Reprinted from Growth Strategies: The Journal of Accounting Marketing & Sales, Volume 8, Issue 2, a publication of the Association for Accounting Marketing.
Prognostication is perhaps the most popular tool of the marketing strategist’s trade. Predictions are quick to write, exciting to read and so quickly forgotten that no one faces accountability.
Nonetheless, the internet age has taught us decisively that emerging technologies and trends demand legitimate, early attention. Despite the inherent uncertainty, knowing where you’re headed is the keystone of any good strategy.
From surveying the landscape of what’s to come for professional services organizations – such as accounting, consulting and law firms – three emerging technologies deserve special attention:
- Artificial Intelligence
- Progressive Web Apps
- Conversational Assistants
Artificial Intelligence: These Are Definitely the Robots You Are Looking For
The potential for AI to automate specialized knowledge work like audit and tax preparation has brought a specter of disruption to the accounting industry. But while your partners worry about how AI will change their work, marketers should think about how AI will change what they do and how their own teams are structured. Luckily, in these areas, AI is less of a threat than a liberator:
Long promised, but rarely delivered, AI will allow marketers to leapfrog the significant content and resource hurdles to real-time personalization. Embedded algorithms will analyze user behavior in real time, extract meaningful conclusions, devise new business rules and arrange the most relevant options for your users – without direct human management. Web content management systems, marketing automation and analytics engines will be the first to offer these capabilities.
- Automated Operations
Despite (or perhaps because of) an ever-proliferating set of tools and channels, digital marketers spend a lot of time performing manual tasks in service of their technology. AI will alleviate this compounding complexity by coordinating activities across your digital ecosystem. It will unify how marketers measure effectiveness, manage content and distribute assets.
- Data for everyone
Systems like IBM Watson already offer non-specialists ways to access marketing data using natural language queries (such as, “how did my last campaign do?"). In just a few years, any data-literate marketer will be able to extract information across multiple data sets with relative ease.
- New interactions
Automated bots in chat windows and messaging platforms are already commonplace. Many organizations, some in unexpected areas such as finance and healthcare, are actively experimenting in augmented and virtual reality. But the most impactful change AI is making to user interaction lies in how voice assistants are liberating us from our screens – a change more fundamental than perhaps even the introduction of mobile.
Progressive Web Apps: The Mobile Experience You Always Deserved
At its developer conference in 2016, Google announced a new framework called the Progressive Web App. PWAs offer a new way of delivering a full app-like experience through the phone’s web browser, combining the best of platform apps and responsive websites while simultaneously compensating for their respective shortcomings.
With PWAs, professional services marketers can now claim space on their user’s home screens and provide a fully app-like experience complete with functions such as push notifications, GPS location and offline access. Since PWAs are delivered via the browser rather than the app store, they can retain the advantages of a responsive website, including search engine visibility and cross-device compatibility. And unlike platforms apps, PWAs are as easy to maintain and update as any website. It’s truly a win-win for both user and marketer.
A surprising number of brands rushed to adopt the PWA framework despite uneven compatibility in the early months after its announcement. In a testament to the promise of PWAs, organizations as diverse as The Financial Times, Uber, Starbucks, Forbes and Lancôme all created PWAs within the first year after the announcement.
Now that the device support has caught up with the framework, these brands are finding out that in many ways, PWAs improve the experience even beyond their previous apps and mobile websites. Uber’s PWA (m.uber.com), for example, functions more robustly over a weak connection than its iOS and Android apps. Similarly, the Washington Post’s PWA (washingtonpost.com/pwa) performs much more quickly, loading the homepage in an average of 0.9 seconds as opposed to 3.3 seconds for its main responsive website.
The rapidity to market – within the first year after announcement – is possible in part because PWAs are not so much a new technology as a new way to design and deliver experiences based on technologies your team already knows. At the core, PWAs are coded and deployed like websites, so you don’t need to acquire new technology or talent to build one. That makes them both relatively inexpensive and more immediately effective.With these kinds of results, the predicted future of PWAs is very bright indeed, regardless of your industry. If you have any residual skepticism about the adoption of PWAs within accounting, keep an eye on firms like Plante Moran that just launched a new PWA focused on guiding their clients through the recent tax reform package.
Conversational Assistants: The New Middle Men and the Threat to Your Brand
Gartner recently predicted that by 2020, 75 of the top 100 global brands will experience a 20 percent drop in their brand equity. This global brand recession is expected to hit all sectors, despite relatively stable economies.
So, what’s driving this existential threat? It’s a phenomenon first noted by Scott Galloway at the NYU Stern School of Business, and it’s perhaps best illustrated by the new voice assistants such as Alexa, Siri, Google and Cortana. To get to the heart of the problem, just try telling one of them that you need more batteries:
Chances are very good that you will be offered what you need, at a modest price, delivered with surprising speed. But note what’s missing from your interaction – you won’t be offered anywhere near the range of options and prices that you would see in a retail store or even online search. In what was once a critical brand touchpoint, the real “zero moment of truth” to use Google’s parlance, the voice assistant has erased the presence of brand altogether. If this seems a little too alarmist, consider that it has happened before. The arrival of online travel agencies such as Orbitz and Expedia completely changed how consumers purchase travel, de-emphasizing brands at the point of purchase and fostering an almost laser-like focus on price over other aspects of the experience.
Because they greatly hampered the ability to compete on the basis of brand, online travel agencies are often blamed for the 2000s wave of airline bankruptcies (and later consolidations).
Accounting is not necessarily immune to this kind of disruption. Voice assistants are just one type of middleman platform; firms already communicate through a wide range of other platforms – social media, email and online search, to name just a few – where they are not in full control of the brand experience. It’s this reliance on third-party platforms to drive digital experience that has companies like Gartner so worried.
What can marketers do in response? The answer isn’t yet clear, though many are pointing to a renewed focus on the overall client experience – not just isolated touchpoints and communications – for marketers seeking to maintain brand presence, relevance and differentiation.
Plan Ahead for Smooth Sailing
By keeping your eye on not just what’s new, but what will offer you new ways to communicate and interact with prospects and customers, you can smoothly navigate the tricky waters between “trendiness” and “disruption.” Planning your approach for innovations like AI, PWAs, and voice assistants will make sure they further extend (rather than completely upend) your marketing strategy.