What it's going to take for marketers to balance tech and human in Industry 5.0

Scientific futurist, Dr Catherine Ball, shares a view on growing the convergence and immersiveness of technology, data utilisation, and how marketing and advertising must work to retain trust

Dr Catherine Ball
Dr Catherine Ball

There’s a new normal in emerging technology every week, driven by rapid convergence of everything from smart devices to the virtual and physical in the metaverse. It’s ushering in the age of Industry 5.0, an exciting and frightening scenario for marketers.

Yet even as growing technology use and utilisation of the data that comes with it accelerates, marketers must still find a way to think about the human and build trust, says scientific futurist and associate professor at The Australian National University, Dr Catherine Ball. Speaking at the recent ADMA Global Forum, the industry commentator shared a vision of the direction data and technology are headed and what it means for the world of advertising and marketing.

This world sees the Internet of Things fast becoming the Internet of bodies, with bionic marketing conducted via implanted devices under the skin within 10 years and intelligence contact lenses powered by the salt in our tears. Drone-based advertising can be tailored based on real-time facial expressions and digital twins are becoming a thing. Artificial intelligence maturity is creating a need for explainable and ethics-oriented AI working groups, health is increasingly predictive, and every brand is going to need its own server farm to cope with the amount of data generated. Not to mention a cybersecurity strategy.

In the face of this, we are facing an interesting juxtaposition in the world of advertising and marketing, Dr Ball said.

“Trust is everything. But one of the things we know is data doesn’t necessarily equal trust. Technology doesn’t necessarily equal trust. And if you work purely on numbers without the why and the human being, then frankly you’re talking semantics and not actually making any difference,” she told attendees. “There are a lot of ways we could get this incredibly wrong, as well as a lot of ways we could get this right. The difference between the two comes down to as simple as asking why: Why are we doing something and who are we doing it for.”

Reaching the way for Dr Ball is based on one solid premise: We are humans first and users of technology second.

“We’re going from technology and device-led conversations to social function and licence, ethically driven ways of working and extrapolating and accelerating technologies from the geek to chic. The balance between those two things is Industry 5.0,” she continued.

“And if we take everything we know about data and marketing, it’s not about showing ads to people, this is working out as an individual and in a very human way how we are going to be producing data but also consuming the data you’re producing.”  

Following her presentation, Dr Ball spoke to CMO about her current concerns around data-driven marketing, ways the industry can overcome them, and the importance of trial, error and saying no as we head into the next realm of tech advancement.  

When you look at data-driven marketing and engagement activities right now, what worries you the most?

Dr Catherine Ball: I have two major worries. One is the difference between capability and action – the capability of data-led decision making, versus the software we might use and systems that have been set up and what it is. There is a constant need to educate ourselves about what’s coming over the hill. That’s the case with many emerging technologies – we constantly need to have our fingers on the pulse as it’s changing so quickly.

It's not just marketing of course, but every industry. So how do we provide that to people? How do we get someone to play inside a haptic suit, or put on a deep, immersive headset, or try a smart contact lens? Because it’s not until we play with some of the technology ourselves that we recognise the full four dimensions of data that technology is creating. The speed at which things are going means marketers constantly need to be going back, imbibing new knowledge but also more importantly, directly experiencing the technologies that our producing the data you’re making assumptions from. That’s so you can recognise the fallibility of that particular system.

The second thing for me is cybersecurity. There is no such thing as ‘raw’ data, then processed data, ETL and so on – all data is inherently biased in nature. Recognising the risks of distilling bias in the data we are using and the harm that could cause, not only to customers but also our brands and personas is important. It’s about recognising data is not irrefutable and we need to question how it was collected, why, when and where.

When I was working in Victoria on digital transformation through local government services, one thing we looked at is registration data and what time of day someone registers their dog. The average time was 2am. Why? People are waking up with the new puppy whinging and remember they haven’t yet registered the dog. So if you’re in the market selling puppy products, when are you targeting your marketing? The information that comes through those ecosystem-based processes that are not necessarily directly correlated to your product but may perhaps feed someone through to your product need consideration. You might thing people are asleep at 2am, but the people you want are awake.

