In the sci-fi classic "The Matrix," most of humanity has been plunged into a dystopian world created by sentient machines to placate the people so they can use them as an energy source.
Alphabet, the Google holding company, is trying to build a similar world for us. Surely, in this world -- let's call it "The Alphatrix" -- we won't be converted into human batteries. However, the company will thrive by extracting money from our needs, desires and behaviors in this new immersive world. Already, Alphabet has created nearly half a trillion dollars in market cap by tacking a commission onto human intent on the internet through search. In the Alphatrix, this tax on intent will be woven into the fabric of our very lives and provide the "energy source" to fuel its insatiable need for growth.
What could the Alphatrix look like?
If Alphabet has its way, in a few years, we'll be living in connected homes intelligently powered by Google Home wearing Google VR headsets on our faces. We'll swap those out for Google Glass-like augmented reality devices when we leave the house. We'll wear connected clothing with built-into gestural controls powered by Google's Project Jacquard. We'll hop into self-driving cars powered by Android Auto. Waze will shift from monitoring traffic patterns to determining them.
Alphabet's Sidewalk Labs hints that it will soon be building connected cities from scratch. Imagine cars, traffic lights, parking spots, moving sidewalks, restaurants, retailers, hospitals and homes all instantly and harmoniously choreographed into one seamlessly orchestrated, um, matrix. Healthcare IT News has even suggested that Google Cloud Machine Learning could be used for "population health management" (maybe we will become batteries after all).
Last month, Sidewalk CEO Dan Doctoroff, told The Information "The technology ultimately cannot be stopped."
"You hear that, Mr. Anderson? That's the sound of inevitability." -- Agent Smith, "The Matrix."
Whether or not this violates Google's promise to "not be evil" is irrelevant. It is coming, and marketers had best be prepared for it.
The view of the immersed consumer
We consider technology ubiquitous today because everyone carries a device all the time. In the future, the ubiquity of technology will increase by an order of magnitude.
The technology itself will become increasingly more integrated into our existence and the line between reality and VR will blur into a new immersive augmented reality. Physical gestures will control interactions in both the physical and virtual worlds. Vast amounts of content, services and products will be available at a moment's notice as just a swipe away.
People will expect and demand intelligence, context and personalization -- you can be sure if they're going to turn over the wheel to a self-driving car, that car will anticipate and deliver their wants, needs and desires for entertainment, comfort and a carpool mate.
Deconstructing the Alphatrix
In the immersive world of the Alphatrix, the way people interact with technology, services, media and brands will change -- so marketing will have to evolve as well.
What might be some opportunities that CMOs will need to consider? Here are a few:
Pay per visit. We'll still need coffee on the way to work, so Starbucks may need to trade in its pay-per-click budget for a pay-per-visit. Imagine getting in your car and saying, "Car, I need coffee," and your car asks, "Shall I stop at Starbucks?" Or Peet's, if it bids more. Android Auto could work that pit stop into your trip -- and adjust traffic patterns on Waze and Google Maps to boot.
Virtual experiences. Virtual worlds will need to be filled with virtual experiences. Brands will have a number of opportunities to sponsor contextually relevant native placements, or to create new experiences that add utility and entertainment to people's virtual and augmented lives.
Branded gestures. This year, Twitter was selling branded emojis during the Superbowl for a million dollars a pop. If Pepsi and Bud ponied up for that, why not sell them branded physical movements that wearable devices can recognize and measure?
Video. Despite all the science fiction going on in the Alphatrix, video will still be the best tool out there for telling great stories that connect with people on an emotional level. But it will become increasingly more interactive and relevant to a person's context. Perhaps we'll see VR cooking classes from "America's Test Kitchen" with recipes based on what ingredients you have in the fridge; or recent local restaurant reviews with specials and deals overlaid through Glass; and, of course, we'll still have pre-roll.
The possibilities for marketers in the Alphatrix could be limitless. They will try to connect everything -- from A to Z. But a look to the present can give us a view to the future. Ninety percent of Alphabet's revenue currently comes from one product -- search. In the Alphatrix, Alphabet will ultimately either stumble upon another cash cow that will dominate its balance sheet, humanity's attention, and your budget -- or someone else will.