“Tell us what our business will look like in the next 15 years?”
An odd, but nonetheless intriguing task, posed to me back in 2011, by the CMO of a leading consumer bank in Saudi Arabia. Round two of a high-level pitch, cleverly challenging us to future-gaze at the changes our own business (Omnicom agency, no names) might be facing.
What followed was a white-knuckled adventure in futurism, following the day in the life of a young Saudi fashion entrepreneur. It articulated (amongst other things) the use of wearables and biometric technology for optimising her morning energy levels. Smart mirrors to assist with her personal beauty, hygiene and style regime. It predicted AI curated, holographic daily news and music streaming, a screen-less, interactive design studio using what we now know as MR technology, as well as virtual conferencing and material sampling (from Kenya) using VR, and hyper-personalised OOH advertising content, displayed through the AR enabled windows of her machine driven car.
The Bank - always invisible and unobtrusive - was omnipresent across her journey. Providing services and support, intuitive and anticipatory as well as traditional and on-demand, seamlessly across the channels, formats and devices she interfaced with. It said nothing she didn't want to hear, and did everything she both knew, and didn't know, she needed it to do.
Fast forward to 2017, and that piece of work continues to prove increasingly prophetic. And as the 4th wave of platform change continues to gather pace, increasingly relevant and urgent, to.
Clearly, the enquiry has evolved. It's no longer a case of If, but When, the Immersive Experience Technologies (IXT) that represent the 4th wave - VR, AR and MR - will become integrated into our daily lives, and how businesses and brands across the spectrum are going to adapt and thrive.
When, not if?
Despite all the investment, innovation and M&A activity in IXT across 2016, these technologies are still in the first of the four stages of tech market development (hype-cycle, facing reality, liftoff, sustainable market), and their respective install bases remain in single digits. So I’m far from suggesting that this is a door-step issue. But it is coming, unequivocally, and it is coming at an accelerated pace (not taking into account the effects of arbitrary growth catalysts such as Pokemon Go, which almost single-handedly brought AR into the public mainstream last year, with a 3 month revenue yield of > $600million).
According to Digi-captial, early stage VC's and corporates invested a record $2 billion into IXT startups in 2016. The VR Venture Capital Alliance which was set up in the Q2 of last year, boasts 30 VC firms with over $10 billion in deployable capital. And LG, Microsoft, Huwaei, Apple, Facebook, ACER, Qualcomm, Intel (to name just a few ‘small' players) were all, and continue to, be extremely active in one or all of the IXT’s. These aren’t kittens playing with balls of wool. Collectively they represent the centrifugal forces driving integration of IXT into our mainstream lives.
Rampant investment, uncertainty over the development timeline, potential for disruption and the certainty of extraordinary new opportunities for innovation, should be motivation enough for Brand stakeholders to be taking a very serious approach to getting IXT ready. Ideally, this would start (and in some cases it already has) by on-boarding senior IXT leadership, to work with internal stakeholders and external agency partners to start addressing, hypothesising and testing solutions to the many questions facing their organisations. Questions such as:
- In what ways will IXT change the way our existing and emerging customers live?
- How will that alter or reshape our relationship with them?
- Is there scope for disruption across my industry? Where is it, and how can we mitigate against it?
- How can we innovate, vertically and horizontally, to leverage the unique features of IXT? And how might that cannibalise or affect our existing channels, products or services?
- How do we plan, produce, distribute and measure advertising and native content performance across emerging IXT channels? Are we ready to work with new generation VR ad platforms like Virtual Sky?
- What are the metrics for success across IXT? Is there an opportunity to add new, deeper and more human layers of behavioural analytics to our traditional data-sets?
- What are the implications for programmatic and predictive technologies so far as delivering hyper-personalised IXT content at scale?
- What are the ethical and moral implications of IXT? (learning as we are now (listen here) from the mainstream Tech sector, that rear-guard action on this front is a significant challenge)
- How is all this going to shape our talent acquisition strategy?
- And how does IXT integrate into my existing supply chain, marketing and operational systems?
It’s all about timing
The best time to gain an audience, and unlock new areas of competitive advantage is when technology takes a leap. That is why media, gaming and tech companies are investing billions in AR and VR. The same holds true for brands, but it requires the right focus, people and investment.
It’s refreshing to see initiatives such as audience and immersive ‘labs' springing up with increasing regularity. But these need to be more than just cool places for people to try new technology and chin stroke over their potential. They need to be Cabinet Rooms of serious strategic planning and rigorous enquiry. Driven by the fundamentals of Design Thinking to insist on a human-first, insight rich approach to developing innovation, prototyping, and shaping IXT strategy and business models.
As consumers, we are already wilfully exchanging data for utility, and delegating an increasing amount of control over our lives to technology. IXT is a natural and in many ways important extension to this evolution, and is fundamentally going to shift the way we interact with and curate our worlds, and both choose and purchase the brands we invite into our lives. So committing to an IXT-ready strategy today, and laying down a road-map for its development should be much more than an innovative nice to have. It should be an imperative, mission-critical strategic decision towards future-proofing relevance, competitiveness and commercial vitality.
For more information about my IXT consulting services, please contact me here