By STEFANO MARUZZI, Vice President for EMEA at GoDaddy
Since optimising their websites for mobile devices a few years back, many South African companies have mostly made small and superficial changes to their digital presence. But the growing maturity of the next wave of emerging technologies means your website could look very different by 2023 compared to how it looks today.
Here are four major trends that could change the game for small local businesses over the next few years:
Conversational agents, commonly known as chatbots, are one of the hottest topics of the digital world. These artificially intelligent systems can understand human conversations via text input and respond to people with useful information, presented in a natural way. It is possible to interact with chatbots via text message, websites and, most commonly, though social networks.
Chatbots are getting more sophisticated all the time. Already, they’re capable of having full conversations regarding most customer concerns. In 2019 and beyond, chatbots are going to become cheaper, more capable, and more accepted by the general population.
The potential of chatbots for small businesses is immense. As a small business owner, you probably cannot afford a 24/7 call-centre or a large sales team to handle sales and support. But you can afford a chatbot that answers simple queries and helps customers get responses quickly or while they are actively considering your small business.
Chatbots are becoming smart enough to answer a range of customer questions, which means your prospects and clients can get meaningful answers when they need them. They are useful for answering the routine queries that account for the bulk of calls most businesses receive. For example, a customer changing an address, getting a quote, or troubleshooting a technical problem.
Voice assistants like Siri, Alexa and Cortana, plus smart speakers such as Google Home and Amazon Echo, are seeing a surge in growth. Towards the end of 2017 and throughout 2018, consumers started to grow comfortable with these audio-based digital assistants. By 2020, they might be a common feature in South African homes.
This means ordinary users are going to grow accustomed to interacting with online material through their voices. If you want your brand to stay relevant in the long term, you’ll need to adapt.
In some cases, that means optimising your content to better address simple user questions (so you can be featured in the rich answers at the top of Google’s search rankings). In others, that means simplifying your content so it can be easier to engage with through smart speakers or mobile devices.
How are some ways you can already excel at voice search and SEO:
1. Look at your “Google My Business” listing: When you claim your company, you add a range of useful information to Google that increases your website’s chances of appearing for voice search queries.
2. Adapt keywords for natural speech: People talk to Siri in a more natural way than they phrase a search in Google. Think about the questions people may ask a voice assistant about your business or product range, and optimise accordingly.
3. Build a search-optimised frequently asked questions (FAQ) page: You can use your FAQ pages to create question-based keywords that align with the sort of questions a user might ask a voice assistant like Siri.
Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) have yet to be widely adopted. When the Oculus Rift VR headset came on the scene, some international brands were excited about the marketing possibilities. Due to a combination of factors, sales were lower than expected, and VR remained a niche technology. Microsoft’s HoloLens is another good example.
Now, global headset sales are taking off, and more people are warming up to the idea of VR (and by, extension, AR). It’s still in its early days, but we can expect to soon see some pioneering South African companies introduce VR- and AR-based content for their websites and apps.
So, what is the technology all about? AR uses a camera to superimpose a computer-generated image on your view of the real world – a simple example is how a smartphone app translates a street sign in a foreign country into your own language on your screen. Conversely, VR immerses you in a virtual artificial environment through a headset.
VR and AR both offer some interesting ways to blend your real-world and digital presence. A virtual tour of your store, an immersive 360-degree experience of an event you’re attending, or an AR game that keeps your customers engaged – the possibilities are numerous. In a world where people are hungry for interesting experiences, AR and VR might create new opportunities to engage with your customers.
There is still a long way to go, but the technology is improving all the time. Customers are already interested. In a consumer study by GfK South Africa, 59% of respondents said they are more likely to visit a retail store that offered some sort of VR/AR experience.
Internet users are increasing their consumption of online video. The 10th annual Cisco Visual Networking Index (VNI) forecasts that video will make up 73% of mobile data traffic in South Africa by 2020, compared to 52% at the end of 2015. Globally, video will comprise 82% of all IP traffic by 2022, according to Cisco.
To remain competitive by that date, you’ll want to become comfortable with video as part of your web content strategy. With so many other businesses competing for attention in the space, you’ll need to find ways to set yourself apart.
One way to do that is via live videos. Stream yourself during a speaking engagement or host a live Q&A session to engage further with your audience. It’s authentic, fun and spontaneous. It can help you to get closer to your audience on a reasonably small budget.
There is no one-size-fits-all recommendation for how and when to adopt these technology strategies, or how to balance them. Different brands and audiences require different combinations – and it’s up to you to figure out what those combinations are. Don’t be afraid to experiment. That can be a great way to learn and to get a head-start on your competitors.
