2022 taught us something. We'd thought that, after 2021, there couldn't possibly be as many surprises coming down the pipe.
But 2022 had other ideas. It seemed every week held staggering new development in geopolitics, entertainment, the economy, and technology. Every corner we turned revealed a new vista—or challenge to overcome.
One story that started to take shape later in the year was the emergence of artificial intelligence (AI) as a creative instrument:
- AI art generation platforms such Midjourney, Stable Diffusion, Dall E 2, and others allowed users to use natural language to request art—say, telling the software to create the image of a squirrel on a skateboard, elephants smoking at a café, or giraffes in a hot air balloon.
- ChatGPT, by OpenAI, allows users to create written content, text, or prose based on interacting with a bot that responds to comments and requests in a conversational way.
The question in 2023 naturally becomes: Can brands use AI technologies to paint a similarly on-demand customer experience?
I think so. And I've included a couple of other martech trends in this article that certainly bear watching in the coming year.
1. AI for the Customer, Not the Back Office
We have been talking about artificial intelligence and the customer experience for years. But until now we've primarily used AI in the back office—for workload and process automation, analytic models to score performance, and machine-learning algorithms to detect patterns in system and operational data.
In 2023, customer-focused AI technologies will be emphasized. Natural language processing (NLP)—the kind that allows you to paint a squirrel on a skateboard—will improve to support chatbots and other digital interactions. Voice and visual recognition technologies will emerge as a point-of-sale tool, not only for security purposes (think the financial sector with ATMs) but also in other industries, such as retail and quick service. Why? By understanding customer sentiment and emotion through voice and visual detection technologies, the tone of organizational interactions can be adjusted to improve the customer experience.
Moreover, as reinforcement learning continues to improve and brands understand how to use all of the customer data they have available, AI-based optimization will guide customers to conversions rather than pushing them down a predefined brand-based path—all while respecting their preferences and privacy.
2. Data Governance and Security at Center Stage
Privacy issues are becoming more complex with the changing data collection landscape. Google is the last major player to end support for third-party cookies, so companies will have to rely more on strong zero- and first-party data strategies.
In addition to properly managing first-party data while creating innovative strategies to get customers to volunteer valuable zero-party data, companies will have to deal with a new market paradigm for second-party data, both as buyers and sellers. New solutions—data clean rooms, data networks, data exchanges—are growing in popularity. Those solutions require that data be properly masked, encrypted, transferred, and secured for transit.
At the same time, monetizing the collection, normalization, and preparation of data for exchange demands strong data governance and security processes. Data governance—the collection of processes, roles, policies, standards, and metrics that ensure the effective and efficient use of information—is key to avoiding the consequences of mishandled customer data.
We have seen what happens when data laws are broken. Amazon was fined almost $900 million for violating the European Union's General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR). No brand wants to be next.
3. The Metaverse's Momentum
No, 2023 won't be the year that every brand has a full-fledged metaverse environment. However, it will be the year in which the concept grows legs.
Brands are beginning to understand the implications of playing—or not playing—the metaverse game. Brands that decide to engage (hopefully most of them) will spend 2023 coming to grips with several metaverse-related issues:
- What integrations are needed across data, technology, decisioning, and content perspectives?
- What innovations are required in data collection, analytics, and automation to account for the adjacent digital environment? (It's not just another marketing "channel.")
- How do you build customer trust in the metaverse as part of your branding mix? What will customers consider authentic and transparent communications from brands in such an environment?
* * *
All the trends cited in this article are the result, in some shape or form, of the continuing evolution of technology combined with a sharpened focus on emerging issues, the speed of technology evolution, and the consumer zeitgeist.
But remember the lesson of 2022: When you think things are going to become more predictable, they don't. The ancient curse applies: We live in interesting times.
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