A Look Back (and Forward) at “Trending Topics You Don’t Quite Understand”

Two worlds collided for me on a recent Tuesday evening.
 
Eight and a half years ago, I started working for akhia communications as a young professional with a communications degree and just a little PR agency internship experience to my name.
 
About a year later, I started volunteered for the Cleveland Chapter of the AMA (now AMA Northeast Ohio) because I realized just how much I didn’t know about the world of marketing.
 
Both organizations have been instrumental in shaping me into the professional I am today, and thus it was a bit surreal when I found myself attending an AMA event at the akhia communications offices earlier this Spring. I was honestly just hoping everything went smoothly, given my overlapping involvements. It turned out that I had nothing to worry about.
 
In case you missed the promotions, the event was titled “Trending Topics You Don’t Quite Understand”, and it was explained as an exercise in finding out how trendy acronyms like AI, AR/VR and GDPR affect real, everyday marketers doing their jobs. Specialists on each topic were tapped to present from local agencies, and attendees were given time to ask their pressing questions after networking and presentations wrapped up.
 
I—probably like many other communications professionals—had my doubts as to how applicable some of these high-tech concepts were to my day job in 2019. Luckily, the speakers made it abundantly clear that these aren’t just buzzwords, but important concepts to grasp even as they’re still evolving and achieving mainstream adoption.
 
Want a High-Tech Experience? Work Your Way Up to VR
First, we heard from Josh Kuss of Pritt Entertainment Group and Sarah Carlson of akhia, who tag-teamed the hybrid topic of augmented reality/virtual reality (AR/VR). Josh explained that V.R. is definitely a cool technology with great potential to create immersive experiences for consumers (see how Lowe’s is using V.R. to teach consumers home renovation skills and show them how to use power equipment). That said it’s still expensive to afford the hardware needed to process all the necessary visual inputs, and there’s a substantial amount of programming costs that go into creating virtual worlds, as well. If you can afford VR, be sure to use it in in-person settings, such as a tradeshow, for maximum impact.
 
AR is an easier place to start, Josh explains, as it’s widely adopted, whether people realize it or not (think: Snapchat filters and Pokemon Go). Sarah elaborated, pointing out that you don’t need an expensive hardware rig to via AR content – much of it can be done through phone apps today, and it may not be all that long before AR recognition is built into phone cameras to create personalized live video content. Today, we mostly see AR used in conjunction with print ads to ad interactivity, but there’s much more opportunity for short storytelling experiences using AR functionality. Sarah recommends starting with a platform like HP Reveal.
 
Artificial Intelligence: It’s Not All About Robots, But It’s Also Not Just Automation
Next, we heard from Mike Kaput of the Marketing Artificial Intelligence Institute on what was probably the most intimidating-sounding topic of the night: AI. As marketers, we all probably know that AI will affect our jobs (and other facets of our lives) soon enough, but it’s inherently difficult to grasp the concept. It doesn’t help that there’s a lot of confusion between terms like AI, machine learning, neural networks, automation technology and so forth. Mike, thankfully, was able to clear some of that up.
 
A.I. differs from automation in that it learns and improves without human interaction as it processes data. There are some great marketing automation tools out there, but compared to self-improving AI driven processes, these tools are wildly inefficient by comparison. A tool like Albert AI, for example, has been able to improve ROI on digital advertising spend exponentially for some clients, yielding impressive results such as 751% increases in conversions on Facebook and discovery of target markets that companies didn’t even know existed. Moving forward, we’ll only see more partnership between marketers and machines, given the power of AI technology in certain realms.
 
Not European? You Should Still Care About GDPR
By now, you’ve probably heard of GDPR The European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation went into effect approximately one year ago (May 2018) and aims to “protect all EU citizens from privacy and data breaches in today’s data-driven world” by mandating that consent be expressly given by citizens if a company wants to collect or use their data. It also gives citizens the “right to be forgotten” within companies’ databases. Failure to comply can result in hefty fines for companies.
 
According to J.P. Krainz of thunder::tech, GDPR needs to be on the minds of American organizations, too. If you are collecting the data of E.U. citizens, you must abide by the regulations, but even if you aren’t, similar rules (such as California’s “GDPR lite” privacy law) are coming stateside. While marketers have traditionally been free to grab any data they could find to improve their ability to effectively reach prospects, now, consumers must have a say in how their data is being used. It means marketers need to seek legal counsel to ensure their digital communications are all in compliance with regulations, but it also means that we need to educate ourselves on SEO best practices and other techniques to properly reach target audience members.
 
The Future is (Kinda) Now.
After the presentations and intriguing Q&A session wrapped up, it was clear to me that may of the “futuristic” technologies we’ve dreamed about for decades are finally becoming accessible. And, it’s also encouraging to see that regulators and others are taking the steps needed to protect consumer privacy in a heavily data-driven age. It will be interesting to see in the coming years just how quickly VR/AR are adopted as costs come down, AI begins to drive the messages we send and receive, and laws like GDPR shape the way we collect and give out information. An event spanning a single evening can never answer all these questions, but at least the AMA continues to keep challenging us to think about what’s coming next, as well as what’s driving marketing today.