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These data trends will change marketing in next 18 months

Three big trends are set to change in marketing, according to Grant Lapping, Managing Director at DataCore Media

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As we move into the next phase of the digital revolution, data will take an increasingly important role in how brands shape their customer experience and interact with consumers. As wearable computers proliferate and everything from cars to smart speakers to industrial equipment are connected to the Internet, people and devices are creating more data than ever before.

Not only can brands use this data to create personalised offerings for each consumer, they can also use it to deliver messages and interactions that are tailored to the consumer’s need within the context of a particular moment. This gives brands and marketers breath-taking power to meet the needs of their customers, but it also raises new privacy and security risks.

Here are three data-related trends I see changing the game for brands over the next year to 18 months:

1. Bridging the gap between online and offline

The world of digital commerce and brick-and-mortar retail are starting to converge into a single customer experience. Not only have most of the world’s and South Africa’s leading retail brands made extensive investments in omnichannel strategies spanning apps, websites and stores, online retailers such as Amazon and South Africa’s Yuppiechef have gone into high-street retail. HomeChoice Showrooms have taken it a step further by creating home layouts that match typical two-bedroom houses allowing their target market shoppers to see how the items will fit in their homes before buying online.

People can go into a store to touch and feel merchandise before they order online. Or in some cases, they can order online and fetch at a store. And increasingly, in more advanced markets, they can pay from an app while they shop in-store. At Amazon Go, for example, shoppers simply check into the store with the Amazon Go app, take the products they want, and walk out.

Scanners and cameras watch shoppers as they move through the store, the AI keeps tabs on the items they have taken from the shelves, and the goods they pick up are charged to their account when they leave. What makes this so exciting for retailers is all the choice data they can now collect on prospects and customers in physical stores.

For the first time, they can get a level of consumer insight about shoppers in real-world stores that compares to the rich behavioural data they can collect across their digital channels. With a 360-degree view of the customer across digital and brick-and-mortar channels, they can deliver more personalised engagements and experiences at every touchpoint. 

The challenge? Making optimal use of that data without being creepy. It’s a little disconcerting when you get Facebook ads for beds for days after you searched for mattress deals. But imagine just how invasive it might feel if you get ads served to you online after facial recognition software spotted you looking at beds in a furniture store?

Given that facial recognition technology is already in use at boarding gates at some US airports – you can board by presenting your face to a camera – this scenario is not so far-fetched. 

2. Flourishing within the walled garden

A handful of large digital companies – sometimes called ‘GAFA’ (Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple) or ‘FAANGS’ (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Google) – are becoming the power brokers in a data-driven world. In some cases, they know more about us than our partners do because of the amount of data they have gathered about what we buy, what we read, what we search, what we do online…

They have accumulated personal data and established their dominance at a speed that left regulators in the dust. As the Cambridge Analytica scandal shows, even the leaders and owners of platforms such as Facebook are sometimes surprised by the unintended effects of the data they collect and how it can be put to use.

Paradoxically, attempts to regulate these platforms through regulations such as the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation could entrench their position in the market. Brands may struggle to gather customer opt-ins and manage consent on their own – and will find their relationships with consumer data increasingly mediated through companies like the FAANGS.

These platforms may not allow you to store data you generate on their platforms outside their walled gardens. The choice may one day come down to using their technology and allow them to have a complete view of your data or renouncing the insight you generated on their platforms in your own data management platform. Besides, Google owns DoubleClick, and Facebook owns WhatsApp, so it already knows a lot about your business, in any case.

How this will all shake out in the future remains unpredictable – however, lawmakers and regulators will always struggle to keep up with the speed of change in this landscape.

3. Visualising and vocalising the future of search

Just how popular voice and visual search are now and how big they will get is contentious, but there can be little doubt that they will be a key part of the future. Virtual assistants with voice search capabilities — Google Assistant, Apple’s Siri, Microsoft Cortana and Amazon Alexa – are becoming more powerful and more popular with end-users.

Voice-only search allows users to browse the web and access information without actually having to scroll through sites on desktops and mobile devices. Amazon’s Alexa, for instance, can seamlessly search through Spotify’s musical inventory, scan Wikipedia or shop on Amazon quickly at a user’s command. 

