I Saw the Future at CES 2017, and All Your Behavior is For Sale

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CES 2017, the world’s most important electronics trade show, took place in Las Vegas, Nev. from Jan. 5-8. It was remarkable this year for the fact that so many trends we have been watching for years are now a foregone conclusion. The Internet of Things, autonomous vehicles, invisible interfaces, etc. are already in people’s homes and on the roads. What’s apparent is that brands now have a new medium to work with: human experience itself.

The question is no longer whether we will all be talking to our kitchen appliances, cars and dustbins… but whether you will be talking to them via Amazon.com Inc.’s ( AMZN) Alexa, Microsoft Corp.’s ( MSFT) Cortana, Apple Inc.’s ( AAPL) Siri or Alphabet, Inc.’s ( GOOGL) Google Home bot, and how big of a slice each of them will get of the anticipated multi-billion dollar commercial opportunity for virtual intelligent assistants.

With the implementation phase underway, it’s time to turn our crystal ball to the impact all this will have on 1) the human experience, from the consumer point of view; and 2) the world of marketing–which will be very disrupted, indeed.

Designing for the medium of experience

With the shift from screen-based interface to simple voice activation, people will surely have more time, limbs and eyes to devote to more natively human activities, such as socializing with others, and experiencing the world.

The key difference is that these experiences will be enhanced and reconfigured by the vast computing power that will permeate almost every aspect of life.

Experiential marketing (messaging you can touch, feel or view in a physical space), will come into its own, and designing for experiences will be a huge focus. And since every-day human behavior will generate data, all concern about its measurability will be moot.

A personalized reality

Things that we encounter every day, from kitchens to cars to doors will be programmed to respond to our biometric signals, to deliver truly one-to-one experiences. Cars on display promised to do more than just drive you – they will, in the case of the Fit & Healthy concept from Mercedes, take good care of you, tailoring ambient lighting and massage intensity based on your heartbeat. Eyelock gave us a glimpse into this future with Myris, whose iris-identification technology literally opened doors by recognizing you as you moved towards them.

We consumers are used to personalized social news feeds, such as Facebook, Inc’s ( FB). We’ve even been comfortable with Facebook and others allowing brands to leverage our personal behavior data to deliver targeted brand messages. This concept is now set to extend beyond the confines of our screens and news feeds, into the real world. As with Facebook, other brands will also be able to deliver personalized brand messages..

This is not as ludicrous as it sounds. Recently, unsolicited, I found some bottles of Perrier in my fridge, courtesy of the tech-driven home management service, Alfred. Alfred knows I like sparkling water from the shopping it does for me, and perhaps because of the SodaStream on my kitchen counter. Based on these signals, Alfred has judged that I might welcome some free samples from their partner, Perrier. And they were correct. Getting this wrong would be costly — but getting it right is a bonanza: they succeeded in getting a new brand I had no prior thought of using, directly into my fridge!

This is a high-stakes game that brands, and the experience platforms behind them, would do very well to get right. Facebook has been successful by being notoriously protective of its users’ data, careful to limit ads, and offering users the ability to opt out of them

An end to the language barrier

While it personalizes the everyday, computing power will forge previously unimaginable social connections. The idea of social connectedness is set to explode, thanks to new real-time translation tools, which promise to put an end to language as a cultural barrier. A smart earpiece from Waverly Labs translates languages in the context of a real-time conversation. Meanwhile, KinTrans translates sign language to text and text to sign language – again, in real time. The ability to communicate with potentially anyone, at scale, will give rise to yet untold mass-niche global communities. These communities will be organized around specific passion points, which will be the only commonality they need share.

The opportunity for brands here is great. They will be able to build relationships with like-minded communities, which, through a shared mindset, will be ready and receptive to the brand’s proposition, and which will in turn inspire R&D pipelines. These communities will slice up the consumer population in new ways. It won’t be US-only or global, housewives with kids or men 25-54 – but rather Marmite and chocolate spread fanatics, and blow-your-brains out chili nuts (insert your own niche interests here).

Total experience marketing

Besides learning to design for the new and enhanced medium of experience, brands will need to consider which experiences they have permission to play in, and when there, what they can do. Brands should consider their role not just in the obvious moments of alignment, but in relevant off-duty moments, too. For example, a brand aligned with fitness should not just be present when someone is running, but may have a role when that person is injured. With the emotion data from the new medium of experience, brands will be able to show more empathy. The experience medium will create a whole new dimension for advertising, and designing for it will call for a whole new set of skills. These are exciting times.