We previously focused on the “now” with our take on how luxury brands are adapting to digital solutions to future-proof their businesses, but with 2021 planning underway, our eyes are on the future. It may be difficult to imagine a world beyond COVID-19, but as time and technology march on, so too will the ways brands can leverage the latter to create more addressable, engaging, and fruitful engagement with consumers. And while we’ve already started to see these tech trends take hold, we believe the catalyst for widespread adoption is happening now:
1. 3D Printing: Personalization is a buzzword for good reason — tailoring messaging and products around consumers (“show them that you know them”) drives results. Increased adoption of and access to 3D printing not only drives business results on the back end by saving time and money through automated manufacturing (think L’Oréal 3-D printing prototypes), but it can also strike a chord with consumers. Imagine fashion houses being able to turn out custom, precious jewelry pieces in days, not weeks, to customers’ exacting specifications, or look to Balenciaga’s 3D-printed Autumn/Winter 2018 line for inspiration.
2. Nanotechnology: As access to technology increases, so too does the potential for fraud. Integrating nanotechnology can not only circumvent the need for easily copied bar codes or certificates of authenticity, but it can also drive innovation as well as security. Luxury watchmaker Bausele commissioned the creation of a new, lightweight, and super-strong ceramic (“Bauselite”) that allows for bold design as well as being a proprietary formula that ensures a chemical makeup exclusive to its creators.
3. Adaptive Virtual & Augmented Reality: Many brands are already experimenting with virtual and augmented reality (VR & AR), particularly during the pandemic when consumers crave bringing new experiences into their personal environments. Brand opportunities to adapt to consumer behavior-led technology are increasingly growing by leveraging data from AR/VR devices, wearables, etc. to create personalized, mixed-reality shopping experiences. Imagine stepping into a virtual reality experience at a retailer that features clothing curated for your favorite hobbies with color preferences influenced by your previous purchases. Pair this more hygienic “try-on” (sure to be top of mind post-COVID) with rapid shipping and in-environment social sharing, and all of a sudden, retail is friendlier and more frictionless. From an organizational standpoint, there is an opportunity to use the technologies to revolutionize employee onboarding, whereby companies could train machine operators in manufacturing or a medical practitioner on new tools.
4. 5G & Smart Cities: Smart City market size is predicted to double by 2025 to nearly $821B; combine that with increased adoption of 5G technology, whose explosion we foresee happening in 2021, and there is a clear opportunity for brands to build seamless engagement opportunities with consumers. Data from wearables and mobile could instantly curate in-store selections for consumers looking for a new outfit or a bottle of wine to bring home for dinner. Similarly, brands could take advantage to power tailored IRL communication when consumers interact with ATMs, ticket kiosks, and more.
5. Blockchain & Cryptocurrency: Transactions are increasingly cashless, and COVID-19’s lingering impact is likely to accelerate this trend, which means an opportunity for brands to start considering the role of cryptocurrency. Retailers — especially those that operate multiple brands — should consider the possibility of secure, branded Stablecoins (cryptocurrency designed to minimize price volatility) for loyal, high-value customers, both as a way to participate in blockchain adoption as well as to offer exclusive incentives. Fundamentally, the fact that blockchain’s general ledger is immutable has a wide range of practical applications for any company: it can be applied to Big Data workflow and storage, the transactional nature of IoT within an integration landscape, provide additional security opportunities, and even safeguard a company’s internal records, especially for those that undergo regular audits.
6. Internet of Things (IoT): Alexa, Siri, and Google Assistant are becoming ubiquitous in our daily lives — they’re the friends with the answer to everything. As voice-activated technologies become integrated into more touchpoints in our homes, vehicles, and places of business (with an anticipated 145% growth between 2020 and 2021), the line between what does and doesn’t feel like technology will become increasingly blurred. Brands should take advantage of this friendly relationship by establishing interception points now, with retailers creating voice-guided shopping in-app and at dotcom, entertainment brands building immersive smart speaker apps, and all brands optimizing their online properties for the rise of vocal search. Tangentially, the transition to cloud applications will enable marketers like GALE to develop complex applications that provide rich interfaces and integrations to the end user, reducing our total cost of ownership in terms of infrastructure and minimizing footprint for local storage by offloading to software that has already been built and is available online.
7. Robots & Automation: Automation isn’t new, but COVID-19 has increased brands’ needs to consider how robotics and automation can keep them ahead of consumer behavior during and after the pandemic. Fulfillment-only storefronts powered by robot “pickers” would allow retailers to offer fast local shipping, while some product design and prototyping could be powered by data-driven automation. Retailers could also take a cue from hospitals, airports, and other busy spaces by supplementing current hygiene practices with automated, robotic cleaning to ensure customer safety and comfort in a post-pandemic world. Within this space, the advancement of AI is also allowing for more intelligent decision making, without human intervention or programmatic updates. We’ve seen that with Elon Musk’s OpenAI learning, a complicated game through repetition to beat out professional gamers using human-like actions such as bluffs and misdirection, for example. The evolution of AI becoming self-sufficient provides very impactful opportunities to companies, especially those within the addressable marketing space via machine learning or real-time predictions of imminent security breaches and prevention.
While no one can predict the future, we can learn from current trends and emerging adaptive technologies to understand how to stay ahead of the curve and create nimbler, more creative, and more compelling brands that grow with and inspire their consumers.
Chief Technology Officer