How do consumers expect to interact with brands in 2030?

A survey shows consumers are ready to embrace more tech if brands balance using data well with using it responsibly.

A new report suggests consumers fully expect more automation and technology to be involved in their interactions with brands over the next ten years, but that presents a fine line between effectiveness and privacy for brands to walk.

The report is based on a survey of 4,000 respondents across three dozen countries, conducted by Futurum Research on behalf of analytics company SAS. The respondents were a mix of consumers and marketing professionals and were asked about their anticipated use of technology in the year 2030.

The main finding of the report is that there will be an increasing openness to automation when it comes to interactions between brands and consumers. According to SAS’ analysis of the data, 67% of engagements done through digital channels in 2030 will be completed by smart systems, while 69% of business decisions made during that engagement will be completed by smart machines.

“Companies will have to strike a delicate balance between providing highly empathic human-like experiences with the instantaneous results that consumers have come to expect,” said Daniel Newman, principal analyst and founding partner at Futurum Research. “Technology will be the bridge as data, analytics, machine learning and AI will enable machines to deliver this balance in a more humanistic way that satisfies customers and delivers increased efficiencies to the enterprise.”

The survey also found a disconnect between how uncomfortable brands believe their consumers are with technology, compared with how they actually feel: 78% of brands believe consumers are uneasy dealing with technology in retail environments, even though only 35% of consumers surveyed reported feeling this way. By 2030, 81% of consumers expect to engage with a brand’s chatbot, 80% expect delivery of a product by drone or autonomous vehicle, 80% expect to use an assistant like Google Home or Amazon Alexa to make a purchase and 78% expect to use an augmented, virtual, or mixed reality app to trial a product.

However, while consumers are ready for these technologies, it is also important to ensure their expectations are met by updating the capabilities of marketing technology to the same level as consumer tech.

“Tracing a customer through their journey entails a forensic understanding of the customer across endless journey permutations – customers want to be remembered and understood as they crisscross myriad channels, touchpoints and contexts,” said Wilson Raj, global director of SAS’ Customer Intelligence team. “Brands must reinvent their operating models to act at speed. They need a holistic data strategy that they can personalize at scale, journey analytics capabilities that can adapt in real time, and enable a self-reinforcing cycle of tailored experiences.”

The other factor that comes into play with meeting consumer expectations of technology is privacy: only 54% of consumers trust brands to keep their data private, while 73% described the use of their personal data is “out of control.” Among the marketing respondents, 59% agree that securing customer information is the most important factor in ensuring a strong customer experience, but 84% express concerns about their ability to meet changing government regulations around data.

Among brands, 62% of those surveyed are investing in voice-based AI assistants for customer engagement and support, while 58% are investing in voice-based AI as an internal marketing and sales asset. On the AR and VR front, 54% of brands invest in it to help consumers visualize or trial a product remotely, while 53% of brands pursue it to improve product use and self-help capabilities.

The study also found that 83% of brands are investing or plan to invest in holographic technology for in-store advertising, interactive gaming and public events.