‘Are you all in or all out?’: Telecommunications and media strategy in an age of context

Last week I had the pleasure of hearing Robert Scoble (Scobleizer) speak at a Telstra sponsored event. His talk focused on the ‘age of context’ trends (Sensors, Wearables, Location, Social, Data) which are covered in his 2013 book of the same name. There were also numerous references to the ‘freaky line’ in regards to the pervasiveness of digital products and services in our lives. Scoble encouraged the audience to consider whether they were ‘all in or all out’ with regard to data shared online – Scoble is ‘all in’. He also implored that as connected technology continues to become a bigger part of the way we live it is inevitable that we will have to ‘give Mark Zuckerberg the data he wants’.

Whilst contextual trends continue to mature with the recently announced Apple Watch (and other wearables like it) which is likely to capture many hearts and minds (I’m undecided) and increasing use of apps like Google Now and Tapingo (which offers you products and services based on your habits), many companies will need to consider how to incorporate these into their strategy and business models. For Telecommunications and Media companies context can lead to 1) new ways of communicating and contextual content, 2) offering greater value to customers, consumers and advertisers from existing products and services and 3) improving the way companies operate. In each case however, for context to be successful as part of a strategy, policy (e.g. privacy regulation, company policy, workplace relations) and cultural (e.g. ‘are you all in or all out’, sharing data with people) change needs to be addressed as an enabler to not only the enterprise benefits but the social benefits of context.

1. New ways of communicating and contextual content

For telecommunications and media companies there are many possibilities to differentiate using context. Context can for example change the way we communicate with each other. The Apple Watch is offering people new ways to communicate through sensors in the band and watch. With this functionality one would have the ability to tap someone, share your heart beat and ‘share a squiggle’. Adding context to traditional messaging could turn SMS messages (with little context) into messages that place both the sender and the recipient in the moment in which they received it. For example, having just finished a marathon a message could be sent with a stat on my location, picture of the medal, video of the finish line or a time lapse of the whole race and the pulse of my (resting) heartbeat. With the addition of context to communication people will be able to experience (see, feel, and smell – see Scentee) each other’s lives in a whole new way.

For media companies, adding context can lead to new types of content. Sports, which equates to the lion’s share of advertising revenue for media companies in Australia and globally could in the near future change to more contextual based content. For example, Australian company Catapult Sports which is the world leader in elite sports analytics, could turn its analysis into content which provides context (real-time) about how the game is being played and what the winning factors are. Like context in communication, new contextual-based content will deepen the meaning and engagement for audiences providing new forms of ‘reality’ viewing.

2. Contextual services and contextual advertising

There has been much written about adding context to services. UBER cabs is a classic example of providing context to a the traditional cab ride. Not only can a customer see where the cab is and when it will arrive, the use of ‘surge pricing’ when cabs are in high demand provides context to the market for transport. Telecommunications companies could add context to their existing services through the use of mobility and tracking. For example, setting up communications services in a dwelling can be difficult for many customers. Providing contextual troubleshooting, which could be triggered from a QR code on a router via mobile, supported by a video link to a problem solving technician video could reduce the need to send an expensive technician. In the case where a technician is required in person, their job could be made quicker and more user friendly by receiving contextual information on the fault before being deployed.

Contextual advertising works in a similar way. Based on the context of a particular consumer, advertisements can be placed (by mobile or on billboards) to attract a purchase response from a consumer. Tapingo is an excellent example of this in that it learns your routine and offers goods and services based on your routines. It applies to content related advertising as well. Armed with knowledge of the context in which someone is engaging content (with family & friends, in bed, on the couch, at home or at a pub) advertising can be even more targeted.

3. Improving the way companies operate

Ever wondered why some people stay later in the office than others? Are they actually more or as productive as the person who comes in at 9am and leaves at 5pm. Contextual tracking of employees could provide these answers and help to influence the positive working behaviours of staff. The same could be applied to assets. Traditional telecommunications and media companies are asset intensive (network infrastructure, broadcasting stations, print press) which means that low utilisation of assets or poor maintenance can lead to lower return on capital. Adding contextual analysis and data to these assets has the ability to improve utilisation (e.g. where is the best location for a new network tower?) customer experience (e.g. where are our customers or our competitors experiencing drop-outs?) and maintenance (e.g. which location is likely to lead to the most wear and tear?). These are just a few examples of context as it could apply to improving the way companies operate – there are many more.

We are at the dawn of ‘the age of context’ as Robert Scoble tells us. There are many opportunities for telecommunications and media companies to create new ways of engaging customers, servicing their needs and operating more efficiently. Standing in the way however are some very tough policy hurdles (e.g. workplace agreements on employee tracking) and entrenched cultural patterns including skepticism surrounding the use of personal data. Giving away your context as a customer, consumer or employee comes with Orwellian connotations (and possibly consequences) and should not be taken lightly. It does seem though that a tipping point will be reached as the proliferation of context ready devices (e.g. sensors, wearables) reaches common use and more people are compelled to be ‘all in’ than ‘all out’.



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