Tomorrow’s World: What new tech will shape comms?

Published: 10 April 2014

The purchase of Occulus Rift could, for some, be cause for laughter. But it could have serious implications for the future of comms. We look at why it's vital for comms professionals to get clued up on the latest technological advances and what they could mean for us.

Advances in virtual reality, wearable tech and the ‘internet of things’ present both a challenge and an opportunity for communications professionals.

Many questioned Facebook’s recent decision to buy Oculus Rift, a piece of virtual reality kit which immerses users in a richly-detailed CGI world via what looks like a pair of darkened ski goggles. Users tell you that the virtual technology is hyper-realistic, and it certainly prompts pretty convincing reactions.

Watch video for best reactions to Oculus Rift.

But up till now Oculus Rift has just been a piece of fairly niche gaming software. So why did Facebook buy it? CEO Mark Zuckerberg explained it like this: “We are making a long-term bet that immersive virtual reality will be a part of people’s lives.” Zuckerberg is imagining a future where people will travel, educate themselves, talk with friends, go to the doctor, get financial advice, watch sports, model architecture, teleconference – all virtually. In short, he’s thinking of a future where virtual reality features as a major new communication platform.

Whatever you think of the feasibility and likelihood of Zuckerberg’s vision, it’s at least clear that the communications landscape is set to change in the future. Recent years have seen huge advances in applications for wearable tech, like ‘smart’ watches, wristbands and glasses. It’s becoming apparent that we’ll soon be entering an ‘internet of things’ in which everyday items like cars, televisions, and even bins, are wirelessly connected.

It’s clear that marketing and communications professionals need to do some future-proofing; the potential implications for their clients are massive. Here are just two things we need to be thinking about:

1) Big data will get bigger. With wearable tech in the ‘internet of things’ the devices you use will store information about your interests, behaviours and past purchases. While separating noise from signal will be increasingly difficult, this data could become hugely valuable for marcomms teams. Armed with minute detail, they can drill down and tailor messages for smaller and smaller groups, possibly even for the individual consumer.

For instance, there’s been a lot of talk about what this means for TV advertising, where viewing patterns can be used to target ads that are highly personalised and relevant. Do you like watching The Great British Bake Off on catch up at 3am (I do)? Maybe you’d like to know that there’s a sale on for a cupcake set and Horlicks at the local 24-hour supermarket. Some of the same principles will apply outside retail, where a rich seam of data can be used to construct a ‘persona’ to draft your content for – I can make reasonable assumptions about what might interest and engage a GBBO night owl, for instance. Content marketing will be key to leveraging this trend in support of your clients’ business objectives.

2) Advertising will become more immersive. I’ve written elsewhere about the rise in native advertising which weaves brands more deeply into content that reaches consumers. Virtual reality opens up an exciting new front. Branding is already about storytelling: you’re asking consumers to buy in to a story about themselves that relates to your business. With virtual reality, branding will become an exercise in show don’t tell, you can actually create an immersive environment that makes it easy for people to picture the story you want to tell them. Imagine a corporate video that’s not just a talking head but actually gives you a sense of the office culture. This is a highly visual process, so design capability will be essential for marcomms teams in the future.

Advances in virtual reality, wearable tech and the ‘internet of things’ present both a challenge and an opportunity for communications professionals. On the one hand, many tried and tested communications principles will still apply, as ultimately you are still defining business objectives, gaining insight into sectors and audiences, devising strategy, drafting content to forward that strategy, delivering it across multiple channels and evaluating success. On the other hand, immersive and omnipresent technologies will reduce the impact of generic messages delivered on the periphery, sparking a ‘survival of the fittest’ that favours relevant, personalised content delivered in step with technological change. Don’t want to be left behind? Now’s the time to ask yourself whether you’re up for the challenge.

Madeleine Crowther
Junior Consultant

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