You talked about the ‘uncanny valley’ in your presentation, and how the reason why should be the first conversation we have if we want to bring meaning and humanity into digital interaction. We also talk about the ‘creepy line’ in marketing, and how that is changing through digital maturity. How far has our acceptance as a consumer gone of data utilisation in interactions today?

Dr Ball: Uncanny valley came out of the world of artificial intelligence where some people produced robots of themselves. You could usually tell the real human versus the robot is. That robot is real but not real, and that feeling of ‘ick’ of being in the uncanny valley is very present.

It is interesting because even I don’t read the terms and conditions of the apps I download on my phone now. There is a massive opportunity for education and empowerment here with your customers. A good example of this I experienced personally was with a bank, which had a cyberattack and provided all of us with a year’s free antivirus software. If you think about that ’ick’ line, how can you make that more malleable and more bendable to people? It all comes down to education.

If you were to say to someone, we are collecting bionic information because we are trying to work out X, Y or Z, or we are working with a cancer research charity or university, consumers would see this as constructive, that they’re helping raise a bar and improve society. At the same time, you’ve built brand value, your customers trust you and see you’re working proactively. Then you’re able to mine some of that data you need to be able to make better decisions about people based on certain metadata frameworks and cohorts you might put them into.

So the ick, or creepy line changes. In social media, we seem to accept things but also don’t trust things as much. One of my favourite things is seeing people debunk Instagram and TikTok filters and break down the fourth wall. You talk to your audience and in doing so, you empower them in that conversation. It’s where you then take that conversation next that comes down to brand personalisation.

Technology when it works is invisible. The branding and marketing that comes from data-led marketing is invisible until something goes wrong. And when it does, you suddenly see the cracks and Matrix code. As we go forward into a more virtual world like the metaverse, when is that going to look broken? And how is that relationship of ‘ick’ and creepy line going to be when we’re subjecting ourselves to a world that’s created by people we don’t know and we’re signing up as we’re inquisitive human beings? That conversation is yet to be had.

So the ick line is a flexible line – to some, it’s so far away it’s a dot on the horizon. But being aware of it and working to empower consumers is key for a brand. It’s not disempowering to work out where your limits are. Boundaries are a good measure and feedback mechanism.

Another big takeaway from your presentation was the importance of consent in building trust with customers. How are we going to balance that fatigue of constantly opting in and information overload with good data-led experience and trust?

Dr Ball: Often, we assume someone else will check this for us – some civil liberties union or government regulation. But technology is always ahead of legislation. I’ve seen some great ways personally in products as well as tech coming out. For example, video engagement is much better than email and it’s the future of the Internet.

People don’t just want to read an email; we want to listen or watch a video about it. Working out how to get information to people quickly often means it’s better received. Having personalised video through deepfake technology is actually easier than ever. And it’s a huge opportunity for personalisation. Yes, some people will still ask how you know their name. That creepy factor ultimately comes down to generational change. Millennials and Gen Z behave so differently.

The thing about data-led marketing is you have the ability to be prescient and try things. You also get more information back really quickly. It’s a really exciting time to be in personalisation and marketing because you can get this really right.

As a consumer, you should always ask if you can opt out. If you can’t, it probably isn’t a great place to be. As a data-led marketer, the most empowering gift you can give is to always explain that people can say no.

Sustainability concerns about our growing use of data is another big watch out you’ve flagged for brands. What advice do you have for marketers on next steps?

Dr Ball: Being values-led is the key to every brand now. Your position on the climate crisis, slavery – as consumers, we expect that information quickly. I want to know where you get the cobalt for EVs, or if you have signed up to the Convention of Human Rights. Brands have an opportunity to share their values now more than ever.

And as we understand brands more and become pickier, there is a massive opportunity to take the front foot. Whoever comes out as the green data storage leader in terms of renewables in Australia will have an advantage. Our renewables industry here is going to be the battery pack for the Asia-Pacific. If you were in any country where you wanted to have a green economy around data-led marketing, Australia is the place to do it.

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