We will soon see advertising messages that are aligned with our DNA, says Terry Young, founder of the consulting company sparks & honey. But how will this hyper-personalised marketing affect retail? The US-American CEO answers this question in this interview and at the GDI Retail Summit.
Terry Young: Our work points to a redefinition and upgrade of commerce practices around rapid technological, operational, and societal shifts that are already disrupting how we experience reality as well as what and whom we trust. From fake news to disinformation and the collapse of institutional trust, businesses and governments are waking up to a changed world. While leaders formulate strategies to deal with massive structural changes, the signals are pointing to an even larger wave of cultural shifts that will have longstanding implications for the future of commerce and marketing.
These shifts are brought on by a number of factors: the growing capabilities of technology to manipulate reality, the increase in both volume and intimacy of the data we generate, and operational innovations that radically improve the ability of organizations (productive and malignant) to adapt and respond to contextual input. The very exponential pace of technological development — a defining factor of the Fourth Industrial Revolution — provides the backdrop to the transformation of commerce and marketing. The Fourth Industrial Revolution is seen as a new stage of human development, one defined by “a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres,” according to Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman at the World Economic Forum. Part of that development is the merging of our biology with our physical and digital contexts — and if that sounds like science fiction, think again.
What will tomorrow’s marketing look like?
Marketing is being transformed through the intersection of physical, digital, and biological data. From wearables to implantables, it’s innovations such as an ultrathin nanomesh electric “skin” that can read and display the wearer’s heartbeat that are bringing technology closer to us than ever before. The close proximity of technology to the human is creating an increasingly intimate set of new data verticals that are opening the door to hyper-personalization.
These new data verticals include inputs from our devices, smart homes, and even future smart cities — measuring everything from the steps you take (or don’t), to the quality of your sleep, preferences for personal items and life partners, to understanding your emotions before, perhaps, even you do, through the growing accuracy of emotion recognition algorithms. In addition, genomic data in which your DNA plays a starring role (such as Helix’s DNA kit) can be applied to anything from health to entertainment and fine dining.
Data is the new gold – agree?
Agree. Data is the new gold and data privacy is a human right.
Emerging technologies that are designed to mine our data are highlighting a growing need for protecting data shared with companies. Bio-tattoos, microchip implants to measure biometrics, and brain-computer interfaces like Neuralink — which aims to connect our brains to the cloud — have the power to interpret our bio-data, emotions and communications in real time and in ways that could offer insights about ourselves that are deeper and richer than anything we would be willing to share even with our closest friends.
Do we move to a future of self-sovereignty of data? This is the idea that you can control and administer your own identify information.
What does this mean for retail?
The organizations that are creating the foundation for the future of commerce are aggressively investing in a wide range of data verticals which are able to mine and structure individual biology, physical or digital context, and emotion. These organizations are also designing business models to enable the self-organization and self-optimization of every segment in the value chain, from design and production to marketing and distribution. These adaptive models are fueled by data and will grow in complexity and significance with new datasets which will inevitably involve human emotion and biology.
The future of commerce will rely on balancing the transformative power of the technologies associated with the Fourth Industrial Revolution with their potentially destabilizing forces. In a climate where public and private sectors are empowered with the most intimate data — where reality is malleable and can be constructed and hacked at will — organizations must acknowledge the grey areas of blurred responsibility. They must proactively create avenues for public and private sector collaboration to anticipate risks and devise a social contract that puts the public firmly in control of critical assets like their own data, and engenders trust by engaging consumers as stakeholders in the development of the models and innovations that will reshape the world as we know it.
In your speech at the GDI Retail Summit, you will talk about “transforming truth”. This seems rather provocative given the current discussions on “fake news”.
What we see, hear, touch, or even feel is redefining our understanding of truth and the information we process — the end result is a fragmentation of reality. Every day, the human brain is inundated with an information load that equates to 34 gigabytes. Not only do we absorb vast amounts of data, but we are active producers of data through the platforms, wearables and our daily digital behaviors. When coupled with reality manipulation technology, this vast machinery is redefining our relationship with reality, fragmenting it and creating multiple parallel “truths” that can massively increase division and polarization in society.
One of our greatest challenge is to build a plan to restore Trust.
Embrace your role as an infrastructure architect. Where institutional trust is eroding, organizations can step in to rebuild and instill confidence in the functions of a society, and by association, the consumers it serves. In return, acting as infrastructure architects is a means of not only building confidence in the functions of society, but instilling trust in your organization.