Marketing professionals prepare for a screenless future

The idea might seem counterintuitive. Eleven years after the first iPhone was released, smartphones have taken over almost every aspect of our lives and disrupted most types of businesses, from media to retail.

In the process, the flickering screens of our phones have shaped our actions to such an extent that on average we check our phones 150 times a day. Disengaging in this way from the people around us has become socially acceptable.

Yet, and perhaps because of this change in behavior, the future will see fewer screens, says Chris Neff, senior director of innovation at creative agency The Community.

The Hollywood depiction of the future, full of holograms and virtual reality-type experiences may not be that far away, he told attendees of the Cayman Islands Marketing Professionals Association’s annual conference on Wednesday.

This year’s event explored the future of marketing with a line-up of international speakers and panel sessions, after a day of workshops prepared Cayman’s community of marketing professionals for the latest innovations that shape multimedia campaigns.

Mr. Neff believes the use of phone, computer and TV screens will be 40 percent lower 10 years from now and that the screenless future will be mainly driven by the reduction of smartphone use.

He admits the drive away from our fixation with screens is still only a theoretical concept but that there are trends, such as the emergence of alternate realities, that point to that direction.

Augmented reality, which adds digital elements to the camera of a smartphone, was popularized by the game Pokemon, and virtual reality devices, like Oculus, transport users into real-world and imagined fully immersive environments.

But for Mr. Neff, mixed reality is where a screenless future will be. Mixed reality combines elements of augmented and virtual realities and merges real and virtual worlds to produce new visualizations and environments, where real world and digital objects interact with each other in real time.

“It is this notion of my real life and graphics living together,” he said.

As mixed reality devices get smaller, and avoid using screens, they will connect to users more, become less noticeable and more socially acceptable, Mr. Neff said.

To get to that stage will require further developments in voice command, computer vision, ambient computing and cloud computing technologies.

Voice command will “condition us for a lack of physicality,” he said, with smart speakers already being present in 19 million homes across America.

Computer vision and ambient computing use sensors to grab and process visual information and other data to support a user’s understanding of the real-life world through seamless connections.

Currently, the processing is still lagging and the devices are “too clunky” or simply “not cool enough” to be adopted, Mr. Neff noted. And consumers have not even fully bought into augmented reality yet. Once these issues are overcome, through smart contact lenses or fashionable devices that are controlled through voice commands and feed information directly to the eye, “early adopters will grab it and bring it into a social setting,” he said.

The utility of mixed reality in engineering or education, and added information to enhance the real-world experience will be key to its adoption.

“The more utility you see in that new piece of technology, the more willing you are to go after it,” Mr. Neff said.

For the moment, however, this concept is still in the future and marketers should focus on the escapism offered by virtual reality and the utility aspects of augmented reality.

“It is about taking Seven Mile Beach from the Cayman Islands and bringing that to people in VR. Really put them there,” he said, by enabling users to sense the environment and the elements that make the experience feel real.

Augmented reality, meanwhile, does not have the fidelity it needs to focus on anything other than its utility in marketing campaigns.

“Way-finding is one of the easiest things to do in AR,” Mr. Neff said. “People don’t want to disconnect with where they are, they just want to find out where to go.”

However, by leaning into escapism and the utility of these technologies, he cautioned, “you still need have an interesting hook; you cannot just use tech for tech’s sake.”

“It is still storytelling, but through a different lens,” he said. “The touchpoints are changing but the storytelling still needs to be strong.”

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