The future of commerce is brand commerce

Technology today is helping us connect the physical and the virtual, and the commerce landscape is evolving to take a lead role in the future of business transformation in Asia. eMarketer has projected Asia-Pacific’s e-commerce sales to hit US$1.89 trillion by 2018. In China alone, e-commerce will be a trillion-dollar market by 2019, and Southeast Asia is slowly showing why it’s the next frontier for growth.

The gap between brand experiences and transactions has been virtually closed by the impact of technology. The future of brands is brand commerce. In essence, this means seeking to make each touchpoint with your customers more impactful, with less friction for transactions.

Clients nowadays require their brands to be built through stories, e-commerce and digitally-enabled products and services, with clever design. Enabled by a number of new, cutting-edge technologies, here are ten developing trends that are helping shape brand commerce in Asia and beyond:

  1. Prediction and personalisation as expectation – While recommendation is at the core of today’s e-commerce experiences i.e. those “You might also like this” pop-ups online, we will soon begin to see brands using data to predict when and why consumers are likely to transact with them next. Communications being tailored to your needs and wants, in real-time and two-way.
  1. Virtual companions – The next few years will see the growth of super-powered companions able to fulfill complex tasks with little or no input from the user. So imagine a Siri or Cortana being able to do what a real-life personal assistant could do: from booking a restaurant table to ordering flowers to be delivered to a loved one.
  1. Big data, small things – As data processing capabilities continue to evolve, we will see the power of small actions, at scale, to make big differences. Technology will soon not only be predictive but also intuitive. Imagine a smart watch, which is able to detect your mood, sending you a real-time promotion for ice cream when you are feeling down.
  1. Virtual workforces – In the age of the virtual workforce, any business can be a service business and there is huge opportunity for brands to offer value-added services. From domestic help or healthcare, to recruitment, the power of mobile means it has never been easier to match supply and demand.
  1. The last mile, reimagined – If next day delivery seemed impressive five years ago, our expectations are rapidly shifting to encompass same day or even two-hour delivery windows. Delivery trucks are morphing into motorbikes and bicycles, which could further morph into drones in the near future.
  1. Messaging as interface – Increasingly complex interactions are now being carried out via SMS and messaging apps due to their ubiquity and ease of use. This means social apps will go beyond just communications. In China, WeChat is already being used to book taxis and order food.
  1. Invisible commerce – Contactless payments have already created a step change in our comfort levels with new interfaces. A host of new technologies promise to make secure payments as frictionless as taking a selfie, or walking into – or out of – a store.
  1. The rise of biometrics – New ways of interaction are opening up, taking more of our senses into account: voice, facial recognition, even smell and taste. Already being trialled are smart vending machines that allow you try out makeup virtually or wearable bands that let you pay with your heartbeat.
  1. Data-driven narratives – New technologies are opening up new ways to create and deliver content. We are seeing how data and creativity come together, to create magical new models for content creation and storytelling. From personalized storybooks that have your child as the main characters, to out-of-home advertising that alter its messaging based on weather or time of day.
  1. New narrative touch points – As the gap between moments of inspiration and moments of transaction shortens, every touch point is an opportunity to build brand equity, from retail and delivery to packaging. Which is what Isobar did for Coca-Cola in China. Each bottle featured a QR code that could activate a short music clip or a “musicon” with fun, playful lyrics that users could then share on WeChat, extending the brand’s narrative of fun and share-ability.

Ultimately, I believe that by using data, technology and creativity, any compelling brand experience can be one step away from a commercial interaction, and therefore can create more business value. Technology has been identified as one of the top barriers for brands to embrace brand commerce, and we believe the emphasis will be on all brands to keep current with their technology stack to stay out of the reach of competitive threats.

The writer is Sven Huberts, APAC managing director, Isobar