Recently, on Netflix, I caught something that I had read about almost a year back – an easter egg of sorts. On my feed, I saw shows ‘watched by Frank Underwood’. For those who haven’t watched House of Cards, that’s the name of the show’s protagonist, played by Kevin Spacey. (fantastically, I’d add) The shows selected seem absolutely true to (his) character, which is manipulative, scheming, and truly Machiavellian!
A couple of months ago, I had written a post on the inevitable ambient future of what we now call the internet, and the role of AI in it. The post was mostly on the rapidly changing nature of interfaces. The ones we actively interact with – mobile, VR/AR, gesture/haptic based tech – and the relatively more ambient ones like a certain kind of wearables and IoT. In that post, the argument was that Google was best placed to tie together data from mobile, social, sensor, location etc and give it context with the help of AI. (Hello, Alphabet!) As this Wired post states, Google is not a search company, it is a machine learning company. Do read about Google Brain while you’re at it! It has a role in several Google products we use, and shows the potential of what is possible when machine learning really works on content surfacing.
But all that is only context setting. Something that has been occupying a lot of my mind space these days is the impact of these continuing developments on brand communication and distribution. For years, the limitations of traditional media have forced brands to communicate to lumpy masses of ‘target audiences’. As the internet transitions into a much more ambient an ubiquitous form, all of brand marketing will be digital either overtly or under the hood. But even digital’s early versions have been on the same path, with incremental changes based on intent/interest. That, I think, is about to change fast. This superb article on the same subject puts it really well – we need not simply digital strategies but strategies for a digital world. It also explores the technological and platform advances that will allow frictionless experiences for consumers and what it means for brands. More
The Guardian had an interesting post recently, titled “Brand is becoming meaningless“, it (brand) is being replaced by a company purpose that the organisation can rally around. Yes, there is a study that this is linked to, and quotes. To paraphrase, brand is the effect, not the cause, and that has made it lose its fashionable shine. Someone should tell Maggi this, they just lost $200 mn in brand value, even as the corresponding goods value is ‘only’ $50 mn! (via) Now, just so we are clear, I am not completely against this thought, all the more because this is something I have been writing about for a while now.
I recently contributed a column in Pitch on the role of mass media in building ecommerce brands. You can catch it here.
The last time I wrote about the Internet of Things, I hoped for an application layer that could sense and collect data and convert it into use cases. In fact, the title of the post was Interweb of Things, the nuanced difference between them being connection (IoT) and interoperability. (WoT) (read) In the few months since that post, there has been quite some activity in the space. I saw a very useful classification a few days ago that illustrated both the ‘things’ as well as the infrastructure and showed the possibilities of interoperability. (via)
It was mid last year when I wrote The Change Imperative, which was as much a note on massively changing business dynamics as it was a note to self. I thought the new year was a perfect time to revisit and explore how brands and business can use change as an opportunity. The new year sees a glut of predictions, trends, insights etc, but the one I look forward to is the JWT Future 100. This year too, it impressed me with unique insights and potentially far reaching consequences. But in the change’ context, I found slides 33 and 52 most interesting. Both of these were related to brand strategy – 33 (Third Way Commerce) was about how millennials were looking for brands with clear values, and 52 (The Long Near Game) was on brands taking a dualist approach to balance short and long term goals.
In my mind, they are related, as brands are making efforts to maintain/create business models that are buffered from current and future shocks and can remain relevant now and later. I found an intersection of the two thoughts in a couple of places. The first was in this post by David Card on new models of disruption. The first model brought up in this is “Adjacency Platforms”, which is about platforms migrating into new markets or industries. Apple’s iOS moving to payment is the example given here. This thought is also echoed in slides 24-28 of this trends presentation – the phrase used was Startups going ‘Full Stack’. I particularly liked this framing of the thought – It’s not like a brand like Virgin diversifying to follow an audience, it’s diversifying to follow an expertise. Both fantastic approaches, I must say, because they’re based on consumers who believe in the brand’s values. [I believe that Uber is a brand with much potential in this respect – check this]
Since the time I wrote An Internet of Things narrative, its trajectory and pace has seen tremendous acceleration, to an extent where TC has claimed that it has reached escape velocity. Indeed, there is a whole lot of activity happening that would back this claim – startups, larger companies getting interested in the space, geographic expansion and so on. In fact, the article has what seems like a comprehensive chart on applications, platforms etc.
