The 15- to 25-year-old teenagers and young adults of Generations Z and Alpha are combining analogue and digital lifeworlds in a way that no other generation has done before. ERGO CDO Mark Klein is convinced that, with the young user groups, the customer understanding of a hybrid changeover between analogue and digital will once again change tremendously. ERGO is therefore continuing to develop its hybrid customer approach.
One of the key topics in the ERGO “Fathers Network” – of which I am patron – is the right way to handle digital devices within the family. No mobile phones at the dinner table, mobile phone safes, mobile-free days and weekends – I now know about many concepts that can work well at home and then fail again.
But looking to the future, I fear that the struggle to find the right way will not become easier, but quite the opposite. By the time our children have grown up, the role of digital devices will have changed again. Instead of being communication and navigation tools – which is how I still see mobile phones – they will have become a kind of external organ. Maybe expressing it this way is a bit lame in some respects, but I can’t think of anything more apt.
Mobile phones will increasingly become a part of us. When our children are parents themselves, maybe they will no longer come up with the idea of declaring the dinner table a digital-free zone. Because you can’t simply put an “organ” aside. It becomes part and parcel of your lived “reality”.
In San Francisco, I recently got to know Mojo Vision, a start-up that has built a smart contact lens. By means of a built-in display, smart contact lens wearers get information projected directly onto the lens. The dimensions are merging. I look at my real surroundings and, via augmented reality, overlay them with added values that underpin and enhance what I’m experiencing.
The lens inevitably made me think of Google Glass, the data glasses that flopped ten years ago. Many experts I talk with are convinced that the time of the computer in front of our eyes is coming. Meta, which produces the successful Oculus VR series, aims to present its “holy grail” (Mark Zuckerberg) by 2026 at the latest. But we can look forward to Apple’s VR/AR headset earlier than that. The new glasses should not only be smaller than their bulky predecessors but also become a stylish accessory on the nose. Virtual and augmented reality should practically merge in them. This means that you’ll be able to not only immerse yourself in a virtual world but also bring to life a whole Jurassic Park in your own living room.
Engineers and digitalisers are therefore working on fulfilling the promise that Google Glass once made. Computers in or in front of our eyes could replace smartphones – and allow us to live in mixed-reality worlds. Only the key question is: will people actually use them? Four proofs for the yes hypothesis.
Let’s briefly forget Generations Z and Alpha – and look at older people. AR glasses are already in standard use at the operators of large industrial plants that are scattered all over the world. For remote maintenance, engineers remotely switch to the glasses of an on-site technician. Both sets of eyes can then look into the machine, display blueprints and videos – all directly where everything is happening.
Or look at today’s car models. In many vehicles, individual pieces of information are displayed directly on the windscreen – projected directly into the driver’s field of vision while they are driving. The technology is expected to become considerably smarter. The networked windscreen will then become a screen that displays lots of other information. A “Wrong-way driver ahead” warning could save lives if it flashed up on the windscreen just in time.
All this is already augmented reality. You can see on YouTube just how realistic artificial realities in VR can appear. “Richie’s Plank Experience” is a game in which, by means of a VR headset, you step out of the lift on the top floor of a skyscraper, see the abyss below you, and have to balance for a few metres on a steel girder. There are funny videos of people wearing VR headsets who are standing on their living room carpet but are scared to move forward another millimetre. So how would it be with a combined AR/VR headset?
While my generation still asks why the internet has to be experienced in 3D, Generation Alpha plays its favourite video games in these worlds. Fortnite, Minecraft or Roblox – in relation to gamers of all age groups, young people under the age of 20 use pre-metaverse games to a far larger extent. More than half of Roblox players are 13 or younger.
The internet in 3D is in itself not mixed reality. But when you look into the metaverse, it’s clear that the worlds are becoming blurred. Today, the precursor versions of Decentraland and The Sandbox already give us an idea of what the virtual 3D universe can do.
You enter the world via an avatar (as is also the case with Fortnite, Minecraft and Roblox). And you also meet other avatars that you can play with, work with, go shopping with, or simply just talk to. Your alter ego speaks with your voice. Or you can speak into your mobile phone’s microphone and the avatar’s lips move in sync. Do you fancy a virtual walk together with real voices? Then let’s meet on the beach in Tel Aviv. I liked it very much when I was (really) there recently. Today, it’s already no problem to take a virtual walk.
Let’s stay with avatars for a while. I find it incredibly exciting to observe how children play 3D games. Preparing for the actual game and creating one’s own avatar is at least as important as the later action itself. Avatars are not only function holders like the game pieces in Ludo. They are distinct personalities that you create yourself.
You can change the look of your avatar with different skins and clothes, give it different personalities, have it play an instrument, or give it superpowers. Fashion labels from which clothes for avatars can be bought? These have existed for some time. The German designer Philipp Plein is something of a figurehead in this area. And in Fortnite, the (real) megastar Ariana Grande has already appeared as an avatar. A million-strong audience of avatars danced and sang along with their star. A mega event in the world of virtual reality.
Merged worlds that are nurtured and cherished arise in this way. So is it totally absurd if at some point you want to buy property in the metaverse? What if a city is created – only – in the metaverse that is totally trendy? If you want to get in, though, you have to pay or acquire a property in the best location. Do you think that’s mad? You could be right. Or maybe the one who’s right is the prestigious Morgan Stanley bank, which sees an 8-billion-dollar market in the multiverse.
Should you find smart lenses and cities in the metaverse too fantastic, then here I have a very current proof. Generation Z when shopping – anyone who thinks that teenagers and young adults shop only at Zalando or elsewhere online is mistaken.
In-person stores are very important for them – they like going into physical shops. For some of them, it’s even more important than it is for older generations. However, Generation Z combines the advantages of offline and online shopping. All the Gen Z boutiques have – if you like – digital twins as social media stores. There you can also make purchases, but above all follow what’s currently trendy. These are set up not as merely virtual display shelves, but as fan shops. And for the latest model, queues then form outside the real shop.
In the shop, they always have their smartphones in their hand. The target group attaches great importance to supporting sales information, which can be consumed directly on site. Whether the Gen Zs buy the goods or not is something they may not necessarily decide for themselves. While still in the changing room, they post stories and ask the online community whether they should buy. The “thumbs up” (or down) feedback arrives immediately. This generation has no problem with buying the (sneaky) advertising recommendation of a trusted influencer. So what real use could these shoppers make of data glasses?
I admit that my “proofs” are still weak. But we at ERGO are continuing to develop our hybrid customer approach towards worlds of experience in which mixtures of real and digital worlds overlap, all the way down to influencers, in order to address new customer groups. Even the metaverse is currently being opened up, in order for us to have a presence there as well.
For some years now, we’ve no longer differentiated between customers according to their digital or analogue affinity. We accept them as they are, which is to say as hybrid consumers of goods and insurance services. On their customer journey, they jump from one channel to the other, depending on their current needs. We call the concept “hybrid customer” and are seeing that it is also increasingly gaining traction with competitors.
We would do well to develop it further, create VR/AR applications and soon open our first ERGO store in the metaverse. For no-one can say today whether the trendy virtual city will someday also need insurance cover.