The Future is So Smart
Spoiler alert: I will try to be brief, which is a huge undertaking for any Marketing professional, let alone an Italian one. And, I will be extremely dramatic. Drama, after all, is the true essence of life, and it helps, I guess, if you want to make a point. This whole piece revolves around one idea: Marketing is dead, thanks to your new watch. The piece will sound fast, frivolous and, especially, dogmatic. No surprise: this is fashion. More than that, this is a story of social disruption, which is exactly what fashion at its best does, and should always do. All of this starts from your wrist.
I know you. I know where you live. I know where you go, and what you shop and love. I know your daily routine, second after second. I know your data, and who you see. I know your passwords and own your payment information, too. I know your steps, calories and heart rate. I know your sleep quality, your GPS details at any given time, your music preferences, your alerts and notifications. I know how many times you call, text and even think about your wife or husband. I won’t tell them. I am attached to your body 24/7, and continuously monitor you. I know you better than you know yourself. I know everything about you, before you know it. As a matter of fact, I am you. And, scene.
This is not exactly today’s situation, but it will most likely be our future. Smart watches represent one of the biggest revolutions of our social history, similarly to the revolution brought about by traditional wrist watches in the 19th century. Let’s go back in time, first. In ‘How We Got To Now’, best-selling author Steven Johnson shows us how the highest technology of the century, wrist watches, allowed people to measure one the most precious resources of mankind, their time. And, he also shows how that simple innovation, which became democratic and readily available to everyone, created awareness and new rights around personal and social time, which was a territory not measured and not regulated until that very moment. Hourly salary, shared schedules – and therefore the success of railways, the idea of measuring productivity and competitiveness, trade unions: all of this was now thinkable and viable, thanks to the wrist revolution, namely thanks to a technology that was affordable and mobile, and which was creating a new social conscience around the most important and intimate property of any man and woman, their time. People were finally able to control more and more their life and get more ‘bang for the buck’ for their labor. Labor creates property rights, says John Locke. A shared social conscience creates new rights, and the traditional watch finally empowers everyone to measure and be in control of what they are worth.
Smart watches will change the world in a similar manner. Both manufacturers and consumers will need to pay a price for that.
What are smart watches? What’s their unique feature? Why are they so important? Smart watches are the growing part of the watch market, and they have become extremely popular thanks to one of the best luxury brands in the world, apple. The smart watch market is booming, and it will become as big as the traditional watch market in just a few years.
The importance of wearable technology is that, first of all, it unlocks tremendous opportunities for its users. The advent of continuous tracking, enough of a powerful telecommunications infrastructure and especially artificial intelligence that will process tons of data instantly, will make of smart watches the ultimate door to a complete ‘control’, control over own data and own destiny.
The main consumer insight behind smart watches is the need for more health, and the want to maximize our voice capabilities. What these two actually mean is firm control over our future, which is the power to inform our own actions and shape our agenda, thanks to relevant and personalized real time data. How do we do that? Our voice will be the ultimate, zero-click trigger of a fuller life. The wrist device becomes our personal concierge. What the smart watch represents for the overall society is a smarter way to go through social interactions, thanks to an infinite set of finally understandable personal data. Leaving aside privacy issues for a second, this is actually the best way to predict consumer wants, but also control public or community phenomena, like diseases, criminality, migration movements, and anticipate and reduce catastrophes. The missing feature that will be added soon is the ability of continuous tracking, thanks to longer battery life. Battery wear-out is the single most important battle for the success of smart wearable technology. Once we solve this issue, the success and capabilities of smart devices will finally blossom. What’s truly unique about smart wrist devices is that we come from hundreds of years of wearing something on our wrist, namely the habit of decorating our body with a tool with some sort of technology. This is the best base to make smart wrist devices popular and widespread.
This is the beginning of a new era.
Technology removes mystery and amazement. However, a price to pay always comes with new opportunities.
Progress has never been a bargain. You have to pay for it.
(…) All right, you can have a telephone but you lose privacy and the charm of distance. (…) Mister, you may conquer the air but the birds will lose their wonder and the clouds will smell of gasoline.
― Jerome Lawrence, Inherit the Wind
I see three main opportunities for the future, which come with some homework for all of us to do, which means there is a risk, if we don’t act now.