In my earlier post (linked above) I had pointed to the distinction between the Internet of Things and the Web of Things. What was then a nuance seems much more wider now and is even more relevant. Another article on TC, titled The Problem with the Internet of Things is actually about this. One of the products that has fascinated me for a while is Mother, from Sen.se. To me, it aims to solve this problem, and the last two points in their ‘Creating the Internet of Life’ document is proof of it. (Like wearables in 2014, I plan to get a consumer IoT experience in 2015, and this is most likely going to be my preference) Another simplistic but potentially very useful product I have seen is Flic. The last example is Signul, which uses a beacon system to automate things used in daily lives. (both on Indiegogo)
Recently, I was part of an interesting round table discussion organised by afaqs and IBM around “Technology in Marketing“. While we did stick to the subject, in my mind, I was also wondering about the impact this (topic) was having on the idea of brand. It has been only 4 years since I had last held a brand job, (I left TOI in 2010) but I can safely say that the landscape has changed massively. A few thoughts –
Time: The cycles of brand building have been massively reduced. This is not a 2010 phenomenon, but to give you some perspective, in that year Flipkart was just venturing beyond books and hardly the well known brand it is now. Zomato was a ‘promising startup’ according to a list made by the Smart Techie magazine and had just expanded beyond a single city. The flip side is that some of the other startups in that list no longer exist. AlooTechie, which reported this, also does not exist. I had a Nokia E series phone then, and they are pretty much a non entity now. In short, that word – change, and it’s faster than ever! It is said that brands get built over time, but do business cycles allow that liberty now?
Geography: A cliche used frequently is “Geography is history”, but a little incident reminded me that it may not altogether be true. One of the regular conversations these days is around taxi rentals and Uber is a favourite among many of my friends. I casually asked them whether they knew of the heavy rap Uber was getting in the US for remarks allegedly made by a senior VP. (alternate perspective) They didn’t, and it isn’t as though they don’t consume news online. They missed it amidst all the ‘noise’. While a brand may be global, how much does its international stature impact regional preferences, even in this hyper connected era?
Last Thursday was my first anniversary at GroupM, and the next day was my last there. A short tenure, and one year in an agency is too less a timeframe to be exposed to all the facets, people and processes a large (media) agency has to offer. But limiting though it is, I’d still like to share my (limited) thoughts, because I wasn’t able to get these perspectives before I made the shift to the agency side. My contacts on the client side had near zero clue on life in an agency, and my agency friends were veterans who had always been on that side. It wouldn’t have occurred to them that these things might be unfamiliar to a n00b!
These are based on what I saw and experienced, and hence more subjective than objective. I’m restricting it to three aspects that bring out some good and some not-so-good points. More
Though not by design thus far, I have actually been expanding on the 4P (planning to add one more) framework I wrote about in Agile @ Scale. The attempt is to help me navigate the concept of brand in a rapidly changing landscape. The Change Imperative tried to showcase some of the possibilities of these dynamic shifts, and Revisiting Brand Purpose dwelt upon purpose in the framework. This post is on platforms. Though media platforms have been around for a while and have been utilised by brands, and the internet, mobile and different OS can also be treated as platforms, I’m choosing to focus on the brand/ organisation as a platform.
Thus far, the organisation as a platform has been built to leverage scale for competitive advantage. But technology and open platforms are easily on their way to make scale matter much less. As this post succinctly states, connections weigh more than efficiency now. So how can the organisation move towards connections?
My thought process on this was probably started in Social’s Second Chance. Social tools and platforms have brought the brand into full contact with the user and have caused paradigm shifts in not just marketing but across the organisation. This deck makes an insightful point that traditional marketing structures are dialectic in nature while social platforms are dialogic. That explains why brands are using social mostly as media and trying to frack it, despite there being better ways to approach it, even in the context of marketing. Experience > exposure is a lesson yet to be learnt.
Among other reasons, one of the big factors that are contributing to a resistance in truly embracing social in entirety is a fear – loss of control. This is a great read on designing for the loss of control and my biggest takeout from it is where it quotes from ‘The Power of Pull‘ – “shaping strategies” on the individual, institutional, and societal level.
I think there’s tremendous scope in rethinking the brand/organisation as a platform. In the bid for competitive advantage through scale and efficiency @ scale, it is possible that the organisation/brand has chosen to see value very myopically – as a transaction. What if the organisation transformed itself around connections – connecting employees to a sense of purpose, partners to the kind of work they’d want to associate with and its own narratives with that of the consumer’s? Of course there’d be transactions involved too, but how about engaging each in a way that understands and works with the unique value in every interaction within the context of a shared purpose?
(Arguable) I think efficiency lays more stress on methods, but engagement has the potential to focus on principles. Profitability at any cost vs value creation as a means to profitability. The choice might actually make the difference between survival and irrelevance.