When Your Brand Has To Talk

There is always some hot new idea in branding, endlessly hyped with breathless promises of game-changing and revolutionary disruption, always discussed as if it is just right around the corner. The latest has been about automation (the trifecta of robotics, digital assistants, and artificial intelligence), proclaiming industry disruption, transforming consumer behavior, even predicting massive economic upheaval with massive job displacement. Reality or hype?

I believe it to be very much reality, given the exponential rate of growth in these foundational areas of robotics, voice recognition, and artificial intelligence. Just examine the pace of progress in driverless cars/trucks, digital assistants, or logistics automation. Five years ago, all were seen as still relatively nascent, something that would happen eventually. Even today, our Treasury Secretary declared that massive disruption due to these areas was still 50 or 100 years away. But driverless cars are on the road today logging millions of miles, a startup Soul Machines has developed a very realistic human-like service chatbot, and Amazon is launching automated retail stores. These are not fringe scientists or futurists making sensational claims. It is engineers making these very real things and simply doing what they do best - failing fast, iterating, and refusing to accept dogma 

What does this have to do with brands? It means a lot of how we’ve approached branding needs to change. Yes, again and yes, already. When social media became a part of our cultural fabric, we moved away from the traditional one-way mode of communication (well, some brands did). Soon, with inexpensive, low-power listening technology becoming pervasive, our customers will be able to interact directly with us through our brands at a zero moment of truth. No? In the near future, driverless vehicles (or little robots/drones) will be delivering pizza. Amazon is testing the delivery of groceries and products in automated retail outlets. Chat bots are already providing a lot of customer service. And these opportunities are the exact situations you want, chances to immediately talk to consumers when they are making a decision or experiencing a problem.

What it means, though, is we have to think differently about what branding means and how it manifests in consumers’ day-to-day life. If you knew that your brand could intelligently “talk” to your customers at almost any interaction (without human intervention), what would you do differently? What would you need to think about? What skill sets would you want on your team? Some thought starters:

  • Include software engineers and digital experts on your team, so they understand how to apply the brand’s expression

  • Create a “human” version of your brand. What does he/she look like? What are their personality, beliefs, and language? What is their sense of humor? How would they dress? How would they talk to someone?

  • How does your brand fit into day-to-day life? What are the different situations in which your brand might find itself? How would it respond if engaged in what’s happening? 

This transformation is going to happen a lot faster than you expect. If you get ahead of the game and think through it, you’ll have an advantage over your competitors and life will be pretty sweet. If not, well, you’re going to go through a lot of unnecessary stress. But I’m sure there will be an automated therapist bot that can help you with that. 😬