‘Like Me: Our bond with brands,’ an interactive exhibition and panel event, was presented by Lippincott at Conde Nast Gallery at 1 World Trade Center.
Following its successful run in London last fall, the exhibition made its debut on September 26 here in NYC, and spotlights the role of brands in our lives and our influence on them back. The panel — compromised of CMOs from Lyft (Kira Wampler), CVS Health (Stephen Gold), IBM Watson (Norman de Greve) and Lippincott (John Marshall) — covers topics of control, intimacy, transparency and automation/AI as they pertain to the future of branding.
With the symbiotic rise of technology and consumer expectations increasingly disrupting standard branding practices, many businesses must rethink their strategy as we move toward a hyper-personalized, automated future. Brands are no longer a logo, color palette and kerning, but something much deeper, and the ones whose values resonate throughout every touch point will be best suited to adapt when virtual assistants, the Internet of Things and the whole gamut of impending technologies come knocking on our doors.
The inevitable hurdles of an increasingly technical ecosystem raise stimulating questions into how brands are to conduct business 10, 15 and 20 years from now. How can brands extract personal data for use in a transparent and noble manner? How will mass branding survive as customization becomes the norm in every aspect of life? And in an automated landscape, how do companies convince customers to put their lives behind the wheel of a driverless car?
“When you walk through the world, you’ll be creating this massive cloud of data around you, ripe with insights for brands to deliver highly personalized content. Branding involves and distributes a sense of trust that feeds into decision-making and underscores certain values that’s impossible to replace on a qualitative level.”
— John Marshall, in an answer to the question ‘what single technology presents the most challenge/opportunity for brands moving forward?.’
Big Data will supply a more informed, and therefore more intimate relationship with the customer to reach them in the right place, at the right time and with the right content.
Indeed, leveraging the mountainous supply of data to inform interactions with individuals will better persuade consumers to choose Progressive over Geico or McDonald’s over Burger King, but it will also serve to transform longstanding organizations and startups alike on a fundamental level. To actually realize this point of ‘standardized customization,’ brands will have to balance the autonomous, data-centric technology that’s emerging with an authentic and human-like personality. As Gold put it best, “the line between B2B and B2C is dissipating, and in its place businesses must strive towards a B2i (business to individual) model.”
There’s a certain participatory element between brand and consumer when an individual goes to design their own pair of Air Max’s. While he-she may know what they want their sneaker to look like, they don’t actually know, nor care to know certain details (such as what the midsole is made out of) — things that they trust Nike to take care of for them.
Similarly, in the era of mass 3D printing, when shoes won’t just be entirely your design, but will also be molded to your feet straight out of the box, Nike will have facilitated that process not because they’ll be the only ones doing it (they won’t be), but because they’ve established a culture of trust and innovation that has endured throughout a history of technological entries.
“The Hubble Telescope sees light-years away, we see three miles. We’re not displacing humans, we’re augmenting the reach of humanity. There’s a prescriptive connection between man and machine,” reasons de Greve. “Moving from the ‘artificial’ to the ‘augmented’ in context will afford a better relationship.”
We’re closing in on a data revolution, the likes of which will foster incredible growth for machine learning and robotics to automate low-level tasks, inform policy and executive decision-making, and trickle down into every aspect of how we go about our daily lives. While many are intimidated by this friend-or-foe rhetoric, there’s a genuine chance to leverage these tools to create new experiences and disrupt certain areas of how we live our lives.
“It’s less so about the technology and more so our reaction to it,” concludes Wampler. “It sounds counterintuitive, but humans will be participating in the autonomous world.” Brands may longer be able to govern what consumer interactions may look like, but they will still be able to participate in that interaction, and that is where the magic happens.
Consider the case of Airbnb (as noted within the exhibition): the bulk of the company experience lies in the hands of its hosts, and Airbnb has strategically adopted a hands-off approach to cultivate immersive experiences for its customers. By offering an open and trusting experience made tangible by relinquishing control, the company has just passed the $30 billion valuation mark, and has more importantly changed the face of traveling, tourism and hospitality. Though the micro and transactional interactions between travelers and hosts are each unique in their own right, the fact that it occurs on Airbnb’s platform is what makes the decacorn a decacorn.
“Decisions are made everyday that you can’t script, and consumers need to know what to expect from a brand and how things will happen,” says Gold. By staying consistent throughout each dialogue, purchase, service, use and afterthought, while still enabling and projecting the other party’s self-expression, companies will give rise to experiences long after the introduction of these profound technologies.
Written by Ido Lechner and originally published on PSFK on October 6, 2016.