When we think of robots, generally two pictures spring to mind. First, many will picture robots that are synonymous with Hollywood or television – think Transformers through to the Cybermen from Dr Who. The other image that might spring to mind is industrial robots – caged behemoths in a manufacturing setting, carrying out often dangerous tasks such as welding.
This is because these concepts are not only well established, but well publicised too. Robots have always been portrayed either as friend or foe. From the Cybermen looking to take over planet earth through to the cheeky industrial robot looking to improve the Citroen Picasso, the way they are presented in everyday life is very stark, which of course informs perception.
It’s no secret that in the UK robots are perhaps viewed with more suspicion than in other countries, and this is reflected in the UK having the lowest robot density in the G7 and beyond. They are commonly portrayed as tools to take jobs away from people because fear sells better than reason. The fact this has been disproved, especially following the advent of collaborative robots (cobots) is only just starting to sink into consciousness. They don’t take jobs, they remove repetitive, low skilled tasks, allowing humans to do more interesting and skilled work – a win/win you would think.
Perhaps it will take the devastating effects of the pandemic, and the need to physically distance for some to finally realise the value a robot can add in the workplace, and how they augment, not replace employees.
The fact of the matter is that robots are becoming increasingly sophisticated, and will have a more prominent role to play in everyday life henceforth. The UK only needs to look at other countries – like Denmark – to see how an automated workforce has helped it. Despite constant labour shortages thanks to its small population of six million, it’s the fourth most productive nation in the world. The UK lies in 17th. In the new post COVID world, robots could have a vital role to play thanks to the fact they don’t need to socially distance, and can work when humans can’t. They don’t tire, don’t get sick and happily take on repetitive, monotonous tasks.
But for this transformation to take place, their perception needs to change – therefore so too does their messaging. It’s time to take a more aggressive approach and be bold to help move the dial.
As I see it, robots provide clear benefits in both work and home environments – it’s now about communicating those unique selling points and using emotion to our advantage, instead of letting the tabloids spread unfounded fear. The UK will need automation to help it recover and robotics should be a key part in this. Communicating to end users just how they can benefit, and taking on their negative perceptions should be central to this. From talking about cost, return on investment (ROI) and installation time, through to the need to balance workforces and automation as busy factories and manufacturing plants will need to manage social distancing for months and possibly years to come. Now is a time to be bullish – change is here, so use words and content to your advantage to help push prospects down the sales funnel by showing them at every touchpoint how your robotics product could make their lives easier.
We’re all entering a very new set of circumstances which no one is fully sure how to navigate yet. However, one thing is for sure. Robotics companies have the chance to juggernaut their place in the UK industrial setting if they can conquer that final hurdle – emotive perception. My advice for those companies looking to overcome this is to be punchy, target end users and buyers who will respond to what you have to say, and give them compelling content at every touchpoint so they have no reason to say no. It’s also time to take a stand in the media, and robotics companies should feel emboldened to take on the negative headlines as they have earned the right to demonstrate fact from fiction. Personally, I think we could be entering the fifth industrial revolution with robots at the heart of the UK’s recovery; it’s an exciting time and I for one can’t wait to see what happens next.
By Fiona M.