Knowing your customers is only the beginning of what will be a staggering evolution of digital customer interaction over the next few years, according to Bradley Howard, head of digital media for Endava, who here highlights the five major internet trends that digital marketers can't afford to ignore.
From an increase in the popularity among consumers of 'nanopayments' - where small amounts of a centrally managed pot of your money allows you to buy one-off online services - to the inevitable growth of 3D digital environments in everyday digital marketing interactions, there are several trends that Howard expects to change the way digital marketers reach customers, take their payments, and make them happy:
It is amazing how much content and services are still freely available on the Internet - this is unsustainable. Content web sites, such as newspapers and films, are however moving to a subscription model, but it's inflexible. We may want to read The Sunday Times on the weekend, the Metro during the week, and once a fortnight, The Financial Times. Flexible payment options for this aren't yet available.
In the future, we'll have a central company which will have a pot of our money. As we visit websites, the central company will provide the websites we visit with nanopayments. These will consist of tiny amounts of money - perhaps less than a penny, on a per-page or per feature (e.g. sending an email, or searching the Internet) basis. This will be an automatic process, and we'll have some sort of browser plug-in, which shows how much money we've given to this website, and the remaining balance in our centralised wallet.
And nanopayments could significantly reduce piracy. If the price point for content can be reduced to nanopayments, perhaps on a per-play model, users will find this pricing acceptable, and piracy thus becomes less desirable. Currently, content owners need to charge a higher price partly to cover the transaction processing costs. If the transactions costs are significantly reduced, we could move to a per-play model. So instead of paying 89p for an MP3 track, users could pay under 5p for the track each time they listen to it - and that will end up being far more profitable over time.
- Real money
The advertising industry has developed from a simple promotional industry, to the main business model for some of the biggest Internet companies. Google & Facebook earn advertising revenue by selling clicks on adverts. There's a deeper problem with advertising though. Users don't go to Facebook or blogs to shop. It's questionable whether people go to Google, rather than Amazon, to search when shopping.
We are beyond the tipping point of advertising products to users - we are inside a huge industry bubble, with too many businesses reliant on pure advertising. However, there is a requirement to continue advertising - for product discovery. We need advertising to help us discover products and services outside of what we search for. This is because the Internet, as great a tool as it may be, is still based on users searching for what they already know.
- Knowing your customers
A few years ago, Big Data was the IT industry's silver bullet to provide online stores with the same customer knowledge as a local greengrocer, butcher and wine merchant. This success has not yet occurred across the industry and a good example is banking sector. Banks spend a lot on Big Data, but fail to properly use Big Data to gain an intimate, insight into customer purchasing behaviour.
This failure is strange, as banks can see where we shop, how much we earn and how much we spend. Online banking website lists our current accounts, savings account and credit card all in one place. So why do they promote the same savings account every time we log on - often when we've already got one? There are probably dozens of more appropriate products they could be selling us rather than the same savings product. Big Data has the potential to help websites get to a point where they mimic the traditional shopkeeper. However, the whole process has perhaps become too scientific and, as yet, is not driven enough by retailers' actual knowledge.
- Browsers are too basic
The current web browser isn't good enough, according to Howard. We really need to have a 3D-style environment to better visualise the web. The first attempt at this was Second Life. In fact Second Life was a very good first attempt as far as technologies go, and big players such as IBM spent a lot of money in the first virtual world if its kind.
Retailers also opened stores on Second Life because the shopping experience was more natural in a 3D environment, than a single product per page. Unfortunately, Second Life was too far ahead of its time. It was too early in internet adoption, and the internet wasn't yet as ubiquitous as it has since become. With all these possibilities for more colourful, meaningful and exciting ways to view the digital world, it is perhaps a little sad that the average web browser is still - as it was in the 1990s - basically showing you white pages with lots of text on them.
- Mutual trust
Passwords are one of the biggest nuisances of the internet. Another pain is having multiple accounts. The number of online accounts we have, and continue to keep creating, has got completely out of control. And then we have all the security experts telling us not to use the same password on multiple sites.
We need a Single Sign On system across the internet from a trusted party. It needs to be trusted by both users and website owners, from the bank to the Inland Revenue and everything in-between. Once we have that, it needs to keep a track of our various reputation scores so that, for example, when we join a website such as TripAdvisor or AirBnB, if we already have an eBay account, our eBay reputation should count for something there too.
As the internet continues to become more complex, retailers also need to know that their new customers are genuine and can be trusted. We've been using SSL security certificates on the internet for a long time now, as a means of ensuring that we are buying from a reliable company that really exists. But the time has come for that trust to work both ways, and for customers to prove who they really are.