CES Day Three: The changing nature of marketing and public relations

My Day 3 at CES was the most exciting. In the morning I wandered the exhibit halls a little bit more and even met a person who attended the conference virtually – she was on a screen and the screen was on a robot that could move around the exhibit hall, talk to other people, look closer at the items on the table and so on. It looked cool but seemed more like a temporary solution rather than the future of conference travel. 3D holograms from Displair seem like a better solution: you can have a hologram of a person wandering the exhibit hall that you can shake hands with. And, of course, in the future, it will be a virtual exhibit hall and we all will be present there virtually. What a tragedy for the airline business!

The highlight of the day was the keynote address I attended: Brand Matters. The keynote had senior level professionals in marketing/corporate communications from world leading corporations. Among the speakers were Michael Bowling, Chief Marketing Officer of AT&T; Josh Silverman, President, U.S. Consumer Services, American Express; Joseph Tripodi, EVP, Chief Marketing & Commercial Officer, The Coca Cola Co.; and Keith Weed, Chief Marketing and Communications Officer, Unilever. But the session was kicked off by Marc Benioff, Chairman and CEO of saleforce.com, whose vision for the future was the most eye-opening.

What all speakers agreed on was the fact that the main revolution comes not from any single new gadget but from new era of communications between the gadgets – they will talk to each other and, more importantly, talk to us and to their headquarters.

Today in many of our public relations/marketing/corporate communications programs we talk to students about how social media influence communications between a company and consumers. We look at case studies of customers going to Facebook to complain about malfunctioning appliance or going to Twitter to describe their problems live; we discuss in classes how companies must quickly and competently react to this flow of information. But it looks like this is not the future, but, in fact, the past.
If there is a Samsung refrigerator connected to the Internet, why cannot it send an email to Samsung notifying the headquarters that, for example, the temperature in the freezer is getting outside of normal range before a customer even notices anything. Then, the refrigerator can connect to the cell phone of the customer and check his or her schedule to arrange for a technician visit to check on the refrigerator. In other words, appliances will need to become self-aware and will be able to have themselves repaired before they can cause any issue to the final user or even before the user will notice anything. “The circle of love” as Marc Benioff called it– our appliances can really become our friends taking care of us.

And we can take it one more step further – refrigerator can talk to a dishwasher and notice you do not like one brand of food because there is plenty of it left on your plate – so, next time it can text you to say remember you bought Brand A vegetables last week and did not like them - buy Brand B this time. And, of course, they all will talk to the toilet to see how your body reacted to different products, how your health is affected and maybe connected to your medical provider to develop recommendations for you. So, yes, we will be talking to our appliances and becoming friends with them – in fact, they may become our best friends and can save our lives. And imagine what a great new potential for marketing it opens and how targeted that can get! This means moving from audiences or publics to marketing to individuals.
As always, it would raise issues of privacy or losing some more individual control, but it brings convenience and people, I believe, are willing to sacrifice privacy and control for convenience – see, for example, all the success of Apple products.

And this maybe not such a long way in the future – already today we have all these appliances with internet connectivity, already today we have cell phones containing user’s schedules, emails, credit cards and other information. If a refrigerator can order food delivery, it can send an email to headquarters. There is no doubt about the importance of mobile in all this – cell phone will become or already is the center piece of all our networks and our communications. So, significant focus in student’s education should be on mobile.
But let’s look more into the future. If we all are going to get 3D printers at home and shop online for whatever we desire, a malfunctioning refrigerator can email to headquarters about its problems and then self-terminate or self-disintegrate; while headquarters will send an order to print another refrigerator to the user’s 3D printer and, once printed, refrigerator will be installed in the very same place where the old one was. All without any people involvement at all.

Which brings up another point – massive data. Already today, there are more customer data available than companies can process. American Express and Coca Cola representatives both mentioned that they have plenty of data – the problem is converting data into insight and knowledge. For now it means importance of research skills for marketing and communication graduates. But the data volume will continue to increase exponentially. So, there is no doubt it will lead to more and more demands for artificial intelligence with data processing capabilities. Yes, companies will have to develop virtual presence through artificial intelligence living in the cloud processing terabytes of data perhaps having their personalities and communicating to us one-on-one via social media – not their representatives but actual companies – they will become our friends for real. Super computers in the cloud talking from the name of a corporation to us, collecting and processing data on us, and helping us improve our quality of life.

What artificial intelligence lacks, however, is creativity. So, to prepare our students for their future, we should focus on interpreting research results and conclusions that artificial intelligence will provide us with in the future and then coming up with creative solutions to the identified issues.

Of course, once technology, companies, products move to live in the cloud, people will move into cloud even more than today. But that is the whole other story…

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