Visual search is becoming more sophisticated, too, with platforms like Google Lens, Instagram, Pinterest and Bing building image recognition algorithms into their software. With visual search you can, for example, point your smartphone camera at an item in the environment to find out where to buy it or to discover related content.

Voice and visual search will expand a brand’s options to answer customer needs with an individualised experience, especially for local searches, which comprise the bulk of voice searches. The organisations that jump in now will be ahead of the curve and could have the opportunity to build strong voice search rankings ahead of the competition.

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Broadband gets a helping hand

Behind this week’s news that MTN fibre provider Supersonic has launched a fixed LTE service is an effort to rethink home connectivity, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK

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This week, MTN made its biggest play yet into the market for fibre connections to homes, but its biggest impact may well be within the home.

The mobile operator’s fibre-to-the-home subsidiary, Supersonic, launched a Fixed LTE offering on a month-to-month basis, meaning that homes in areas not yet wired for fibre can receive high-speed broadband. More important, they can get that access at rates that seem unprecedented for mobile data. 

There are two differences from regular packages, however. For one thing, the SIM card that comes with the package only works in specific routers that have to remain plugged into a power supply. For another, the data allocation is split half-half between regular hours and a Night Owl timeframe: the hours between midnight and dawn.

“It just needs users to adjust their internet behaviour a little,” says Calvin Collett, MD of Supersonic. “Conducting massive mobile phone updates or downloading an entire library of Netflix content shouldn’t be prioritised during the day, but should be scheduled for Night Owl data consumption.”

The biggest benefit, aside from pricing, is that one does not have to wait for fibre to arrive in a specific area. While Supersonic’s core business is fixed-line fibre-to-the-home, it is now set to leverage its parent company’s massive mobile data network.

“MTN’s LTE network coverage sits at 95%, after billions of rand was invested in network upgrades in recent years. There is absolutely no reason why those waiting for a fibre connection shouldn’t move to Fixed LTE.”

Collett argues that consumers are far more savvy and well informed of developments in the telecoms space than observers think. They carefully investigate the products and services they choose to spend on, and are looking for the best deals available.

The result is that Supersonic has quietly built up a side business in installing what is called a Mesh Wi-Fi network, consisting of a main Wi-Fi router connected to the standardfibre or LTE or router, and a series of additional access pointscalled plumes, placed in areas of low coverage through ahome.

The plumes – small pods that plug into any power point –connect to one another to expand the network across a wide area. Where traditional WI-FI extenders lose up to half the fibre bandwidth with every extension, the plumes maintain most of the speed regardless of how far the network is extended. All the pods connected to the same router form a single network with the same network name, eliminating the complications Wi-FI extenders usually introduce.

“The traditional Wi-Fi router has replaced the dial up connection, and we’re all happy about this – the infamous dial up tone is ingrained in the brains of anyone over the age of 30,” says Collett. “Wi-Fi revolutionised our way of life as the router gave us access to the internet without directly connecting to a modem. 

“We’ve moved forward, transitioning from ADSL to fibre. While fibre allows for high speed internet access, it is still connected to your Wi-Fi router. Naturally, the further you move away from the hub, the poorer your internet connection will be. Those dead spots around the house can become frustrating when your Wi-Fi signal shows 1 bar and it takes 5 minutes to load a single web page. Mesh Wi-Fi is the solution.”

Collett says he specifically researched a product that looked good, offered app-based management and required no cables. His research led him to Silicon Valley, and the result is the Supersonic Plume Mesh network system.

The drawback is that installation can be complicated for the non-technical consumer. To plug the gap, so to speak, Supersonic sends out technicians who conduct a Wi-Fi sweep of a home and advise how many Plume devices will be needed for 100% coverage. Based on this the technicians make a recommendation for an optimal “smart Wi-Fi”solution. Once installed, though, the network can be monitored and managed from a Supersonic App.

We tried it out and found it was a tale of two experiences. The initial experience was frustrating, as the pods tried to find each other. This is a necessary evil, it seems, as the Plume Mesh network optimises itself over a period of several days. That means the experience at the edge of the network can be very poor at the time of installation. After a few days, however the network was flying.

