Opinion: The 7 innovation territories most impacted by 2020
This was the year of acceleration. Thanks to unprecedented circumstances brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, consumers and businesses have been and will continue to adopt digital channels and tools across the board, enabling new behaviors and opportunities for marketers to explore.
For the past four years, the marketing experts at UM have been putting our heads together to track how the media innovation landscape has evolved each year. We judge those territories in terms of their audience reach and their maturity as a marketing channel on a 0-to-10-point scale and compare the year-over-year movement of each territory to gauge the direction and velocity of development.
In 2020, based on the latest expert scores gathered in late October, we identified seven innovation territories that saw significant movement, either in terms of reach or maturity, that all marketers should keep a close eye on.
Augmented Reality, up 1.3 in Reach
As time spent on mobile continues to grow, Augmented Reality (AR) is quickly becoming a popular way for brand marketers to add a new level of interactivity in their mobile efforts. The Reach score for this territory increased by 1.3 points this year, reflecting the continuous efforts from platform owners to popularize mobile AR experiences. In June, Snapchat updated AR Lenses and developer tools and announced that over three-quarters of its users (over 170 million people) use the app’s AR features on a daily basis.
AR experiences can now be found not only in camera-focused apps like Instagram or Snapchat, but also within Facebook newsfeeds, Google search results, and even on Amazon packages. With its rising reach among mainstream users, mobile AR is becoming a fertile territory for brands to explore, partly in preparation for upcoming AR wearables from Apple and Facebook.
The Metaverse, up 1.3 in Reach
The metaverse refers to the emerging concept of a continuous and persistent virtual environment where users can explore, create, and socialize as they wish. Today, prototypical versions of the metaverse are common on multiplayer online games such as Fortnite and Roblox. Users come together to partake in shared experiences, such as Travis Scott’s Fortnite concert in April that was attended by 45 million players, or Lil Nas X’s live shows in Roblox that amassed 33 million views across two days.
This territory grew by 1.3 points in audience reach, thanks to the huge boost in time spent that gaming gained during lockdown. In July, Roblox said it had more than 150 million monthly active users, up from 115 million in February, and launched Party Place, a private venue for virtual birthday parties and other meetups. Notably, more than half of U.S. kids and teens under the age of 16 now play Roblox. Similarly, Fortnite launched Party Royale in May and proceeded to host a series of virtual events. As more people become accustomed to these interactive virtual live experiences, whose value has been amplified this year, the burgeoning metaverse represents yet another fast-growing territory for brands to explore.
Wearables, up 0.9 in Reach
It was another year of steady growth for wearable devices, reflected by a 0.9-point rise in its audience reach. With the pandemic and recent wildfires sharpening our collective public health concerns, wearable devices increasingly appeal to mainstream users. 24% of U.S. adults now own a smartwatch, up from 20% a year ago; and 32% own a fitness tracker, per the latest data from CivicScience. Market leader Apple Watch now sells more watches than the entire Swiss watch industry.
For marketers, a growing wearable user base points to more opportunities to deliver brand experiences and delight customers. While most users are still using wearable devices mainly for health and fitness purposes, the steadily rising adoption lays the groundwork for brand integrations. For example, Apple has made watch faces easily shareable via social and other digital channels, a new addition in watchOS 7 this year, which could be used to enhance the discovery of branded watch faces, like Disney has done.
Automation, up 1.2 in Maturity
Social distancing measures and safety concerns have forced many businesses to turn to AI-powered automated tools to deliver contactless services. For instance, Sam’s Club recently expanded autonomous floor-sweeping robots to all U.S. stores, while Reese's made a trick-or-treat robot that roamed around dispensing Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups on Halloween. As a result, automation technologies saw a 1.2-point jump in its Maturity score this year.
Automation is also happening on the backend for businesses, especially in terms of data management and insight generation. Companies that invested more in automation before the pandemic have weathered the crisis better than others, per a recent report by Bain & Company, because they suffered fewer disruptions to the supply chain and workforce productivity. Automation is now the backbone of business resilience.
Live Video, up 1.1 in Maturity
Going live on social media saw significant growth this year, with at-home consumers seeking live experience online in place of in-person events. 52.3% of U.S. internet users have consumed live video content on digital channels this year, according to eMarketer data. Brands have leveraged live video channels such as Instagram Live or Zoom to host online events such as yoga classes, cooking classes, and virtual travel experiences, which is reflected in the 1.1-point surge for its Maturity score.
Besides enabling virtual experiences, live video also provides a powerful sales channel that allows brands to leverage influencers and celebrities to showcase their products and interact with potential buyers in real time. U.S. tech giants are gearing up for shoppable live video: Amazon launched Amazon Live for influencers in July, and Instagram and Facebook launched live shopping features in August. Instagram has also added in-stream shopping for IGTV in October. Shoppable live content, as most Chinese brands can attest, is a powerful tool that every brand should learn to master.
Retail Transformation, up 0.7 in Reach and up 0.8 in Maturity
COVID-19 has driven years’ worth of retail disruption in a few months. According to IBM’s U.S. Retail Index, the pandemic has accelerated the shift away from physical stores to digital shopping by roughly five years. The stay-at-home order forced the late majority to try out online shopping, which led to behavioral changes at scale, resulting in a 0.7-point rise in audience reach and a 0.8-point jump in brand opportunities.
In response, we saw business, especially small businesses that had not been entirely online prior to the pandemic, fully embrace this accelerating shift toward omnichannel retail with new technologies and services, including new payment methods, on-demand delivery, and curbside pickup services. By enacting a central view of the consumer woven through products, services, and experiences, brands will be well-positioned to meet new shopping behaviors that emerged this year.
Emerging Out-of-Home, down 0.6 in Reach & down 0.8 in Maturity
Of course, not all innovation territories are lucky enough to see accelerated growth. Emerging out-of-home advertising, for example, understandably took a hit in its development, as advertisers turned their focus to digital channels. This is reflected in a 0.6-point decrease in its Reach score and a 0.8 decrease in Maturity.
However, there are reasons to believe that such setbacks are only temporary. With the promise of an effective coronavirus vaccine on the horizon, it won’t be long before marketers restart utilizing out-of-home ad units to activate unique experiences with innovative technologies, such as AR content, dynamic messaging, or location-based targeting, to reach consumers that are out and about.