Guest Post: Tom Pritzker, John Ryan
Flashy new smartphones and wearable devices may have got much of the trade press buzz, but the real story coming out of the recent Mobile World Congress in Barcelona is the technology inside all those devices, and the implications for marketers.
The microprocessors and tiny graphics chips driving the latest smartphones, phablets, tablets and wearables are getting so powerful, so small, and so inexpensive that we’re heading not toward the much-discussed Internet Of Things, but instead, the Internet Of Everything.
Think about it. Everything from parking meters to vending machines to fancy new watches are IP-connected these days, and the new “smart” devices and uses keep coming. They’re all generating data and helping build an increasingly deep, rich and textured picture of what’s going on.
Marketing tactics and strategies have long been based on macro trends, limited data and a healthy dollop of educated guessing. Marketers have known roughly how many people, their broad demographic profiles, and their general behavior patterns.
Now that guesswork can start to go away.
Billions of people are walking around with IP-connected devices, going by, through and into environments loaded with yet more IP-connected devices. Raw data generated by all those devices, that say how many people went by or through, how long they were around, and what they used, is powerful as is. Mash that up with permission-based programs – mobile apps that users opt into, in return for more functionality and/or rewards – and marketers have data they can apply all the way down to individual customers.
When you can tailor the message and experience down to the individual, without freaking them out, you’re really on to something.
Explaining The Tech
To help get your head around this, let’s start with the tech.
Smartphones and tablets don’t use the same computing technology as laptops and desktop personal computers. They use a different reference chip design for computing devices, called ARM. When you read the specs on your cool new phone, and see it has an ARM A9, that’s referring to the processor.
Instead of hundreds of dollars for a central processing unit intended for laptops and PCs, and made by the likes of Intel and AMD, tiny ARM processors made by numerous chipmakers typically cost a fraction of that.
But smaller sizes and lowered costs are no longer compromising performance. At the Barcelona conference, manufacturers were showing off smart devices with embedded graphics capabilities that were nothing short of mind-blowing.
That device you have in your pocket, formerly known as a cell phone, now has the graphics capability equal to a very high-end graphics workstation. We saw a tablet, running just on battery power, that was doing real-time rendering of 3D imaging, with texture-mapping, that we could only ever imagine doing on a very, very expensive workstation.
Phone calls, emails and texting are now just among the things consumers can do with devices that now have the horsepower and embedded tech to media centers, communications hubs and primary transactional tools. These devices are loaded with technology like sensors and accelerometers that can do infinitely more than just say where you are.
Connectivity Is The Key
We’re all – consumers and businesses – in the midst of a big tectonic shift in how we connect, and stay connected. We’re moving from a circuit-switched world of defined, connected networks to one in which everything is IP-connected.
At the Barcelona show, we saw miniaturized cell stations and repeaters that can fit just on light posts, and self-contained cell stations that can be installed remotely and run just off the solar and wind energy. The black holes and weak areas of connectivity are going away.
It means consumer devices are rarely out of range, and all kinds of other devices – sensors, monitors, transmitters – can be more pervasive. Companies don’t need to send trucks out to have a look at a remote device. They can click through on a browser or native app, and see what’s going on with the now smart, IP connected device.
It’s Not The Screen, It’s The Pixels
Smartphone and tablet manufacturers by necessity market their goods on easily understood concepts like bigger, faster and more. That’s why much of the fuss that comes out of big trade shows like the Mobile World Congress are about the sizes of screens and their resolutions.
But what’s more important for marketers to understand is that how we think about screens and use them is at the early stages of a big change.
Now we have flexible display electronics that are no longer defined by hard, squared-off dimensions. You have probably read or heard about giant curved HDTVs showing at trade shows or smartphones with subtly curved faces. Those are, in some respects, just marketing gimmickry that may or may not stick.
