To truly appreciate the opportunities open to marketers with today’s latest technology, it’s worth taking a moment to marvel at the remarkable evolution of search over the past 20 years. Way back when the PC existed mostly to maintain and organize our own closed worlds of information, search was a handy feature that helped us to find files, images, and data stored on our individual computers. Later, once the Internet connected all of our computers together, search took on a different, more expanded role, allowing us to search information residing on other people’s systems, a function kicked into hyperspeed by the birth of the browser. About this time marketers started to take notice. How could they not? The word “browsing” had to catch the eye of any red-blooded retailer. Search quickly became all about driving traffic and how to get the customer to shop with a brand online.
But today’s technology — touch-screen technology combined with location and the pervasive data cloud — turns search into something else entirely. In a way, it takes us back to those early days when it was about finding information specific to our own individual worlds. However, instead of the world being our PCs, the world is wherever we happen to be at any given time. Mobile technology connects us to the expanding cloud of information circling around us, while browsers and apps have become location-aware, linking our personal mobile devices to information specific to our locations. As the last step, touch-screen technology connects the consumer with the information most relevant to them at precisely the moment they need it.
The last step is critical. Without the visual and intuitive characteristics of touch-screen technology, the impact of the other technologies would be significantly reduced. The massive improvement in user experience that comes from interacting with pictures layered with relevant cloud data versus typing via phone keys makes all the difference.
For example, imagine walking down a street and seeing a restaurant that interests you. Instead of physically typing the name of the restaurant into a tiny mobile browser, you simply hold up your phone to the front of the restaurant and up pops recent reviews, menus, table availability, and other information for you to consider. Called augmented reality, it works by combining the direction the user is facing (compass) with location (GPS) and contextually relevant information based on that location. Add touch-screen technology and all of the information the consumer needs to make his decision is served up automatically in a simple, quick-touch fashion on the mobile device. The operation of physically typing is skipped entirely and consumers go straight to discovery.
What does the convergence of all these technologies and advancements mean for marketers? For the first time, your brand will be able to interact with consumers in a contextually relevant, on-demand way, providing 100% utility to potential buyers. It changes your brand from being purely a product for sale into a service that helps the consumer find exactly what he or she is seeking directly at the point of sale. In this new world of near-perfect competition, it also means that brands will need to give far greater consideration to how their offer stacks up at that point-of-sale moment in order to turn a “touch” into a “sale.”