The battle for the post-digital world

Marketing in a postdigital world was a major theme of the 2016 Forrester Research Marketing Forum held in New York recently. At the event, analyst Carl Doty defined the postdigital world as one in which digital is embedded in our daily lives.

In that context, he described the evolution of marketing: pre-digital marketing meant using mass media in a one-to-many approach; digital marketing was about data-driven, one-to-one personalization; and postdigital marketing means one-to-moment marketing.

One-to-moment marketing has been on the agenda of major brands and thought leaders for the past few years. Forrester’s Julie Ask opened the conversation about one-to-moment marketing in 2014 when she urged brands to think of mobile marketing as an opportunity to create content that matters to consumers based on the context of their moment. Google then rolled out a large body of research around micro-moments, or times when consumers use their mobile devices to decide on things to buy, things to do and places to go.

Since 2015, Google has been updating its research with examples of brands that understand how to create contextual content, such as mobile wallet offers that make themselves relevant during those crucial moments of decision making. As Deloitte reported, Americans check their smartphones collectively 8 billion times a day. The key for brands is to be present during those moments with content that helps them figure out where to go and what to do instead of serving up intrusive ads. 

According to Doty, “Marketers must win in customers’ moments. These moments are your opportunity to deliver your brand promise no matter when or where that customer is.” In his view, one-to-moment marketing means anticipating what a customer wants and being present with the right information — for instance, a motorcycle dealer such as Harley-Davidson being present with useful location information when a customer searches for “dealer near me” or “compare bike models.”

The big four — Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google — intend to embed themselves in every moment. Here are some examples of how they’re doing it.

Google Now

In 2012, Google took a big step to own micro-moments by launching Google Now. Google Now is significant because it anticipates our search behavior and proactively offers suggestions on what to do, where to go and what to buy (based on what Google knows about our search habits).

Google does not intend to give up ground to anyone.

With Google Now, Google has become a more helpful utility for both consumers (by assisting in their decision making) and brands (by serving up information about them, such as suggestions for where to buy coffee based on the data that brands share with Google). Google Now made it even more important for businesses to share their location data with Google in order to be found.

Apple iOS 9

In 2015, Apple upped the stakes for predictive search with the launch of iOS 9. With iOS 9, a simple swipe of your home screen results in Apple Spotlight search offering moment-based suggestions that change depending on the time of day. Apple suggests results for coffee near me in the morning, lunch near me in the afternoon and dinner near me in the evening. iOS 9 has increased Apple’s importance as a critical data publisher for brands.

Amazon Dash and Echo

Amazon was embedding itself as a utility in its own day in 2015. On March 31, Amazon rolled out the Dash button, which makes it possible for consumers to order products such as detergent on demand literally by pressing a smart button that you place in your home. One year later, Amazon had rolled out more than 100 buttons for major brands ranging from Tide to Red Bull.

With the Dash button, Amazon has not only turned our homes into smart appliances, the online retailer has also engineered its own micro-moments in the home. Amazon has also created an incentive for customers to join its premium Prime program (Dash has been limited to customers who pay extra to join Prime).

In July, Amazon made its Echo device widely available — thus beating Google with a voice-activated device that makes the home a more powerful hub for entertainment, utility and search through voice-activated commands. Months later, Amazon and Domino’s partnered to make it possible to order a Domino’s pizza using Echo

Facebook bots

Facebook made a major bid for micro-moments by introducing bots to its Messenger platform in 2016. At the F8 conference, Mark Zuckerberg positioned bots as an easy way for consumers to order what they want from brands instantly via Messenger (sort of like having Dash buttons embedded in Facebook).

He demonstrated a bot that makes it possible for you to order flowers without talking to a person. “You never have to call 1-800-Flowers again,” he said. With bots, Facebook wants to make the world‘s largest social network the platform for micro-moments to happen.

Google ups the ante

But Google does not intend to give up ground to anyone. On May 3, Google launched the Gboard keyboard, which turns your keyboard into a rich discovery tool. I‘ve been actively using Gboard since Day One. Its appeal became evident from the first moment I tried it. I can use my iPhone to conduct searches for things to do and share the results with anyone without leaving my keyboard. I can also easily search emojis to send via text or email.

Suddenly my iPhone has become a branded Google product.

Gboard removes all the friction from searching and sharing — essentially turning something as prosaic as a keyboard into a more powerful discovery platform. And, oh, Gboard is also a slap in Apple’s face: Suddenly my iPhone has become a branded Google product.

Google I/O upped the ante for utility. During the Google I/O keynote, Google unveiled a number of products that are coming either this summer or fall:

  • Google Assistant is a smart search utility that makes it possible for users to ask more open-ended questions and get more intelligent results, akin to Google Now, but smarter. For instance, using Google Assistant you can ask Google,I want to see that new movie directed by Jodie Foster. What is its name, and where is it playing nearby?” Then after Google tells you where Jodie Foster’s Money Monster is playing, you can build on the conversation. For instance, let’s say that after you get information on Money Monster, you decide you want to see a more family oriented movie. You might tell Google Assistant, “My plans for a babysitter fell through. I‘m going to bring my kids to the movie tonight. What’s playing nearby for my family?” And Google Assistant will refine its answers with suggestions such as The Jungle Book instead of Money Monster, and then offer up a ticket-purchase screen. Google Assistant is all about context: providing intelligent answers based on your changing context.
  • Allo is a smart messaging app that relies on Google Assistant to understand the context of symbols and images to help users communicate and perform complex tasks through messaging. For instance, Allo can use smart recognition and reasoning to help two people plan their dinner by sharing with each other a photo of linguine. The image of linguine can serve as the initial “Where can we get Italian food tonight?” Allo will not only serve up a card with suggestions of nearby restaurants, but also make it possible to use Open Table to book dinner — all without leaving Allo. As Allo demonstrates, Google Assistant is not just a feature, but the key to an ecosystem.
  • Google Home (coming this fall) is a smart device that relies on Google Assistant to manage tasks in the home, play music and search for products and services as Amazon Echo does. Because Google home uses Google Assistant, a family can go beyond voice commands like “Order Domino’s pizza” and instead ask “Have any new pizza restaurants opened near me?” as you plan what to do, where to go and what to buy.

With Google Assistant, Google seeks to leapfrog voice-activated interfaces such as Siri and provide answers to more complicated questions — answers that change as your context changes. And with Google Assistant powering new products such as Google Home, Allo and Duo (a competitor to FaceTime that Google also announced at I/O), Google clearly wants to redefine utility as a smarter, more contextual experience in the postdigital world.

Who will win?

Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google are all relying on utility and natural human gestures to steal consumers’ attention from each other: Amazon with the press of a button, Apple with the swipe, Facebook with a click of a bot and Google with typing and texting.

Why? Because the more they embed themselves into natural consumer behaviors, the more they become the go-to platform for businesses that want to win in micro-moments. At the same time, the big four are collecting valuable consumer data that they can use to serve up more relevant content to their users — based on searches, purchases, check-ins and social media activity.

The big four all face challenges and questions. Will Gboard become the next Gmail or become another Google+? Will Google Assistant outperform Siri? Can Apple fight Google‘s encroachment as iPhone sales stagnate? Will Dash become another loss leader for Amazon? Is there enough of a critical mass of people who want to use Facebook to buy things in addition to posting their personal status updates?

Ultimately, consumers will decide who wins based on who gives them the most utility. And the brands that form strong relationships with the big four (for instance, by sharing their location data with Apple, Facebook and Google) will position themselves to win micro-moments.