This article is by Joseph Tam, senior director, digital, MEC North America.
Moving into 2014, there are companies and emerging sectors that we as marketers should keep our eyes on. While some already boast tens or even hundreds of billion-dollar market caps, they continue to innovate in unexpected ways. Conversely, where others are unproven, they still warrant attention for the uncharted territories they ambitiously explore. All, however, are bold market disruptors paving roads for marketers and agencies to follow and learn from as we look to bring some of 2014’s promises to life.
LinkedIn: While Facebook reigns “king” of all social networks, LinkedIn remains largely unrivaled in the realm of professional networks. That leaves it unimpeded in its pursuit to amass the world’s most comprehensive database of companies, jobs, and talent, including their skills and their connections – an ambition that CEO Jeff Weiner articulates as creating a global “Economic Graph.” Brands are starting to take notice, especially b-to-b marketers such as Accenture and IBM that are tapping into the expansive professional database to reach an audience of business decision makers. As LinkedIn continues to evolve and mature as a publishing platform for such brands, watch for content marketing on LinkedIn to start excelling with the same creativity, sophistication and scale that we’ve seen from mostly consumer brands on the likes of Facebook and Twitter.
Formlabs: The potential for 3D printing to democratize manufacturing is a topic of great interest and speculation. Among the companies in this space, MakerBot gets much of the attention, but Kickstarter and MIT Media Lab graduate, Formlabs, is looking to introduce the next generation of 3D printing to the desktop market. Unlike conventional 3D printers that heat and extrude plastic filaments, Formlabs uses a technique called “stereolithography” that allows for greater precision, resulting in print output at a far higher resolution than your standard MakerBot. If one were to make an analogy to traditional 2D printing, it is the laser printer of the 3D world. As the 3D printing movement gains momentum, Formlabs is uniquely poised to steal some attention and market share.
Amazon: Who else but Amazon could make shipping logistics sexy and exciting? With his recent splashy announcement on CBS’ 60 Minutes, CEO Jeff Bezos revealed plans to build a fleet of delivery drones that will ship packages to customer doorsteps in 30 minutes or less (barring regulatory hurdles from the FAA of course). Pipe dream or not, Prime Air is just the latest indication that Amazon has no plans to remain content being just the world’s largest e-tailer. This year, Amazon released 14 TV pilots of original programming, fortifying its on-demand streaming video service, Instant Video. It’s also expanded AmazonFresh, an online grocery service offering free same-day delivery, with hopes that speedy grocery sales will boost purchases of their core non-grocery items as well. Expect to hear plenty more from Amazon in 2014, as they continue to diversify their offerings and enter new business sectors beyond online commerce.
PlaceIQandPlaced: For marketers, a persistent challenge with mobile advertising is that smartphones and tablets operate in an ecosystem largely absent of browser cookies, the long-standing staple of web tracking and ad targeting technologies. To replace the cookie, companies like PlaceIQ and Placed have figured out that your location data can be as potent of a marketing signal as your web browsing behaviors. Marketers can infer demographics and consumer intent from real-time location, while leveraging a user’s location history as a strong predictor of future purchase behavior. These advanced product offerings around location data, intelligence and analytics for marketers position PlaceIQ and Placed to capitalize on the intersection of two major trends in digital advertising – the rise of programmatic buying, fueled to date by cookie-enabled audience targeting; and the decline in reliability of the cookie.
Warby Parker: Having already disrupted the eyeglass industry with its e-commerce model for selling affordable and stylish frames, Warby Parker made the bold transition from “click-no-mortar” to brick-and-mortar by opening up its first retail store in April in New York’s SoHo. Now with five retail locations nationwide, the stores reflect the brand’s digital influence with tablet-powered POS systems and conveniences such as photo booths that take, print and email photos of shoppers trying on frames. The stores are also laden with technology such as sensors and Wi-Fi that track how customers browse, try on and shop for products throughout the retail layout, enabling Warby Parker to bring the site optimization philosophy of e-commerce storefronts to the physical retail experience. With tech giants like Google and Amazon also rumored to be introducing physical stores, we’d expect them to pay close attention to how upstart Warby Parker is translating its online sales success to the offline world of retail.
Emotiv: Some of the technologies discussed here resemble science fiction, but nothing will stoke the imagination like Emotiv Insight, a “neuroheadset” that senses and measures your brainwaves. With an impressive $1.6 million of funding from Kickstarter, Emotiv is one of the more prominent companies experimenting with Brain Computer Interfaces, technology that interprets neuro-signals from the brain to communicate and interact with devices. At the most basic level, an application of Emotiv’s product helps to track your brain’s activity over time, optimizing its performance and fitness (much like what the FuelBand or Jawbone UP do for physical fitness). What’s most intriguing though is that the headset can also detect and understand basic mental commands, allowing us to control devices with mere thoughts. We’re still in the early stages of real life telekinesis but Emotiv, along with LeapMotion and the gesture control armband Myo, represent technologies reinventing how we interface with computers far beyond the ubiquitous keyboard, mouse and touchscreens of today.
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