s next big thing

Tucked away on Scotland’s wild and rugged west coast, Turnberry has a special place in golfing folklore. Famous for the legendary ‘Duel in the Sun’ between Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus at the 1977 Open Championship – an epic display of both sport and sportsmanship – the resort has seen its fair share of intense competition over the years.

And in many ways, that made it the perfect setting for the recent CMO Digital Insight Summit. After all, duking it out for the prize of increasingly scarce consumer attention – not to mention wallet share – is something today’s marketers know all too much about. And like the clashes between the celebrated golfers who went before them, the resulting conversations made for compelling viewing.

From getting your data strategy right, to how to succeed across multiple different touchpoints and channels, to ways to inculcate digital into the wider organisational culture and tie it to real business goals, the discussions spanned a range of fascinating topics.

What’s more, delegates also had plenty to say on the direction in which the industry is headed. Indeed, the biggest challenge was finding consensus on where the next technology tailwind was coming from.

“We see companies like McDonald’s, like Coca-Cola, creating amazing brand experiences with virtual reality, and that will only increase”

For some, it lay in emerging technologies such as virtual reality. “We see companies like McDonald’s, like Coca-Cola, creating amazing brand experiences with virtual reality, and that will only increase in the next few years,” suggested Simon Kingsnorth, Head of Digital at Citi Private Banking. “Think about how people who can’t get to the cinema can pay to have a cinematic experience through virtual reality. Or people who have dream holidays they’ll never go on who can experience those trips through VR. I think there’s a lot of opportunity there.”

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Others saw artificial intelligence and machine learning as key trends. “I see disruptive technologies being introduced in two ways,” said Rob Mclaughlin, Head of Digital Analytics at Sky. “One is to support strategy and exploration of data to find answers to questions that we don’t even know we have, and for that artificial intelligence and machine learning is incredibly powerful. But I also see the integration of the likes of artificial intelligence in the operational side of our business. So how we can interface and deliver for customers today? I think that’s one area where there is serious business opportunity right now.”

“How we can interface and deliver for customers today? That’s one area where there is serious business opportunity right now”

Meanwhile, the emergence of digital assistants and the rise of voice as a search tool was also cited as a powerful development. “How that becomes a revenue-generating tool will be fascinating,” argued Bruce Bullock, VP of Sales Experience at cable TV conglomerate Liberty Global, whose brands include Virgin Media. “Think about voice search and the way customers will eventually be able to say, ‘Tonight, I would like to watch Man United versus QPR on TV’. For us that changes everything about what we do, because we need to capture that desire, make sure you can watch it on our platform, and communicate how to do that.”

For Bullock, it’s representative of a shift in the way consumers are interacting with brands –led, of course, by the rapidly developing millennial audience. “I have an 11-year-old daughter who currently talks to the TV as a natural course of action,” he added. “She doesn’t search using her hands, she searches using her voice. You have a group who are only a few years away from being our customers, and they already think that voice is the natural way to search. It’s going to be huge.”

“They’re only a few years away from being customers, and they already think voice is the natural way to search. It’s going to be huge”

And while views on the most important emerging technologies varied widely across the marketers I spoke with, a common thread remained consistent throughout: the importance of the customer experience trumps everything else.

“That is the key differentiator within digital now,” said Kingsnorth. “A few years ago, you could create one-off experiences that were kind of cool in different places, you could create a cool app or a cool microsite. Now, the brands that are winning in digital are the ones able to create really deep, personalised, engaging experiences. And for me that’s the biggest trend.”

 

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