If The Future Is Now, What Does 2020 Have In Store For Marketers?

DeLoreanIn the “Back to the Future” trilogy, Dr. Emmett “Doc” Brown, the inventor of the time travel machine, comes from “the future.” That future is, believe it or not, October 2015 – only one year from now.

Sure, Doc has a time machine built from a DeLorean, but the 2015 portrayed in the movies makes no mention of smartphones, social media, marketing drones, etc. Some might argue that the technology most of us carry around in our pockets today is more impressive than anything the creators of “Back to the Future” could have dreamed up.

So, here’s an interesting thought experiment: Based on the marketing technology available today, what would life be like for Doc if he came from slightly further in the future – say, 2020? What changes are you expecting over the next five years? Here’s my take… in the form of a memo.

From:  Dr. Emmett Brown

To:  Marty McFly

Date:  October 15, 2020

Dear Marty,

As you know, my eyes suck.  It started about age 45.  Thought I had dodged it. I thought wrong.  Crazy hair first, extremely farsighted second.  Luckily the new Apple i8 comes with an auto-lens that corrects for my horrible vision without me having to put on my glasses to use the phone.  Nothing so far from Apple on fixing crazy hair, but at least I can see my phone. :^)

Sure, the Galaxy phone still has a bigger screen than the Apple, but I couldn’t see it without my glasses.  Apple once again has taken individual usability to a whole new level.  Additionally, one really cool side effect of the automatic visual correction is security. Unless the person sitting next to me has the exact vision impairment as I, my screen looks all blurry to them.

However, I still carry my glasses. And I can just as easily suspend the auto-lens feature on my phone when I’m wearing my corrective lenses.  And my glasses are awesome. They’re actually a new model of the Google Glass with all the creepy features taken out.  Everybody hated the original Google Glass.  They looked stupid. They made everyone think they were being surreptitiously recorded. Fortunately, the engineers at Google listened and got it right by the third release. They finally just built the Google Glass features into a standard pair of eye glasses. Now, you don’t have to wear an additional appliance on your head because the internet is fully integrated into standard eyeglasses.

It also helps that battery life in these devices got better. U-Beam finally took off in the US and that means all these little gadgets charge up automatically, so you’re never caught having to find a power outlet to charge your eyeglasses. Add in the digital wallet and “swipe & pay” purchase technologies that are part of devices today and no one would be caught dead without their biometrically secure personal mobile device (iPhone, glasses, watch, bracelet, jacket, backpack or mini key fob).  The sheer convenience of waving your phone or watch or keys over a scanner to pay for things has revolutionized payment technologies around the world. Many people have truly achieved a cashless lifestyle.  Sure, cash is still around but there’s getting to be less and less and less of it, and the youth of today actually laugh at anybody carrying coins around.  They make me feel like such a dinosaur.  Kids don’t ask parents for money; they ask for credits.

But, I’m just describing the interactional devices and their availability and connectivity. Amazingly, it’s the way that we can interact with different brands and companies that’s truly revolutionary.

Once connectivity was ubiquitous, brands needed to evolve their marketing campaigns and how they engaged with customers.  Granted, they could still send a piece of direct mail with a special offer or promotion, but then they’d be missing many of the opportunities that present themselves. The successful brands of today have taken digital marketing and customer engagement to a whole new level.

For instance, location-based marketing is the first area of revolutionary change, and it has been transformed in two major ways.

First, imagine a customer standing somewhere in town and seeing an advertisement on a billboard, in a taxi cab, at a bus stop, on the side of a building, on a poster in the window or at the entrance to a shopping mall.  If that ad has something the customer can scan or a short code he can text, the company placing that ad knows roughly where the customer is located, based on the code associated with the ad. Then, the company can engage by sending location specific offers.

Even more interesting, however, are GPS-related location-based offers. In the previous scenario, the vendor only knows where the customer is located because the customer sent a specific code. In this second scenario, vendors are waiting for prospective customers to get within a certain range of a location before they send their offers.

This is great if you’re a store owner. You could set up a “come see me net” within a certain proximity of your location, and anytime a customer or prospect gets within that radius you could automatically send a real time marketing message to the recipient with an appropriate offer. Anytime somebody got close enough to make it practical, you could reach out and engage them.

Now, imagine that you’re me and you love pizza. When I get to restaurant row in town, my glasses (or phone, or key fob, etc.) start receiving offers from the different pizza joints I’ve opted in with. The really clever ones are even able to respond in real-time to the other guys’ offers and win my pizza business. I like just getting close and seeing what all their specials and incentives are for the night.

And then there’s biometrically-based marketing, another area of revolution.

So many of these smart devices (because they’re so ubiquitous and powerful) need to be highly secure. I can’t afford to have somebody run off with my key fob and be able to “swipe and go” with a 12-pack… or my new DeLorean! :^)  So, all these devices have a biometric sensor built in to determine ownership.

The first benefit of biometric identification is security and flexibility. My daughter can borrow my iPhone to go to the mall and buy something, but when she’s holding my phone it has a payment limit, when I’m holding my phone it doesn’t.  Cool, huh?

The second (and absolutely coolest) benefit of biometric identification systems is health and wellness. Think FitBit with an integrated EKG. These things know how far I walk or ride my bike.  They know when I need to slow down because my heart-rate is too high. They know when I need to stop working and get a snack because my blood sugars are dropping. In fact, I haven’t passed out in months! They can also alert me to early heart attack symptoms and automatically engage my doctor and, if needed, emergency response personnel.

Remember when we thought 2015 was futuristic and amazing? It’s even better now!

See you soon.

Your pal,


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