How Talking to Your Fridge Will Change Marketing

The Greek philosopher Heraclitus once famously said: “The only thing that is constant is change.” The mere recognition of this fact is tantamount to how we apply insights to our everyday jobs. One key indicator of change that I have seen in recent years is the ever-shifting way in which we engage between humans and computer interfaces. The adoption of a new mode of interaction often leads to a difference in the way we design, build, and literally react to our consumer and our brands.

Ten years ago, the primary mode of interaction was through the keyboard. Typing commands was one of the few ways that a user could engage with a computer, and therefore dictated the limitations of how the computer could react back to us. Like a TV ad, it was a one-way broadcast interaction with little feedback. The introduction of the mouse improved that; it became more natural and created a paradigm where buttons, folders, and scrolling up and down pages was an everyday gestural norm.

Hollywood is often a good indicator for future technology trends. The movie Her came out this year, in which Joaquin Phoenix’s character lives in a world where he not only speaks to, but also falls in love with his computer. What happens in a world where we no longer need to physically interact with our technology? What happens in a world where a mere statement is enough?

technology-evolutionThere are many technologies today for which speech is the main mode of interaction. We all know about Siri. I now own a Nest Protect, a device that speaks to you. My wife who has a propensity to hate every piece of technology I bring home did make one concession. The moment I said to my Xbox One, “Xbox, mute” and my Xbox muted itself without any additional rigor, she conceded: “Wow, that’s cool.” At the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) this year, MRY conducted a thorough tour of the show floor. Every manufacturer from Samsung to Sony was touting new devices. One thing was undeniable: we will be talking to our refrigerators, our vacuums, and our air conditioners someday.

What does this mean for brands and marketers? The way that we engage with brands will only grow more intimate and the interaction layer will simplify. We need to stay ahead of the curve, where sentiment, simplicity, and efficiency will become at the forefront of our brands’ development.

Without the need for a keyboard to type or a screen to touch, the importance of a screen as a form of interaction will diminish. Today we talk about how screens keep getting smaller; mobile is driving the conversation. The question is when we can simply talk to our computers do we even need a screen at all, a button, or any visible hardware? What does this mean for laptops? Tablets? Phones? How about computing for the blind?

This change will imply how design principles adapt. Original Web design principles were based off a screen interaction with folders, fields, and buttons. Once gestures were introduced, that created new principles. Interaction became less icon-based and more swipes action-based and continues to be that way. What happens when actions no longer matter? The nuance of what a sentence means and how we want the computer to react when we convey an angry tone versus a light-hearted happy tone becomes ever more important. Sentiment is critical in how we interact with other humans today, and will only become more important in how we engage with brands online in the future. To stay ahead, we need to consider sentiment now – our tone online.

This future shift will reinvent and change the entire paradigm of relationship marketing. Today, the Holy Grail is still for a customer representative to pick up the phone. We want a human on the other end. Today, technology can already greatly mimic human tone in this way. However, what happens when every engagement becomes 1-2-1 through a computer? We need to build around this and anticipate a mad customer who shouts and a happy customer who laughs.

Great technology is seamless, completely integrated into our lives and without disruption. As technology’s form changes, it’s all about how we can keep simplifying the interaction layer so that everything becomes completely seamless. For those who have interacted with Siri or the voice commands on the Xbox One, we all know it is not yet perfect. But this is the first generation. With the move toward talk, as communicators we need to understand how this will affect our dialogue with consumers.

Someday, we won’t even need to talk; we will just need to think. Imagine the possibilities then.

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