It’s that time of the year when we reflect on the past and look toward the future.
There is little doubt that 2018 was a major year for customer experience. Companies everywhere took a hard look at the tools and techniques that they use to meet customer expectations online. In fact, many were forced to re-evaluate their approach by disruptive new players who made customer engagement a central part of their business strategy.
For example, look what AirBnB did to hotel chains, or what Tesla did to luxury car makers, or what "fintech" startups did to established banks (not to mention what Amazon continues to do to retailers (and an increasing number of other verticals).
But that's enough looking back. Now, let's anticipate what's coming in 2019. Here are my predictions.
#1 - More, bigger, and smarter screens everywhere
LED screens have gotten so good (and so affordable) that they're starting to proliferate. What was formerly restricted to Times Square is now becoming commonplace. The number of digital screens is growing rapidly, which means more in-store displays, more screens in public transportation, and bigger screens in cars (see Telsa).
At the same time, these screens will become smarter. They will increasingly be able to perceive what’s in front of them and react to it.
All these new screens will create more demand for good content. The biggest, most iconic brands will likely dominate these new screens at first, but other brands will be sure to follow.
#2 - Video will thrive (“If it doesn’t move, it’s dead.”)
Videos will become the dominant content of 2019. Why? Because they're perfect for big screens and are also the most engaging medium on social networks. (As a friend remarked, “If it doesn’t move, it’s dead.”)
Indeed, putting giant videos on giant screens captures the attention of passers-by better than any other content. (And there's good science behind this, since our brains are wired to be drawn to movement.) Also, the younger the audience, the higher the likelihood they turn to YouTube first for search queries rather than Google.
Again, the big iconic brands will likely be the first to produce and share the most engaging video content. But with lower barriers to entry now, other brands will quickly follow.
#3 - Voice goes mainstream (“If it doesn’t answer, it’s broken.”)
I've mentioned the growing number of screens and that’s a visible change. At the same time, there's an invisible change happening: the rise of voice command devices. Alexa, Google Assistant, Siri, and others have now reached the tipping point. They're able to execute a growing number of commands faster and they're also able to learn new tricks.
Watching my kids using Siri on our HomePod settles the question for me of whether voice command devices are the future. They are. Because “If it doesn’t answer, it’s broken.”
#4 - Physical stores will become extensions of digital ones (rather than vice versa)
The best digital stores are now personalized for each customer – updating product catalogs in real time, constantly A/B testing, and loaded with relevant content in the language of the user.
I predict this will change how physical stores function as well. Physical stores will become digitally enhanced in a brand-new way, with iconic content on big screens, dynamic pricing strategies, and the ability to personalize the entire in-store experience for a VIP single customer. (See my previous blog post on this for a more in-depth example.)
#5 - Brands will double down on drops (“FOMO drives engagement”)
What started as a staple of the streetware scene has gone mainstream: the drop. We can now buy anything at anytime on Amazon, which is convenient but not that exciting anymore. What's exciting is limited-edition stuff. Stuff that's impossible to get except for the fortunate few. That's exciting, entertaining, and fresh.
And more and more retailers will jump on that trend, particularly in the luxury sector. Because the fear of missing out is strong.
#6 - Cultural sensitivity will become priceless
Dolce & Gabbana stumbled this fall when they released a series of culturally controversial promo videos (including one showing a Chinese model struggling to eat Italian food with chopsticks). In China, the backlash was fast and furious, and the brand was forced to cancel their Shanghai show. But this kind of thing isn't a one-off. With global networking continuing to increase, the impact of missteps like this will only grow.
Therefore, I predict brands will invest heavily in finding the right balance between global marketing ideas and local marketing tactics. And although brands increasing act globally, they will increasingly need to know how to market locally.
#7 - Brands discover values
2018 was a year marked by some powerful corporate moves (and missteps) around values. For example, Nike reinvigorated its 30-year-old "Just do it" campaign by using Colin Kaepernick as its new face. This endorsement of the Black Lives Matter movement was a powerful statement about the values of Nike.
Meanwhile, privacy became a major issue, with Apple and Microsoft coming out with statements about privacy being a human right while Google and Facebook came under attack for the lack of privacy built into their business models.
And plenty of companies were in the crosshairs for their business practices. Salesforce reacted to this and has recently hired a Chief Ethical and Humane Use Officer.
So I predict companies will increasingly need to tackle tricky ethical questions – either proactively or after being forced to following a misstep. Because consumers, employees, and the general public can become an effective mob when incensed.
#8 - Trust will be key
The most important value in 2019 (and beyond) will become trust. We live in a complex world and we look for people and companies we can trust. Because trust has the power to reduce complexity. If you can trust someone, you don’t have to question things or take unnecessary precautions.
But trust is under attack. With every new data leak and every big scandal, people lose trust in systems or organizations. That makes trust all the more important.
I predict successful companies will put in serious effort to earn and keep the trust of their customers, partners, employees, and the general public.
#9 - Privacy will explode
For a while, it seemed people were willing to trade privacy for convenience: You get a free service and the company gets to monetize your data. But with so many dark revelations over the past two years, public awareness has risen and this Faustian bargain is now under attack.
So I predict privacy will become a real status symbol for brands in 2019. In fact, Apple has already started to advertise its mobile devices by making it clear they don’t sell customer data. The most iconic brands will aim to be a “digital butler” rather than a stalker.
#10 - Collective Awareness will be even more disruptive than A.I.
A.I. promises massive disruption, but another force will turn out to be even more disruptive in 2019: Collective Awareness. Countries like Saudia Arabia experienced its power recently during the global outcry over the killing of Jamal Khashoggi. Facebook felt its force, as did Harvey Weinstein and many other powerful men (after #metoo started), and also French President Emmanuel Macron during the yellow vest protests.
I predict in 2019 we will see even bigger outcries, even more dramatic swings of global opinion, and even more disruptive consequences for individuals, companies, and countries. Doing the right thing will become the essential strategy for companies, celebrities, and politicians that want to survive.
Here's to a fascinating new year!