Article written by Elise le Mer.
Summer is upon us. Your brand planning is already a distant memory and as your team gets ready for the upcoming summer vacation season, your eyes might already be set on September, with updated goals, adjustments to your brand strategy, and some exciting new ideas to try out. As usual, there is a dizzying amount you want or need to do, data to analyze and digest, presentations galore, hints from your boss and the sales department on where you should spend your marketing budget. And like a kid in a candy store, it’s easy to want to try Every. Single. New tool.
There’s more than enough to get overwhelmed, but giving up on innovation is not an option, as everyone is upping their game. In this maelstrom, it is critical to take the time to think about what your true business priorities are. Here’s an overview of the most relevant technological advances, and the important macro trends to inform your plans.
HAL, the creepy and murderous artificial intelligence (AI) character in Stanley Kubrick’s film 2001, got a 2023 makeover and marketers have been capitalizing on the growing opportunities. With AI, you can now generate personas to understand your target consumers, get copy that is on-brand, create packaging and entire ad campaigns, manage social media advertising and e-commerce, run your SEO, interact with consumers through increasingly refined chatbots, perform online monitoring of your brand reputation and so much more. The possibilities seem endless, and AI can be especially useful in certain areas such as generating content (especially in the written form) and online monitoring and communications (chatbots, social media monitoring and posting, SEO). Note that it does not (yet) take on the job of sitting at board meetings to demonstrate ROI, though perhaps even that is not far off.
And let’s not forget everyone’s favorite search term of the past few months: ChatGPT. Your LinkedIn feed has likely been taken over by posts about what it can do, or the ridiculous mistakes it makes. What matters most, is that with ChatGPT you now have direct access to a user-facing AI application. What’s not to get excited about.
So, if you haven’t already done so, go to the OpenAI website, sign up, and try it. It might feel disconcerting at first, and you might find yourself reaching unconsciously for some user manual (we have you covered), just like you would for any new tool. There are many good resources online for how to use ChatGPT as a marketer, but it may be more useful to conceptualize it as new, unknown territory and to view yourself as an explorer with only a map of the contours of the land you want to discover, instead of being a mere user of a tool with a finite, established set of capabilities. So, a trial-and-error approach is your best bet to establish how it can help you. Put it to the test on a different type of task each time: create a blog post, develop a strategy roadmap for your content marketing, an email to a colleague, etc.
Among all these praises, it’s worth remembering the risks and limitations of AI. The first and most obvious one is that AI’s performance depends on the volume and quality of the data it is fed. Do you have a large enough quantity of data to teach the AI? Is that data high-quality enough? With ChatGPT, remember it only includes data from pre-September 2021. AI is also famous for making up answers and “hallucinating,” so you need to examine every answer it gives you with a critical eye. If you are not an expert on a topic, find someone who is and ask for their input. From an ethics and compliance point of view, there are examples of chatbots turned racist and ChatGPT giving sexists answers, which is morally problematic and harmful to a brand reputation.
The weird and wonderful world of AI-generated ads (here from agency 10 Days for Uber) illustrates the opportunities and also the limitations of this exciting new tool.
NFT is another one of these tech acronyms that have become ubiquitous and sound familiar (in fact, Nimdzi have already reported on it here), but you’d be forgiven for not knowing exactly what it is. An NFT (non-fungible token) is a record showing who owns a unique piece of digital content (such as a work of art, song, photograph, meme, etc.), in the same way that a vehicle registration title shows who owns a particular car. NFTs started in the world of digital art (with, for example, the famed “Bored Ape Yacht Club,“ or BAYC, created by start-up Yuga Labs), then expanded into the usual world of early adopters (luxury fashion and cosmetics brands), and has now reached the world of fast-moving consumer goods with the likes of Danone’s evian brand.
NFTs can be a good way to reach digital natives of Gen X or Millennials in their natural habitats (e.g., through in-game assets developed by Nike’s .SWOOSH). However, they might not help you as much if your target market is older and more tech adverse. In fact, according to research conducted by Nansen in 2022, “nearly 80 percent of the United Kingdom’s population did not know what an NFT was when asked, and 70 percent did not know in the United States.” The craze for NFTs seems to have slowed down towards the end of 2022, triggered by the collapse of cryptocurrency FTX and its knock-on effect on other crypto exchanges — NFTs are associated with cryptocurrencies, which are generally viewed as a highly volatile form of investment. So, they are probably not the right approach if you operate in the financial sector — or you need to have a watertight justification ready for your CEO.