Millennials turning 40: NOW will you stop targeting them?
It’s one of the most overused terms in youth marketing, and probably the most inaccurate, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK
One of the most irritating buzzwords embraced by marketers in recent years is the term “millennial”. Most are clueless about its true meaning, and use it as a supposedly cool synonym for “young adults”. The flaw in this targeting – and the word “flaw” here is like calling the Grand Canyon a trench – is that it utterly ignores the meaning of the term. “Millennials” are formally defined as anyone born from 1980 to 2000, meaning they have typically come of age after the dawn of the millennium, or during the 21st century.
Think about that for a moment. Next year, the millennial will be formally defined as anyone aged from 20 to 40. So here you have an entire advertising, marketing and public relations industry hanging onto a cool definition, while in effect arguing that 40-year-olds are youths who want the same thing as newly-minted university graduates or job entrants.
When the communications industry discovers just how embarrassing its glib use of the term really is, it will no doubt pivot – millennial-speak for “changing your business model when it proves to be a disaster, but you still appear to be cool” – to the next big thing in generational theory.
That next big thing is currently Generation Z, or people born after the turn of the century. It’s very convenient to lump them all together and claim they have a different set of values and expectations to those who went before. Allegedly, they are engaged in a quest for experience, compared to millennials – the 19-year-olds and 39-olds alike – supposedly all on a quest for relevance.
In reality, all are part of Generation #, latching onto the latest hashtag trend that sweeps social media, desperate to go viral if they are producers of social content, desperate to have caught onto the trend before their peers.
The irony is that marketers’ quest for cutting edge target markets is, in reality, a hangover from the days when there was no such thing as generational theory, and marketing was all about clearly defined target markets. In the era of big data and mass personalization, that idea seems rather quaint.
Indeed, according to Grant Lapping, managing director of DataCore Media, it no longer matters who brands think their target market is.
“The reason for this is simple: with the technology and data digital marketers have access to today, we no longer need to limit our potential target audience to a set of personas or segments derived through customer research. While this type of customer segmentation was – and remains – important for engagements across traditional above-the-line engagements in mass media, digital marketing gives us the tools we need to target customers on a far more granular and personalised level.
“Where customer research gives us an indication of who the audience is, data can tell us exactly what they want and how they may behave.”
Netflix, he points out, is an example of a company that is changing its industry by avoiding audience segmentation, once the holy grail of entertainment.
In other words, it understands that 20-year-olds and 40-year-olds are very different – but so is everyone in between.
* Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee
Robots coming to IFA
Robotics is no longer about mechanical humanoids, but rather becoming an interface between man and machine. That is a key message being delivered at next month’s IFA consumer electronics expo in Berlin. An entire hall will be devoted to IFA Next, which will not only offer a look into the future, but also show what form it will take.
The concepts are as varied as the exhibitors themselves. However, there are similarities in the various products, some more human than others, in the fascinating ways in which they establish a link between fun, learning and programming. In many cases, they are aimed at children and young people.
The following will be among the exhibitors making Hall 26 a must-visit:
Leju Robotics (Stand 115) from China is featuring what we all imagine a robot to be. The bipedal Aelos 1s can walk, dance and play football. And in carrying out all these actions it responds to spoken commands. But it also challenges young researchers to apply their creativity in programming it and teaching it new actions. And conversely, it also imparts scholastic knowledge.
Cubroid (Stand 231, KIRIA) from Korea starts off by promoting an independent approach to the way it deals with tasks. Multi-functional cubes, glowing as they play music, or equipped with a tiny rotating motor, join together like Lego pieces. Configuration and programming are thus combined, providing a basic idea of what constitutes artificial intelligence.
Spain is represented by Ebotics (Stand 218). This company is presenting an entire portfolio of building components, including the “Mint” educational program. The modular system explains about modern construction, programming and the entire field of robotics.
Elematec Corporation (Stand 208) from Japan is presenting the two-armed SCARA, which is not intended to deal with any tasks, but in particular to assist people with their work.
Everybot (Stand 231, KIRIA) from Japan approaches the concept of robotics by introducing an autonomous floor-cleaning machine, similar to a robot vacuum cleaner.
And Segway (Stand 222) is using a number of products to explain the modern approach to battery-powered locomotion.
IFA will take place at the Berlin Exhibition Grounds (ExpoCenter City) from 6 to 11 September 2019. For more information, visit www.ifa-berlin.com