When Apple launched the iPhone in 2007 it signalled the beginning of the smart phone revolution. Where the introduction of broadband meant the web was ‘always on’, mass smart phone adoption meant the web was now ‘always with us’. Suddenly, increasing numbers of people were connected to a supercomputer all the time.
Smart phones have allowed us to undertake more of the activities, in our lives, ‘in the moment’. In other words, the time between when we think of something and when we act has been severely reduced. Of course, the regrettable text or tweet can be evidence of the downside of this phenomenon.
Marketers were always obsessed with demography. That is, data such as age, sex, ethnicity, income bracket, where we lived etc., in order to target customers. There was a simple reason for this preoccupation, which is, most companies were almost guaranteed to reach their customer at the wrong moment. For example, before the web, any company advertising a product on TV knew with absolute certainty that the customer was not currently shopping; because they were watching television.
We now live in a world that has become one giant showroom, and we are constantly connected. In these circumstances, demography is not always the best indicator of purchasing intent. The Global Positioning System, or GPS as it is commonly known, means that for some organisations, their focus is on location. In other words, businesses are able to promote goods or services due to our proximity to a particular place. This does, indeed, create opportunities for companies that didn’t exist just a few years ago.
However, context is not merely about location and there are other areas which organisations need to think about in order to be successful in this contextual age. Firstly, every purchase is precipitated by an event. So, a hot day can mean I decide to go for an ice cream, a fine from the tax office can lead me to look for a bookkeeper or a new addition to the family may mean a different car is required.
In a world where technology now means most customer journeys are initiated by the purchaser, understanding the events that lead people to a purchase enables businesses to create communications that are more relevant, interesting and, therefore, engaging. Too many websites and communications today lack any context. Instead, they are merely a list of product and service offerings highlighting the benefits of use to the visitor. In a world that is becoming increasingly contextual, this is a missed opportunity.
Companies now need to start widening their horizons. Wearable technology is here. We are already moving away from keyboards to voice activated search and instructions. From watches to jewellery, and glasses to clothing, we will increasingly interact with devices that monitor our condition, provide useful and timely information and enable our lives in a plethora of different ways.
This will give context an added dimension. Firstly, the integration of technology with the human experience will become increasingly seamless. Businesses that can integrate the two will be able to create better experiences for customers. For example, could uploading dietary requirements from a simple app mean a hotel’s restaurant or room service menu would only show relevant suggestions? Moreover by looking at a menu through Google Glass or hovering a mobile device over the item, could a picture of the dish be shown to bring the menu to life?
This, however, is only the beginning. Sensory technology in wearable devices will mean that not only will companies be able to ascertain someone’s location, but also how they feel. In other words, emotion can also become contextual. So, a hotel room could play music based on an individual’s mood, food could be offered based on how someone is feeling. An online video streaming site could show programme options based on current emotion.
While this may sound a scary idea for some, the reality is that in a world where we are bombarded with choice and information we are always looking for ways to screen out choice and make it more manageable. This is why most of us only look at the top results of any online search. We trust the search engine to screen choices for us. In a contextual world, where we are dealing with more communications and information than ever before, we are less tolerant of irrelevance. Companies that use the wearable technology we own, to offer us emotionally pertinent offerings, will just be more relevant ‘in the moment’. Therefore, they are more likely to gain our business.
Context is becoming multi dimensional. By understanding the different events that can lead to a purchase, an individual’s location and their emotional state, companies can be delivering experiences that were unimaginable just a few years ago. The opportunities for integrating technology with human encounters to create even richer offerings is the challenge and opportunity facing every business today. For those that grasp it, the future is extremely exciting.