New rights arise from the wealth of data generated by continuous tracking. New legislation is needed to allow for an ethical handling of the most precious resource of all, personal data. This is what ideologies like Nazism or Communism have tried to do over the course of the last century: penetrate people’s most sacred territory, in order to control their conscience, in order to own what they truly believe, deeply inside their mind and heart. Access over people’s data is easy, tempting and extremely dangerous. I am advocating not only for Data Protection regulation, similarly to what happened in Europe. I am advocating for a revision of the international rights of all human beings, as personal data is uncharted territory, which needs to be protected by global, shared guidelines, based on essential rights for each one of us. What we need to do is exactly what happened after World War II, namely the recognition of international rights and the creation of a legal framework and a safety net against any misuse of human rights for commercial, political, economic, and social purposes. The recent scandals about data protection demonstrate that we are too soft on Big Tech. We are paying too high of a price for data access and sharing. Once lost forever, rights will not come back. This is not a threat for business. This is the greatest opportunity to redefine our rights for good and forever. Hannah Arendt told us that we lost an opportunity after World War II, to define stronger international rights. We should not lose this opportunity right now. Priority one is: define a Magna Carta of the newly born international, personal rights.
Once we have this new Magna Charta, next is to evolve the Marketing dialogue to a completely new level. This is the end of the consumer journey, as we know it. This is the end of innovation according to the old model, period. Numerous studies have shown how global, heavy-duty innovation centers have been consistently failing to deliver value (for ex., Capgemini, 2017). What we will see is a tremendous shift in how Marketing research is done, and how the overall innovation process is executed. Marketing is broken forever. Smart watches allow us to run the biggest consumer research study of all times. This is The Truman Show, but for real. The great opportunity for the corporate world is to do with supply chain what artificial intelligence does with data. What we need is a supply chain flexible and fast enough to cater to proven and real data based insight. What we need is a supply chain that moves at two different speeds. We scrape the data and find a new need. We personalize a product and service to the individual level. We scale up only when necessary, and against a proven demand. If we connect the dots, this leads to a more informed and flexible supply chain, and a more efficient use of all of our resources. This leads us to what I would call Micro-Marketing. We will finally know our fans, one by one. We will service them, one by one. Think about diagnostics and health: therapy should never be serviced against the average man. Therapy should be tailored to your unique needs and actual situation. Health is probably one of the biggest expenses for any national government. Think of the efficiencies generated by health knowledge and by health programs that are surgical and customized. The keyword of the future is ‘Micro’. In reality, Mad Men never knew their target. It was all an illusion. The new era of Marketing is made of flexible, sustainable supply chains and micro-dialogues, micro-stories, personalized experiences, which build on our lives, one by one. The door to your life is on your wrist, second by second. Dear Brand Managers, I know what I need, give it to me, on my own terms. Therefore, priority two is: build your services only to what’s relevant and to what applies to each one of your fans.
Technology unveils new, fundamental rights. It processes an ocean of data into actionable insight for personalized services. So, what’s next? The new oil is not data per se. The true new news is old news. The real gold here is meaning. Something that fashion does beautifully, similarly to other forms of arts, is giving meaning to our present and especially future life. The product, the decoration of the self if you will, is never neutral. Decoration is a form of self-affirmation and signaling. Technology is not neutral, or can’t be neutral. Technology unlocks new possibilities and needs to be accompanied with a vision about what the future will look like, and what these unlimited possibilities represent. Technology breaks down barriers and unveils a new future where we discover how equal we are across gender, nationality, capabilities and beyond limitations that represented more of a burden in our minds, until the very moment that they are removed. Fashion is dull, for sure, and fashion is probably the only way to make something contagious. We have discovered a right, and a need. Now, we have to make it cool, in order for it to stick around. What does this mean? Dear Tech industries, dear sustainable enterprises, dear Brand Managers, do you want to make your proposition successful? Make it cool. How do you do that? Design what your ideal man and life of the future will look like. We all sell dreams, we sell a vision first of all. We should steal with pride from Coco Chanel or Alexander McQueen. We should always instill a vision into what we create. Are you innovating like Coco Chanel? Are you redesigning not only a dress, but the very role of women in society, giving the finger to all obstacles, prejudices, rules and burdens of your times? Until you haven’t done that, you have no chance to succeed. Most tech companies fail because their story telling is not bold enough. Their ambition is not bold enough. Technology is nothing without the dogmatic belief to change the world. Fashion does this beautifully.
Smart Watches unveil new rights, personal needs, and they need to be beautiful, irresistible and liberating, in order to succeed. We are just at the beginning. Challenge is on.
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Francesco Pagano, Vice President, EMEA Head of Portfolio of Licenses Brands at Fossil Group Europe, is passionate about craft brands, innovation, brand management, brand communication and international business. He is always up for irresistible product concepts, ultimate communication via integrated campaigns and great Italian food.
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