Thus, when we think about the future that is upon us, the trend of consumer connectivity is not going to slow down. It will accelerate into hyper-connectivity as we see more opportunities for connection between consumers and other entities – particularly AIEs – that will automate a lot of consumer decision making and behaviors. Consumer-facing intelligent systems are going to be extremely important in this space, similar to how marketing automation (and artificial intelligence) has become popular among digital marketing professionals in the last year or two.
The new technologies will not only connect, but also substantially and meaningfully augment the consumer in terms of their thoughts and behaviors.
Marketing challenges in a hyper-connected world
The hyper-connected, augmented consumer will be a combination of the self and an extended self. The digital extensions encompass the social influences that have been a hallmark of the current age of the connected consumer, plus the new AIEs that will become the hallmark of the age of the augmented consumer. Extended consumers pose new challenges.
- Marketing to algorithms instead of people
The biggest challenge for marketers will lie in how they approach marketing to this new type of consumer. Particularly to the personal AIEs. Marketers will be forced to think about how they communicate and engage with not only the consumers themselves but also their personal AIEs. This means marketing to algorithms, instead of people, and that is very different to how most marketing work is currently done[KC(V1] . As I recently said in my monthly column for Forbes CMO, one of the aspects that will become important for the future of work in the marketing profession will be the need to understand and build marketing programs targeted at algorithms and intelligent software systems.
- “Upskilling” the marketing workforce
Many of the world’s largest marketing-driven companies have started to realize this development, but it is early days. At the moment, preparing to face this challenge involves equipping your marketing workforce with new, digital-focused skills. So-called “upskilling” is now a strategic imperative and companies such as the digital skills learning pioneer General Assembly and forward-thinking universities and business schools are helping big companies forge ahead in this regard. But the concept of marketing to AIEs is a very new idea, and something that upskilling and digital marketing education programs are yet to embrace. Getting ready for this, however, is a strategic imperative.
- Handling AI resistance and differences in adoption speed
Another critical challenge marketers will need to address early on in the age of the augmented consumer is consumer resistance to the use of AIEs. As with any new technology, consumers will adopt it at varying rates, with the classical “early-adopters” enthusiastically jumping in at the start, and others joining over time. A factor that will regulate the speed with which we will enter into the age of the augmented consumer will be consumer trust in personal AIEs. Relying on algorithms to make decisions probably does not come naturally to many people, and relinquishing control will be hard for many. The technology companies leading the change in AI – Amazon, Facebook and Google – have a collective vested interest in rolling this out as quickly as possible, and they will likely succeed at this. However, consumers may resist and marketers will have to grapple with this. Consumers will, however, eventually learn to trust and rely on their augmented AIE helpers. The challenge for marketers, though, lies in deciding when and how to embrace this new type of consumer. Do you jump in early so that you can experiment and learn a lot? Or do you sit on the sidelines and wait it out? Additionally, when marketers do start to embrace the age of the augmented consumer, they will need to ensure that the experiences they create and the approaches they take are responsible and lead to improvements in satisfaction.
We are heading into this quickly, and marketers should get ready now before the train has picked up too much pace to still hop on.
Get ready for the real science fiction!
We have been living in the age of the connected consumer now for some time. It has been an exciting time for consumers and marketers alike, as new technologies have transformed and enhanced our lives in meaningful ways. Advances in artificial intelligence and machine learning, coupled with the proliferation of smart connected devices and sensors within the consumer IoT space are combined with the growing embrace of data-driven, analytics-focused approaches to marketing. This all means that the time is upon us where we will shift into a new age. The age of the augmented consumer takes us to a science-fiction world where consumers are part human, part machine. The future is intriguing and presents new challenges and imperatives for the marketing profession. We are heading into this quickly, and marketers should get ready now before the train has picked up too much pace to still hop on.