Melanie Joe, Consultant, Research and Insights, MSL
Exciting developments from the technology sector are in the news on an almost everyday basis; big data, virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), mixed reality (MR), artificial intelligence (AI) – these are terms that have, in the past few years, become everyday buzzwords. Technology has had a significant impact on popular culture, and it has made its way to people’s living-room discussions – and gauging from the impact it continues to create in an increasingly digitized society, this fascination with technology has only just begun.
With cutting-edge advancements in technology, we’re also witnessing the creation of a vast array of opportunities for the world – opportunities for improvement, progress, and innovation. While predicting the precise nature of a world led by technology is difficult, it brings to the fore several important questions, perhaps the most crucial one being: how will we, in our varied roles as brands, professionals, governments, consumers – as human beings – navigate this world in the face of all-encompassing technological advancements?
Immersive tech will usher in a new era of brand-consumer engagement
Most businesses today are exploring the burgeoning world of immersive tech; innovation in marketing communications has become increasingly synonymous with the ability to successfully leverage technology for increased consumer engagement. The phenomenal success of Pokémon Go in 2016 brought augmented reality to the forefront – it was a wake-up call for brands, a lesson in how a well-thought-out execution could lead to transformative results, even with AR, a space that was considered abstract and too futuristic for everyday consumers. In the wake of the Pokémon Go craze, several brands started exploring AR; clearly, an impact had been made.
Immersive tech will become an important tool for marketers in the coming years, and the challenge many businesses will face will be to identify where and how to best apply these technologies. VR, for instance, is best experienced with a VR headset, something not all consumers may be keen on investing. So how do brands bring VR – and their brand messages – to their consumers? The answer lies in making the technology more accessible – one way to do this would be to install VR components with their messages at malls, subways, airports, on the streets, etc. Experience is the next wave of digital transformation; leveraged together, AR, VR, and MR will transform the product and experience design, in turn transforming the brand-consumer relationship. Additionally, at a time when connecting to consumers on an emotional level has taken precedence, brands cannot afford to sidestep the emotional aspect of their communications.
In the era of empathy, the science of immersive tech will merge with the science of human emotions. Brands of the future will invest their time, energies and resources to better understand consumer behavior by first studying their emotions.
Key takeaway for PR professionals: Create impactful storytelling, and rewrite the consumer journey by creatively integrating emerging technologies in brand messages.
Subway’s NYC Pastrami Taxi campaign in London’s Southbank took viewers on a virtual reality tour of New York City
Automation will be the PR professional’s most valuable tool
While there are concerns that artificial intelligence may take over most jobs and negatively impact the workforce, nothing could be further from the truth. As opposed to the ‘us vs. them’ narrative that’s been associated with AI, the future of PR will very much depend on a collaborative effort between humans and machines. A recent US study conducted by the McKinsey Global Institute discovered that although nearly half of employee responsibilities could be partially automated, less than 5% of current jobs could be fully handed over to machines. Tech is no match for the human element – there’s only so much a machine can accomplish.
Instead of focusing on which roles will be taken over by AI, the priority will become on identifying how AI will transform our roles, to analyze how we can leverage AI to add to and enhance our existing skills. It will become important to ask pertinent questions like:
- What will automation do for creativity in PR?
- How should the human-tech balance be achieved?
- When AI takes over the most rudimentary of our tasks, will that result in more time – and liberty – for us to bring fresher ideas to the table?
Technology vs. man will be one of the most interesting dilemmas for humanity in the future, but AI won’t be making human skills obsolete, not for a very long time.
Key takeaway for PR professionals: A collaboration between humans and machines will lead to an increase in workplace productivity.
Cutting-edge tech will make better governance possible
People are increasingly relying on technology for a number of day-to-day activities – whether it’s Amazon for shopping from the comfort of one’s home or Uber for easy, on-demand transport. As technology continues to facilitate more convenient lives, people will expect this level of convenience – and dependability – from every sector, government included. Consumers are going to expect from governments the transparency, efficiency and responsiveness that other industries are increasingly offering. While most industries have made technology-led functioning a priority, government sectors have mostly been left behind. This doesn’t help governments in the current political climate. Citizens have less trust in their governments than ever before; they want to know what their elected officials are up to, and they want that information to be easily accessible. Adopting technology is a big step in achieving this transparency and establishing better relations with citizens. In the years to come, technology will become commonplace in government, and will dictate, to a large extent, the quality of civic engagement. Some of the several things technology in government will facilitate are:
- Live streaming of government meetings
- Easy-to-access transcriptions of government policies
- Virtual reality tours of government spaces
- Chatbot-led personalized engagement with citizens
Some governmental departments have already taken innovative steps towards this direction, like the Italian Chamber of Deputies, with their DIGITAL4DEMOCRACY initiative. Any government that’s aiming for progress, that wants to stay relevant to its citizens, needs to make them active participants of the political and democratic process. This will be one of the biggest priorities of the government of the future; tech could well be the next – and most transformative – revolution in government.
Key takeaway for PR professionals: There is a need to strengthen our public affairs expertise and enlighten our clients in the government sector about the necessity of adding technology to their communications mix.
Access to technology will create more ‘green’ consumers
While an increasing number of consumers are aware of the negative impacts of their consumption habits, more often than not, not many are in a position to make informed decisions about the brands they consume. This is where immersive tech could transform the consumer’s understanding of the brand. Some of the things immersive tech could facilitate:
- A virtual reality tour of the brand’s factory, for instance, could help consumers learn more about the source of the products and services they pay for.
- Product packages with AR overlays with the requisite information will make it easier for consumers to get the necessary facts about their favorite products. Is the brand you’re buying from really fair to the environment, the labor it employs, the markets it enters? A future where consumers will be able to point their smartphone screens at a product label and learn these things about brands is not far off.
The more information a consumer has, the more empowered he becomes to make conscientious choices. Technology, with all its possibilities, may just make the consumer of the future a champion for human rights, animal welfare, and the environment.
Key takeaway for PR professionals: Leveraging technology to educate the consumer about the brand’s purpose will help in establishing brand affinity for the long run.
It is, undisputedly, one of the most exciting times in the history of mankind, and as technology leads the way and changes the dynamics of how we live, work and play, we will continue discovering newer opportunities for innovation.
This article is a part of “PR 2020 The Dawn of the Augmented Influence” published by MSL’s People’s Insights team that covers the latest trends in engagement on both the consumer and corporate side.
With a specialization in Advertising, Melanie has worked in the digital space with brands from the banking, healthcare, oil & energy, political and consumer sectors. She has also worked on media buying campaigns across print, radio, television and OOH. At MSLGROUP, she tracks inspiring digital initiatives for People’s Insights.
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