It doesn’t mean that NFTs are not a good vehicle for a marketing campaign. Depending on your brand objectives, NFTs can be valuable for brand building in general and if you need to grow awareness of your brand or product, develop engagement, and encourage loyalty, you might use NFTs as a reward for top consumers. They have often been seen and used as status symbols, displayed on social media profiles, and they can help create a sense of community among fans — a prime example of tribal marketing. But the speculative element of cryptocurrency might be best dialed down in your communication for the time being.
The metaverse is a 3D, immersive digital world where people interact with each other. To make this experience immersive, augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are used. AR and VR both rely on headsets (most notably commercialized by Meta — formerly Oculus-Rift), but AR superimposes digital elements onto real, physical surroundings (e.g., a virtual dinosaur running around your coffee table), like Snapchat filters or Pokemon Go. The metaverse mimics the real world, and people can use avatars to interact and purchase virtual goods.
According to Metaversed, the metaverse now counts over 400 million users. The largest virtual Metaverse worlds are Roblox (205 million users), Minecraft (177 million), Fortnite (80.4 million), Zepeto (20 million), Avakin Life (10 million), Rec Room (8 million) and IMVU (7 million). Statista estimates the metaverse will represent a global market revenue of USD 936.6 billion by 2030.
It is difficult to predict, at what is still a relatively early stage, how consumers’ tastes and habits will evolve, but currently brands have adopted various approaches: AR packaging, AR & VR stores and AR wearables to enable consumers to try on apparel and make-up, AR events, VR advertising, VR influencers. AR’s anchor in the physical world, coupled with the use of a smartphone app, can be a relatively easy approach for brands, reaching a potentially wider audience than VR.
Costs and timelines vary for these types of projects and there’s a raft of agencies specializing in the various areas of AR and VR. Here’s a useful link breaking down the key factors contributing to AR prices, and another one to help understand the process of AR app development for basic and additional features, as a starting point on your journey.
If you are feeling ready to dip your toe and experiment with some of the most cutting-edge tools in the digital marketing arsenal, the next step is to convince the purse holders. Some companies have some sort of “experimentation budget” for campaigns that are a bit out there, without the need to go through all the financial hurdles typically needed to greenlight a project. This type of budget is usually well hidden within the accounts, but remember there is ALWAYS some money stacked away for a rainy day or an impossible-to-resist opportunity. It’s your job to find it and secure it.
If despite your best effort you have not been able to secure that sweet, additional budget, you need to build a business case, pointing out that technology is becoming a core component of products and processes; you can’t not do it, at the risk of falling behind and becoming obsolete — as in the case of Kodak, the bogeyman of corporate near-death from obsolescence. Your proposed project could be used as a pilot in order to build your enterprise capability in that respect. Remember to speak with IT or whoever is in charge of digital transformation in your company to ensure they are on your side and make sure you listen to their tips.
If there is decidedly no money at all, or not enough for your plans, remember you can try to negotiate with suppliers. You might be able to lower the price by leveraging the potential for more business further down the line, either with your brand, your business unit, or with another part of the business and this is their foot in the door. Or ask for a free trial in exchange for access to your numbers, your participation in a white paper and presentations of case studies at industry conferences, and your detailed feedback so they can improve and refine their product and service. This will also be good (free) publicity for your company, your brand and your own career. Make sure to free up some time for this experimentation though: it might cost you little or nothing in cash, but it will take some of your time.
It’s impossible not to mention social media when focusing on digital marketing. There are a few newer kids on the block, such as Twitch and Discord, which can be good for establishing a more authentic connection with your target consumers. But in general, unless you are a digitally native brand, it’s probably best to stay put, have a look at the new social media websites, read a few articles about them, ensure there’s some monitoring in place, and then move on, leaving it to others to try and test them. Once it becomes clear which ones have survived, you can decide if it’s worth your time investing in creating an account, advertising, or interacting on these.
AI, NFT, and the metaverse are the most notable and relevant innovations for digital marketers in 2023. The most important point, though, is to not be blinded by the tech hype. These are just tools to reach your marketing goals, and if you want them to yield good results, you need to be clear on your objective, ensure it’s aligned with your organization’s goals, and provide a tight brief. Remember the acronym GIGO (garbage in, garbage out); it’s often used in data science, but is just as valid in the overall marketing process: with a poor brief come poor results.
