Imagine there was a digital version of you that you could use to see how you would change and age as years go by? Or a data-based clone that could tell you how your body would respond to exercise, diet, stress, or medication?
While such virtual twins are not yet available for humans, they are already commonplace in heavy industry like machine manufacturing, oil and mining. And they could soon be coming soon to a marketing campaign near you.
Digital twins, which are used to model the workings of assets ranging from buildings to jet engines, may be about to edge into the marketing sector, experts believe.
Although not many people are aware of it yet, "I see a lot of potential for this," says Rajesh Bhargave, assistant professor of marketing at Imperial College Business School in London, United Kingdom.
A bits-and-bytes model of a complex product such as a wind turbine can be used to predict when parts might fail or what impact upgrades might have.
These kinds of models, so far, have largely been used to learn what can be done to make the products last longer and work better. Knowing when an item might break, for instance, can help the owner make sure there is a spare on hand.
When it comes to selling products to people on the street, though, better knowledge of how a product will behave over its lifetime can help brands offer value-added features, such as special service plans or upgrades. And this could lead to a big change in the way brands target people.
"Right now, when we look at the data consumers are giving, it's mainly based on them recognizing a need," Bhargave says.
For instance, a tire company might know your car needs new tires because you search for ‘new tires' on the internet. With a digital twin, the brand might be able to predict when your tires will wear out and send you an offer before you even knew you needed it.
"It's a level of awareness that isn't currently being met," says Bhargave. "Consumers want content that is relevant but, even more, recognizes a need."
Although the use of digital twins for sales is only just starting to take off, some companies are already on board.
"When writing Futureproof," says Daniel Newman, principal analyst at Futurum Research and CEO of the Broadsuite Media Group, "we researched companies using the technology and one example is the bicycle maker Trek, which has used digital twins to pilot and test new models."
This is shortening sales cycles, improving quality control, and increasing profit. In time, Newman says, "everything from product testing to customization can benefit from digital twins."
Because it is complex to model real-life objects over time, it is likely that digital twins will start with high-value items, such as cars. But this could change as it gets cheaper to crunch the data.
In the future, Bhargave believes, common goods like shoes, might have digital twins that are kept up to date with real-time data via the Internet of Things.
Some might balk at the notion that a footwear brand could hit you up for a new pair of sneakers before your current shoes wear out, of course. And this is where brands will have to learn to use digital twins with care, Bhargave says.
"If applications can be based on those kinds of things where it really is solving a problem for consumers, like reordering and making life easy, then I think it'll be a very popular technology," he says. "But it remains to be seen how they play it out."