5G is expected to reach 1 billion users after just 3.5 years since its release in 2019 - faster than Facebook and online banking - providing new and exciting opportunities for brands, whilst being mindful of implications. Data privacy is an important issue, but I think it is overshadowing debates around what 5G looks like in practice. With constant connectivity and engagement required to be "smart", it is crucial for brands using 5G technology to strike a balance between "on" and "off". Automating personalised interactions with customers risks coming at the price of genuine brand interaction.
5G is expected to be around 10 times faster than 4G at its average speed, with the potential to be 100 times faster at full capacity. This speed increase allows you to interact with technology - sending and receiving data via the internet - in a new way. Whilst 5G matches the current top-end fibreoptic speeds (averaging at 150-200mbps), being able to reach these speeds potentially anywhere in the world on your mobile phone is a huge achievement for technology.
For businesses, this means increased capacity of business intelligence, informing better decision-making and people-powered marketing.
However, this constant real-time transferring of data has caused renewed concerns for our data. With more of our devices being internet enabled, a multitude of organisations can store more information about personal use habits across anyone's public and private life. For brands, this means a true, in-the-moment reflection of customer's needs, thoughts, and behaviours, providing a gateway to better business intelligence and personalised retail.
For example, the way we measure the success of a brand or store will be more dynamic. Smart cities will provide data for geospatial analysis to assess commercial success, such as the volume of customers and their detailed demographics, the average length of shop over a series of visits and the regularity of returning customers. This enables people-powered marketing, allowing retailers to collect real time data about customers; building profile knowledge and increase the personalisation of their retail experience.
I think there is more to this. Brand's hunger for data and insight puts technology and devices at the centre of brand-consumer relationships. The amount of time we spend engaging with devices has drastically increased over the last decade, meaning more data is available from the consumer's fingertips. However, according to research by Google, the more time we spend engaging, the worse our perception, creating a strain between business intelligence and brand relationships.
The most negatively perceived activities lack a true sense of autonomy, such as checking your phone for notifications, passively scrolling through social media and dual screening. They are things we do every day, without intention - perhaps it feels robotic. With 1 in 4 people already making changes to improve digital wellbeing, brands need to navigate digital wellbeing to be successful; balancing data collection needs with customer relations by providing meaningful and immersive interactions.
So gone are the days of static banners and pop-up boxes.
5G will drive brands to innovate and deliver real experiences (touch, swipe, shake, gamification and shoppable media). Advertisements, such as video, can change their storylines in response to the viewer's preferences and needs have potential to strengthen the brand-consumer relationship and increase consumer engagement by distinguishing themselves as a worthwhile experience.
Coupled with AI-powered devices, 5G will enable a new era of personalised advertising, allowing brands to get up close and personal with their customers in real time, including their emotional states and attention levels. With increased engagement, brands will inevitably know more about their customers, guaranteeing accuracy to ensure you reach the right person at the right time with the right product.
As my colleague, Jess, said in a recent blog post: "we want to know what potential purchases might look like in real life". 5G will help retailers bring shopping to life with augmented-reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) technology, giving a whole new meaning to 'try before you buy', affording consumers the opportunity to have a truly personalised service at their fingertips. Higher connectivity speeds open opportunities for overlaid visuals, allowing a customer to point their device at a product and triggering services: recommendations, advice, virtually wearing clothes or placing items in their home to see how they look!
It is obvious why brands would be tempted by real time opportunities that 5G technology has to offer, but does personalisation get too up close and personal for consumers?
5G has the potential to enhance genuine one-to-one brand relations due to the increasing knowledge available; personalised communications with customers are hailed as the holy grail of marketing and customer experience. However, done in the wrong way, 5G can cause a breakdown in genuine brand relationships by streamlining retail and reducing the experience into one shoppable moment.
By automating the personalisation, brands risk over-simplifying consumer behaviour, causing people to feel their viewership is beyond their control, as well as heightening fears around data privacy and how information is used. Brands risk de-legitimising consumer autonomy, making people feel disengaged, frustrated, and creeped out.
The creepy feeling begins when a customer realises, they are being marketed to, using intimate knowledge about them. With 5G supporting the constant and real-time movement of data brands can instantaneously act on a customer's needs and desires; brands can take over the mundane parts of the shopping experience, thinking in the exact way a consumer does. However, without immersive customer experience from end to end - being able to actively search, assess options and make a choice - there is a risk of losing the essence of what makes a person an autonomous customer, meaning device use is less exciting, fun or adventurous.
Successful brand interactions do not disrupt a consumer's digital experience and give people a clear choice to opt-in. Instagram is particularly good at this. Around 83% of Instagram users discover new products and services on the platform in this way. That is not just my opinion, that's consumers speaking. Ads show on my feed and story, I can make an active and conscious choice to engage or simply swipe past and look elsewhere. Thus, the organic and autonomous process to stumbling across a product - or at least the sensation of it - is still important to consumers.
Moreover, 5G presents exciting opportunities for brands to increase their knowledge by collecting real time data, meaning decision-making, and targeting have the potential to get to the next level. This means brands can provide a truly personalised experience, driving the customer from need to fulfilment. To do this well, brands need to maintain the essence of what makes a person a customer - the discovery, research, and autonomous choice. Successful brands will keep the human side of data in mind, implementing strategies that maintains the feeling of autonomy and choice.
Brands missing the mark on this could come at the price of valuable consumer relationships.