What’s more important is whatever you choose in terms of your favorite screen is no longer locked in by the aspect ratios of 16 x 9, or 4 x 3, or whatever. You now have displays with pixels in many varied shapes and devices. The much-discussed Google Glasses put a miniature LCD display right in the field of vision of consumers, a spin on the heads-up displays used for pilots and other military personnel. Or the display is your smart watch. Or the dashboard or even the windshield glass of your new vehicle.
Marketers need to think of a future in which the pixels of their messages are delivered and communicated across multiple devices and platforms, in multiple scenarios.
Bridging The Consumer Gap
So what does all this mean for consumers, and the people marketing to them who work steadily to deliver experiences that drive loyalty and more business?
First, they’ll have a remarkable amount of data – and the tools to make sense of it all – that can inform marketing and communications decisions and activities. And it doesn’t all have to tie to app downloads and permission-based marketing.
New types of retail analytics are emerging that are providing deep detail on what’s happening in retail environments based solely on people walking around with the WiFi activated on their smartphones. It’s possible to analyze and track how people move around an environment, where they dwell, and for how long on average, mapped against other data, like simple people counters at doors, this tech can provide insights on the percentage of people who pass by on a street who stop, look, and then come inside.
Layer on top of that technology like the newer types of Bluetooth, called Bluetooth Low Energy, that can both push and make available marketing messages to people with smartphones that have BLE enabled and that retailer’s app installed.
These BLE “beacons” can sense and parse consumers both coming into a retail environment, all the way down to defined zones in that environment. So messages can change from a welcome to a precise offer based on where they are and their user profile.
Many phones – with the notable exception of Apple’s iPhones – have another well-established technology called Near Field Communications (NFC) built into them. It’s a technology that requires close proximity to a reader/transmitter, and enables users to do everything from tap and download information via a tightly-defined web address or even do transaction married to credit cards or other transaction services like PayPal.
BLE and NFC have similarities, but in most respects comparing the two is an apples and oranges exercise.
Bringing It To The Bank
Here’s what it can all mean for the consumer banking experience. At a macro level, increasingly powerful, secure devices in people’s hands means more enabling technology negating the need to even visit a banking center.
But consumers do still need to visit branches, and it’s likely their needs may be more involved and their time even more constrained. So bank marketers and staff have a powerful opportunity to make the most of those interactions by making the most of the available technology and the Internet Of Everything’s data. Banking staff can be armed with the information that can both personalize and streamline a bank visit.
Sensors scanning for new devices coming into areas can read the unique numeric identifiers, and if the customer has opted in and is running that bank’s mobile app, quickly bring up a profile. Even before that customer gets to the first touchpoint, like a reception desk, staff may have an idea of why that person is there and what they need.
“Welcome back Mr. Bailey, I’ll let our loans manager know you are here …” trumps getting in a line or looking around, wondering where to go or who to see.
Retail is seeing an evolution of staff and service interactions that get people from out behind the transaction counter and personalizing the customer touches.
Imagine one-to-one reviews on comfortable furniture walking through loan options on a tablet, the critical financial history on hand.
Imagine customers independently reviewing an interactive screen that shows investment fund options in more than just numbers and charts, but visuals that reflect the tone and direction on the fund. And then customers being able to tap their phones to an NFC device embedded in the display, and take that information away.
Striking A Balance
The possibilities are remarkable, but bank marketers also need to be sensitive to consumer privacy issues.
It’s a delicate dance. Showing customers you have just the right information at hand to optimize the bank visit is a big win. Have what consumers perceive as too much information, and the goal of great customer service turns instead to the task of reassuring customers about the integrity of what they see as truly private information.
Get that balance right, and the technology most consumers take wherever they go will be a powerful tool in building and retaining customers.
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Tom Pritzker is the EVP Client Relationship Management at JohnRyan. He has worked for JohnRyan for more than 11 years. He has extensive experience in delivering high-performance digital signage networks. He currently leads a multi-disciplinary division responsible for developing and implementing innovative, client-focused digital signage solutions for the world’s leading retail banks.