McDonald’s: bravely venturing where non-tech brands often fear to tread with VR 'Happy Goggles' trial
McDonald’s: bravely venturing where non-tech brands often fear to tread with VR 'Happy Goggles' trial
A view from Chris Pearce

From chat bots to VR: pitching 'the next big thing' to the board

Future trends can be tough to communicate in the terms usually employed in the boardroom, but there are ways to overcome this hurdle, writes Chris...

Future gazing has become our industry’s most popular pastime. There has never been more obsession with or agonising over trends predictions in the history of advertising. However, these future trends, which are often sweeping, transient and elusive by nature, don’t always translate to the boardroom. Marketers pitching to the rest of the C-Suite need more than a few shiny statistics and surveys to effect change in their businesses.

Marketers pitching to the rest of the C-Suite need more than a few shiny statistics and surveys to effect change.

During a panel session at Advertising Week, hosted by the Future Foundation, and entitled ‘Predictions for the Boardroom’, I examined this issue, alongside Paul Bosher, global head of consumer planning and insight at Walgreens Boots Alliance, and Tim Hulbert, managing director, group head of insight and research, Barclays.

Below are three major disruptions brands need to prepare for. But first, here is my advice for how marketers should effectively pitch trends to the board:

To pitch successfully you need to command attention

When it comes to pitching, marketers need to capture imaginations and command the board’s attention. When pitching a trend, you must frame it in the language of a growth-driver. You also need to acknowledge that it is actually quite difficult to put a value on future trends, because they can be quite ephemeral, so perhaps an opportunity cost approach works best.

If all else fails, marketers can always fall back on an evolutionary psychology perspective and express their ideas as the ‘least bad’ option. Nothing fires up a board more than the thought of their competitors getting behind something new and motoring into double-digit growth while they sit there and flat-line because they haven’t invested in a future trend.

Three trends you must be ready for

1. Brands, be prepared for the rise of the machines

The way brands interact with customers has fundamentally changed.

Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg has said nobody likes talking directly to brands, and the arrival of chat bots to Facebook Messenger shows that he’s making sure that in future we won’t have to. All types of interactions will be done though AI bots and messenger apps; something brand owners have got to start wrestling with. We need to recognise that the machines are coming whether we like it or not.

2. Beware of the dangers of pushing the boundaries of trust

My fellow panelists and I also explored issues around the increased personalisation of consumers’ interaction with brands. One company that I believe is pushing the boundaries of trust with consumers is the US firm Color Genomics, which is currently launching in the UK. Color Genomics, which gives people details about their health risks based on their DNA, represents a step toward the extreme end of value exchange.

If all else fails, marketers can always fall back on an evolutionary psychology perspective and express their ideas as the ‘least bad’ option.

Handing over your chemical instruction manual to find out if you are predisposed to certain cancers or diseases could be extremely dangerous. What if they get it wrong? A recent study has raised doubts about whether knowledge of a predisposition to disease drives positive behaviours. For example, a person who finds out they are predisposed to lung cancer could decide to take up smoking because they feel their fate has been decided and end up with cancer anyway. Even with the ‘genetic counselling’ that this company offers, it’s clear that helping people deal with such difficult information is at the outer limits of a commercial brand’s scope.

3. VR and ecommerce on demand are raising customer experience and expectations

By 2020, 51% of Generation Y will be using, or interested in using, a service that will deliver products to a specific location within two hours, according to the Future Foundation. Many major companies are wrestling with the issue of trying to deliver ecommerce at scale without having the logistics network to back it up - and without cannibalising a big supply and distribution chain.

Meanwhile, the VR revolution is raising the customer experience, and brands of all types need to be prepared. It is logical to conclude that if you are experiencing music and entertainment through VR, then when it comes to sorting out a mortgage or buying a car, you will also expect a VR experience with your mortgage adviser or car dealer. McDonald’s showed that it is brave enough to venture where non-tech brands often fear to tread with its VR Happy Meal experience at SXSW. Brands need to start diving in and experimenting with VR, before it is too late.