What the rise of smart cities will mean for Aussie marketers

Smart cities are here, and it's time to sit up and take note. Old marketing tactics fall flat in this data and context rich environment, resulting in profound implications for marketers. Microsoft's Christi Olson explains.

Smart cities are on the rise as visionaries prepare for digitally enhanced physical spaces powered by the cloud.

Those of us living in New York, London or Chicago may recognise one of these devices – it’s a Link hotspot that reinvents the notion of a payphone with super fast, free Wi-Fi and other digital content such as public transport schedules and event calendars. No more wondering if the bus is running late – real-time schedules let you know if you have time to grab a last-minute bagel or beer.

According to Dave Etherington, CTO of Intersection Media: “These emergent technologies connect the physical and digital realms and elevate the civic experience with universal access to the internet and information around us.”

This is especially exciting for marketers who now have a new way to stay intimately connected with mobile consumers who are away from their homes and computers, by creating relevant and engaging advertising that is based on real-world location and the physical context.

Mixing physical and digital reality

The screens on devices like Link will not be the only new technology popping up. There’s an even more expansive technology in the works – one that will likely represent the new UX for all future computing as it allows users to engage more naturally with their direct surroundings.

The joining of the physical and digital realms is also possible with augmented and mixed reality devices. Mixed reality superimposes digital images on top of the real world allowing digital and physical objects to co-exist and interact with each other. Users can use voice, gaze and hand gestures to interact with the technology – and world – around them.

For example, The Home Depot uses an augmented reality shopping app, to help customers find products directly within the store, while Houzz has created 3D models of furniture so consumers can try it out in their home prior to purchase. Mixed reality is the next spatial frontier as savvy marketers get ready to leverage mixed reality enabled technology which will natively placed products, services and brands across our daily journeys.

Creating with context

So how do marketers leverage today’s technology to make each consumer feel like they are the centre of the universe? By creating with context in mind. This can be hard to do when context changes moment by moment by moment. The key to future marketing and advertising is knowing the difference and bridging the digital/physical divide to create smart experiences.

Thanks to smart phones, beacons, RFID and the cloud, marketers now have enough signals to help them start thinking differently. Focus shifts away from products and onto consumers who can be reached in contextualised moments. With the blending of the physical and digital, we have a lot more context and information about how people are engaging and interacting. Today’s marketers must embrace AI-driven technologies in order to capture, manage and transform growing data opportunities into meaningful consumer experiences.

AI empowers marketers’ capabilities

How exactly do today’s brands bridge the physical/digital divide and create mind-blowing consumer experiences? The answer lies in AI and how it enables marketers to ingest vast amounts of data. It can detect patterns better than people can and amplify a marketer’s ability to reason, understand and interact with consumers. 

Brands are not just using AI in marketing, but to expand their product lines, focusing less on material goods and more on high-value experiences. For instance, Spotify and Netflix are delivering entertainment that knows your tastes, matches your mood and is aware of your schedule.

Spotify understands that you listen to different music for a 6am jog than for a 6pm dinner party and can adjust accordingly. You may have noticed that your Netflix recommendations keep getting better and better as they use deep learning to understand the subtle differences in consumer preference – just because you like one reality show, doesn’t mean you like them all!

Consumer experiences will continue to get smarter as the world around us begins to transform into a digital canvas that – once again – promises to redefine how we work, shop, socialise and live.

Christi Olson is head of evangelism for search at Microsoft


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