Already, in the short time I've been here, I've heard of a number of brands I've never come across. Of course, there are the brands you'd expect – Google, Spotify, IBM. But SXSW is a place where brands big and small come together to share and learn about what's possible. The common thread among these fast-growing new brands is they set out with a mission to remove as much friction as possible for consumers. Each is in a different category and each is doing amazing things, which largely centre around the smartphone as a primary device.
These guys sell cars completely online. You go to their website, select a car, pay for it (or arrange finance in 2 minutes) and – here's the kicker – either have it delivered to your home or collect it from a car vending machine! If you're not happy with it, you can return it for a full refund within seven days. They've looked at the traditional process of buying a car and redesigned it to make it as easy as possible, all starting in the palm of your hand with your smartphone.
Eno the chatbot
This massive US bank has set out to use tech to transform the way their customers manage their money. The innovations they've spoken about at SXSW are too numerous to mention but one is their SMS-based chatbot Eno, which they launched at the conference. This enables customers to conduct transactions via SMS, with Eno learning the customer's preferences over time which leads to him making suggestions (e.g. "Shall I pay your credit card off now your paycheck has arrived in your account?"). Capital One hired a character designed from Pixar to design and evolve the character of Eno.
Redfin is a real estate agency, operating across the US. In their own words: "We do everything a traditional agent does, but with modern technology to get you into homes faster, show your listing to more buyers, and put the paperwork online—all while saving you thousands in fees." This technology-focused company does everything mobile-first and is determined to use technology to better improve not just the customer experience but also customer retention (quite a challenge when customers only purchase on average every eight to ten years). An example of a recent initiative was that they set up a triggered campaign integrating postcode and weather data to send all new purchasers an email congratulating them on their first snow day in their new house. The feedback was phenomenal as customers felt valued because of what felt like relevant and personalised communication.
Quality interior design is out of reach for the majority of Americans. People feel out of their depth, don't know where to start, and assume (quite correctly) that the whole process will end up costing them an arm and a leg. Havenly.com has set out on a mission to change all this by providing access to affordable, yet quality, interior design consultations and implementation via the smartphone, tablet or desktop. With fees simple and transparent and starting from under $100, customers can upload imagery, get rendered designs and fully drafted scale plans, as well as purchase the furnishings and items recommended. It's affordable, simple and easy. And why shouldn't it be?
Yummly is a recipe recommendation site, which uses artificial intelligence to improve customer experience and increase relevance. The AI engine behind the site poses a series of questions to users (based on their searches) to help guide them to the right recipe. The site also links postcode and weather data (like Redfin) to dynamically change the content each user views on the homepage so that a user on a hot day in one state will have BBQ recommendations, whereas another user in a different state in the snow will see casserole and broth recommendations.
What have I learned from these new tech-enabled ventures? Probably the biggest impact is that there are no boundaries to what technology can do to enhance or enable a business model that once would have been unthinkable. Welcome to the future!
- Ben Rose is general manager of direct and partnerships at NIB, New Zealand’s second-largest health insurer.