Publicis Sapient strategist: 3 lessons in what consumers of the future want

Convenience, personalisation and experience will be the key brand differentiators as a new generation of consumer enters the picture

Convenience, personalisation and experience will be the key brand differentiators as a new generation of consumer enters the picture.

This is the view of head of global commerce strategy at Publicis Sapient, Jon Reily, although he freely admits while consumers want better personalisation, they are reticent to share the data needed to achieve it, and technology is not quite up to the job yet anyway.

Personalisation - everyone wants it. But marketers don't really know how to provide what people want as yet. Plus, consumers are being contradictory in their expectations of personalisation, and not necessarily willing to share the information that's required to do it correctly,” Reily told CMO. “As a result, marketers are experiencing growing pains right now, where even the larger companies are struggling with how to meet customer expectations.

“And that is going to be solved organically, I think, as the generational cohort continues to shift in the next five or 10 years - probably for Generation Alpha who are far more comfortable sharing personal information, and as the technology to be able to harness that information will become more readily available and less expensive.

“So where we are right now is in the very early stages of we know what we can provide, we know what we think people want, but we don't really know how to do it.”

According to Reily, brands are in a difficult position because consumers expect them to know things that they don't necessarily share with that brand. And so the brand is limited to the extent of its personal data silo, something the consumer may not understand.

“Any brand, frankly, is dealing with constantly shifting expectations. The bar is constantly being raised. We're racing to meet needs as quickly as we can, but we as marketers are not being given the tools to do it,” he explained.

Why experience will matter

As a consequence, customer experience (CX) will continue to grow as they key differentiator for brands, as will brand purpose, personalisation and convenience.

“The generational cohort coming at us has proven they are far more interested in experience than ownership, which provides either a burden or opportunity for brands, depending on how you look at it,” Reily said. “Retailers that do provide the experiences this generation wants will be successful.

“So another factor is the way supply chains are changing - we no longer have to have giant warehouses that are stores. It's becoming increasingly common to have a centralised distribution centre in the suburbs and then deliver to the customer. So that freedom of real estate and taking away the need to have all of the stock in the building frees up retailers to offer lots of things in terms of experiential retail that I don't think we've really seen yet."

This is why Reily is predicting a small renaissance of the shopping mall, where people seek out physical experiences, to see products and try them out, but not necessarily buy them there.

“But it’s going to be a great experience for people to use technology like augmented reality, and as 5G comes out, we’ll be able to move more data around, faster, and this is going to enable a lot of these types of experiences," he continued. 

“In North America and Europe, you're starting to see the return of the giant shopping mall model. And there's a huge shopping mall opening up in suburban New York outside New Jersey, that's going to have an ice rink and other experiences, and you could have a good time there without ever buying anything. So we're going to see more of that.”

Another issue for brands is their market share is being eroded by manufacturers, who are increasingly directly communicating with consumers, as are retailers. As Reily noted, an increasingly fatigued consumer doesn’t want to have a direct relationship with everyone.

“Consumers don't want to have an individual relationship with every single brand in their lives. And then that becomes a little bit of a challenge for the brands because they don't have any ability to get that personalisation. And consumers are increasingly less loyal," he commented. "They have a wide spectrum of opportunity to be able to purchase on the internet. You would be engaging in reckless understatement to say the Amazon threat is not going to be a problem.

“So that puts increasing pressure on retailers to ask: How can we do this? But in terms of personalisation, the topic we're talking about, Amazon doesn't even get that right yet.”

Stand for something

Alongside these predictions, Reily saw brand purpose continuing to accelerate. For a long time, brands have been able to stay out of the political fray. But now, consumers are demanding they stand for something.

“For a very long time, brands and retailers have been able to stay out of the political fray and not have to take a stance on things. Now, brands have to have a stance and they have to follow what's good for business, and have a common interest in what people are feeling and thinking,” he said.

“Many generations specifically put very strong personal impact on whether or not their brands agree with their own stances. And I think you're going to see over the course of the next three to five years this very quickly just becomes table stakes.

“It's no longer going to be something nice to have. These companies are going to proactively reach out to create stances in order to draw those customers."

The downside of this for brands is one slip-up and they're in deep trouble. Reily cited instances where an officer of a certain brand makes an offhand comment and all hell breaks loose.

“A perfect example of this would be the recent scandal in the United States where you had a coach in the National Basketball League making comments about China. There was a huge firestorm because of that," he said.

“That's a very good indicator of the power of environmental and political and social responsibility on a brand that the NBA, a $100 billion brand, and China, were put into disarray by one person. I think you're going to see a lot more of that kind of thing in the coming years.”

Technology will change marketing

In terms of technology, Reily said this will be the make or break element for marketers to be able to meet consumers where their expectations lie.

“The ability to be able to process large amounts of information in almost real time will be ground breaking for retailers and brands. We possess a lot of this technology currently; however, we can't move the data fast enough, because we don't have the networks," he said,A

It's for this reason he saw 5G going a long way to making this more cost effective. In addition to that, 5G is also expected be the true birth of the Internet of Things (IoT).

Read more: What the 5G revolution will do to mobile marketing

“Between the reduction in cost of tracking chips and RFID, and the fact that each one of those chips can be connected to the Internet, we're going to have trillions of sensors in just the next three to five years," Reily said. "Everything you interact with will phone home to the mothership to tell you how you use it. That's going to give retailers, and brands and manufacturers as well, an enormous amount of data to work with.

“That type of information is very valuable to brands and retailers. And because of the reduced cost of the technology, they'll be able to use it even more."

By 2025, Reily predicted an explosion of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, even as the majority of us won't really realise it's happening.

"It'll just seem like everything is a lot smoother. Brands will know a lot more about us, and we will be able to transact with them even easier," he claimed. “One of the examples I use is that when you do go shopping, you'll see less noise because the machine will know what it is that I'm looking for and what my preferences are and will only show me things that I actually want to buy.

“This is really the next step to that utopia, so we can have one-to-one conversations with the customer and know who the customer is, and brands can be their partner to solve problems, versus somebody to just sell them something."

Overall, Reily was very optimistic into the future. "There's a lot of fear and trepidation about the mothership watching your every move and the erosion of privacy. But at the end of the day, I have trust in the systems and the people that build the systems to create strong security to protect us. And the benefits far outweigh the concerns to me.”

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