When working on your brand plan, you will be focusing on the wider macro context, and its incidence on your brand. Whether you are a start-up in Miami or a gourmet food store in Milan, you will have been impacted by Covid-19 and the current economic recession, and climate change is becoming a growing concern.
A lot of the major changes that will occur as a result of the COVID pandemic are too early to detect, in much the same way as social shifts ushered by the First World War happened over a long period of time (women’s suffrage and their increasing role in the workforce, the decline of “traditional” values, etc.). As the voice of the consumer, it is your task to identify these evolutions, which might initially manifest themselves at a very low level. Here are just a few: the huge economic and human pressure on health systems, the mental health crisis, the rise of working from home or hybrid forms of working, the increase in the number of stay-at-home dads, the development of online shopping, online learning, and all things online, the switch to casual workwear.
The second huge macro factor is inflation and the risk of an impending recession. As always, your strategy will depend on whether your product is mandatory spending (generally more focused on price) or discretionary (where convenience and quality play a more important role), and who your target market is (e.g., wealthy boomers vs. “generation rent”). However, you will probably need to adjust your product offering to give more value to your consumers, whether through loyalty and offer personalization, lowered price on your 80-20, adjustment in your product formula or size in order to lower your costs and leave your price unchanged (though beware of the backlash following shrinkflation).
But then, the key mistake would be to center your communication on price. See here for research that, in general, communicating on price is not a good idea. The paradox is that you must give more value to the consumers but not communicate on price, walking the tightrope between coming across as tone deaf to people’s difficult situation and putting them off by reminding them of something they are sick and tired of hearing about. And of course, you need to keep your eyes on the ball and prepare for when the recession is over (hopefully by the end of 2024). Marketing is not for the faint-hearted.
Another factor that is impacting businesses is sustainability. 2022 was a year of global climate extremes including record-breaking temperatures in Europe, according to Copernicus, the European Union's Earth observation program. Climate change is in the news, leaving its mark on consumers, who are reported to be more and more worried by it and who claim that sustainability is an increasingly key factor in their shopping decision-making. However, what consumers say does not always translate in what they do, especially in a context where price and value weigh up on shopping decisions, as mentioned above. The solution for brands is to bolster their sustainability credentials and product offering whilst keeping prices unchanged or only marginally increased, thus satisfying the hearts and minds of the consumers (a perfect example of this is the launch of hand soap recharges that are cheaper, in price per volume, than buying a standard bottle).
Procter & Gamble’s AR campaign to promote its Herbal Essences bio:renew range ticks a lot of the boxes of the 2023 trends, addressing big, current concerns of consumers for sustainability via engaging AR content.
Herbal Essences is a hair care brand, with a positioning which can be described as “natural indulgence.” Its formulas are 90 percent naturally derived, botanist approved, with real botanicals endorsed by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. It offers appealing fragrances, and promises indulgent experiences. The bio:renew range has a heightened sustainability element, focusing specifically on lowering plastic waste, by using bottles made of 25% beach plastic and recyclable, via a partnership with Terracycle. This strategy aims to attract the eco-conscious consumers.
To raise awareness of the new range, the brand launched a campaign based on Augmented Reality product packaging. Users download the Herbal Essences AR Experience app to scan the limited-edition Beach Plastic bottles at stores or at home. As the AR experience progresses, users see plastic waste washing up on the augmented shore and are invited to swipe the screen to help clean the oceans. They can also view an informative video that speaks of the product and the plastic waste problem.
Procter & Gamble’s Herbal Essences bio:renew grew awareness of the range’s commitment to sustainability through an AR packaging campaign (app developed by Tactic Studio and AR technology by Wikitude)
To conclude, as you focus on the second half of 2023, invest your budget — and your time — wisely, especially as you’ve likely been tasked with doing more with less in the last few weeks or months. Leverage AI and ChatGPT, the metaverse and the social media landscape, and factor in the social changes triggered or accelerated by the pandemic, the economic squeeze, and the pressing case for sustainability.
The Nimdzi Language Technology Atlas maps over 800 different technology solutions across a number of key product categories. The report highlights trends and things to watch out for. This is the only map you will ever need to navigate your way across the language technology landscape.
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