With a 100Mbps line, the experience next to the main router was around 105 Mbps, both up and down. That in itself was something of a marvel. But the biggest impact was felt at the furthest point from the router: where a Wi-Fi extender had previously delivered speeds of below 10Mbps, download speeds of 80Mbps became not only commonplace, but almost taken for granted.

One of the most useful features of the Plume Mesh is the level of monitoring offered through the Supersonic app. One can observe exactly what devices are connected to which pods – each is given a name, typically of the room, that is visible only through the app.

The biggest surprise of the plume solution is that it has not become a standard solution for Wi-Fi networks everywhere. In an era when we have become deeply dependent on a decent Wi-Fi signal, it has become a necessity rather than a luxury. As a result, home connectivity should be taken far more seriously than merely fobbing consumers off on low-performance extenders. 

MTN seems to have taken this message to heart, rethinking its own approach to home usage.

“Internet access has become the third utility behind electricity and water,” says Collett. “Our goal is to ‘own the home’ but not just by connecting a bunch of devices to a central point. It’s really about how these devices can pioneer habitual change in the home that’s convenient and saves valuable time and money.”

Click here to read about SuperSonic’s pricing.

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Location data key to transforming SA’s transport system

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Location technology can transform South Africa’s transport system – but don’t expect to see self-driving cars on our roads any time soon. What’s more relevant is the need for the public and private sectors to work together more closely to unlock the significant social and economic benefits that more efficient transport and mobility systems would bring to the country, including less congestion and fewer road accidents. 

That was the message from Michael Bültmann, Managing Director, in charge of international relations  atHERE Technologies, a global leader in mapping and location platform services, at an event hosted by the international law firm Covington & Burling in Johannesburg last week, to discuss how digitization could support better mobility, safety and integration in South Africa. 

“Society needs to solve some fundamental challenges, and relevant location data can play a key role in creating a better future for mobility in South Africa. If we know where the goods and people are, and how and why they move, we have the basis for a system that matches demand and supply far more closely, and uses our transport infrastructure more efficiently,” saidBültmann.

“But no company, government or individual can do it all themselves. It’s all about collaborating. If we get real-time data use right, it would have a profound effect on the way the entire economy works: less congestion, fewer accidents, more efficient use of vehicles and public transport, less air pollution, greater quality of life, and potential savings of billions of rands in fuel, time and safer roads.”

Speaking at the event, the CSIR’s Dr Mathetha Mokonyama said that despite the billions of rands pumped into the country’s mass public transport network in recent years, 90% of commuter seats available are still provided by either cars or taxis.

“We have the right to dignity. If you want to see indignity, look at people getting up at 2am to get unreliable transport to a job that only pays R3500 a month. In our country, access to transport is critical for people to make a living, and our focus as a country should be to implement an equitable and just transport system that caters to all sectors of society,” he said.

“It was a pleasure to support the event that brought together so many viewpoints on the question of the effective use of data and location intelligence to enhance the mobility of goods, people and services,” said Robert Kayihura, senior advisor in Covington’s Johannesburg office.  “While the harmonization of regulatory regimes around the continent will take time, a key takeaway from our discussions is the critical need to build a shared vision of the future through consistent public-private dialogue and collaboration in order to accelerate and ensure the sustainable and safe digitization of Africa.”

Paul Vorster, the chief executive of the Intelligent Transport Society of SA (ITSSA), said the effective sharing of data between metros, government and the private sector would ‘go a long way’ to improving the efficiency of existing transport infrastructure.

“The starting point is to improve what we already have. Once we know what we have – that is, data – we can start solving real problems, like knowing where the demand and supply are. But to do this, metros will need to learn from each other, and they often face political hurdles in the process,” he said.

Bültmann said increasing levels of urbanisation across the world were creating the need for cities to better predict, manage and plan future urban movement. Combining and analysing data from different, complementary sources could help South African cities to improve urban planning, relieve congestion and curb pollution for better quality of life.

The event was also attended by Presidential Investment Envoy Phumzile Langeni, the National Planning Commission’s Themba Dlamini; SANRAL’s Alan Robinson; and Dr Rüdiger Lotz, the Deputy Head of Mission at the German Embassy. The guests were welcomed by Witney Schneidman, the head of Covington’s Africa practice and former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs (1997-2001) in the U.S. Government.

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