Is the death of the device nigh? In reality, probably not, but new technologies, such as 5G, have the potential to make the current ways of reaching customers vanish, almost overnight.

I recently spoke at the Mobile Marketing Association’s Impact London event. With its theme #ShapeTheFuture it gave me the opportunity to dive further into something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently.

It’s an understatement to say that marketing has been on a journey – as recently as ten years ago the unicorn we were all chasing was word of mouth. That migrated pretty quickly, in the last decade, into using AI to generate that same kind of buzz. Then we turned to customized word of mouth. Right now, we are in the midst of what we might call chaotic word of mouth. Too many opinions, too many channels, too much noise – and we don’t control the questions anymore.

5G is going to change everything

There’s a lot of talk about the fourth industrial revolution. Everything is changing and the fundamentals of marketing are being challenged like never before. Both emerging and existing technology means the customer is in complete control of communication. This means that it can take 20 years to build a reputation and 5 mins to ruin it.

And the crucial part of it isn’t the change itself, it’s the speed. It took the telephone 75 years to reach a 100 million users, the internet 14 years, Twitter 2 years and Pokeman Go just 5 weeks.

Today, more people have access to a mobile phone than they do to clean water. But while that’s been a game changer in so many fields – finance, retail, health, government – it’s been limited by two things: processing power and data speed.

5G is going to change all that. While I don’t in fact believe that the device is dead, or even really under the weather, I do however believe that it’s about to under-go an evolution that will render it almost unrecognizable to even its closest family within a decade.

What do we know about 5G so far?

Devices will be cheaper, lighter and simpler, because 5G accesses everything at cloud level. From a single charge, a smartphone might be able to last you a week, or even a month.

5G will be fast. We’re talking gigabites per second, not the megabites we’re used to with 4G –potentially up to a hundred times faster than current 4G technology.

How we access devices will be different with 5G. Digital voice assistants – like Google, Alexa and Siri – are already creeping up on the smartphone when it comes to in-home entertainment or online purchasing. 5G, combined with light field displays, could pretty soon eliminate screens and headsets – instead projecting 4D images directly onto your retina via a pair of glasses. Gartner predicts that by 2020, 30% of web browsing will be screenless.

But with branding so reliant on visual cues, what happens when the screens go away? How will companies build trust and recognition in the screenless era? Brands need to think about their consumers and how they will help them feel safe and secure in continuing their everyday lives in a brand new, audio-led space.

Meanwhile 5G’s ability to transmit data faster, and support more connections than ever, has the potential to elevate the power of the Internet of Things to the next level. Everything can be a device. It will eventually open up a market not of a few billion devices like today, but literally trillions.

Purchase journeys are suddenly immediate rather than orchestrated by marketing departments. Consumers are listening to the community of people willing to tell them their views (for free) about a product. It will become almost impossible to cross promote or upsell fast enough, and harder to predict or forecast people’s reactions to marketing.

Add to that the profound impact of AI – from Google’s RankBrain search engine algorithm to Amazon’s personalized recommendations – the modern digital marketing landscape feels out of our control and changing beyond recognition.

What does this all mean for marketing?

Maybe, as someone wrote recently, the 4Ps of marketing – product, price, place and promotion – are now changing to the 4 Es – experience, engagement, exclusivity and emotion.

This would be a marketing world where connections create value; where collaboration is more powerful than control. Where mass customisation means talking to a demographic of one and being ‘always on’ from a marketing perspective for that ZMOT (zero moment of truth). Your customers will find you at the very moment they’re thinking about buying, and also when they’re thinking about thinking about buying.

The good news is that, while a lot of roles will change, the need for marketing to exist and think differently will be greater than ever.

The future lies in the ability to connect in a human way. Real value is coming not from the obvious places, the old places, the same places. It’s going to come from the way we answer the questions, not from our ability to control the question. The human touch will save marketing –the ability to tell a story, to understand the customer, and give them not what we think they want, but what they asked for.

Whatever the future is, there is change and the ability to unlearn and relearn will determine our success.

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