A behavioral and technological revolution is upon us and it’s a marketer’s dream.
The widespread availability of smartphones, picture messaging technology and lightning-fast networks have changed how we communicate. The days of text-based communication are dwindling, thanks to high-quality imaging combined with easy portability. If the human brain really does process visual images 60,000 times faster than text, based on research from 3M Corp., why have we spent so much time developing textbased solutions?
The powerful imaging technology in today’s mobile devices is transforming the way people interact, work and learn, and it is allowing for highly-customized, targeted, immersive mobile marketing experiences. When done correctly, these advanced technologies are not intrusive or unsolicited. Instead, they feel natural, as if your smartphone is simply an extension of your personal preferences and everyday life. Powerful visual communication, delivered at the exact moment of relevance, creates exciting new business models and will delight consumers by putting highly-digestible information in their hands.

Images at the Forefront

Facebook paid $1 billion for Instagram. Twitter paid a reported $1 million for Vine and shortly after, the number of Vines (six-second videos) shared on Twitter doubled. We are on the cusp of a new wave of image-based technology, services and applications. With an estimated 2.7 billion cameras in mobile devices expected to ship in 2018 (ABI Research), and 500 million photos uploaded and shared per day (KPCD, Internet Trends 2012), trillions of images will be taken, edited, posted, tagged, stored and commented upon.
Many of the breakthrough apps in the last few years are imagingoriented. Pinterest, Instagram and Snapchat are based on the principle that images say more than words. Most recently, TechCrunch showcased data from comScore showing Pinterest was the fastest independent site to hit 10 million monthly unique views in the U.S., making it the fastest growing social platform in history. Even Twitter has seen leaps in engagement when a tweet carries an image. The largest social networks like Facebook and Google+ are quickly revamping their layouts to bring images to the forefront of their communities.
Today there are more than 2.7 million “likes” and 300 million photos uploaded each day on Facebook. This breaks down to nearly 3,000 images posted per second. These vast numbers highlight the need to improve the overall quality, ease of editing, storage and management of the tsunami of images being shared each day.
Yet these are just basic uses. Soon, these will be seen as the foundation for a future rich with “smart” image-based applications and services. The common idea of “smart” in reference to mobile has come to mean much more than convenient.

Smart Imaging Takes the Lead

Smart imaging should now signify actual software “thinking” capability that combines pattern, facial and gesture recognition technologies in novel ways to provide services tailored to a customer’s particular needs. Gesture and facial recognition technology are coming to the forefront as more companies compete in the digital imaging space.
ABI predicts within one year there will be mass adoption of this technology driven by mobile devices and tablets. It is projected that more than 600 million smartphones and mobile devices will be shipped with vision-based gesture recognition features in 2017 (ABI Research).
Consider these technologies in a marketing and advertising context. We could see ads that animate when the technology detects your head has turned toward the screen. Or rich content that pops up when it detects your eyes lingering on a particularly attractive image—say, for example, a beautiful white sandy beach. Gesture and facial recognition and its technology cousins are creating new ways to bring us information we may not have known we wanted, at just the right moment.
Most recently, we’ve seen facial recognition technology pick up speed. Three dimensional facial recognition technologies use sensors to capture information about the shape of a face and to identify distinct facial features such as the contour of the eyes, nose, chin and general surface of the face. Facial recognition technology was branded as a significant technological advancement in a recent piece on 60 Minutes. As Lesley Stahl reported, “the ability of computers to identify faces has gotten 100 times better, a million times faster and exponentially cheaper.”
In addition to new criminal justice, medical and educational implications that facial recognition will provide, innovative image technology is breathing new life into advertising and marketing campaigns. Being able to recognize a human face with a simple smartphone camera sensor is like something out of a Ray Bradbury novel, but it’s here and the possibilities are endless.
Imagine the potential opportunities to blend smart imaging with bricks-and-mortar retail marketing:
• You’re at the mall and looking for new sunglasses. An app scans your face using your smartphone camera and directs you to the nearest sunglass retailer with glasses perfect for the proportions of your face.
• You are walking through a shopping area and the technology on the billboard recognizes that you are a certain age and gender. The billboard content changes to target whatever you may be looking for, such as that perfect pair of sandals or perhaps golf clubs that are 20 percent off at a local retailer.
• Your sulky teen needs a haircut. Now. He agrees to go on condition that he can check out the possibilities digitally first, so the stylist knows exactly what to do, with no misunderstanding.

Will Text-Based Marketing Become Passé?

With future imaging trends being a driving force in consumer interactions on mobile devices, where we will be in five, 10 or even 20 years? As we turn to images more as a way to communicate and connect with consumers, will text-based communication and marketing completely diminish? Will Twitter and other text-based social networks completely die off?
The amount of information we consume on a daily basis is increasing. As a part of this uniquely converse relationship, the window of opportunity to grab a consumer’s attention is rapidly decreasing. Actual images help us communicate faster, and imaging technologies can assist marketers in knowing what to offer consumers and when.
Imaging technology will have a lasting impact on the marketing industry for years to come. The most astute technology companies will be riding this massive innovation wave—and using new technologies that are smarter than ever to deliver engaging and relevant information directly to the consumer’s fingertips.
Todd Peters is president, North America, of ArcSoft.