3D Printing

Brand, Marketing – 2014 and beyond

These are not really trends or predictions, it’s more a set of drivers and their impact on the domain of brand marketing.

Technology: Disruption is an abused word, but I think technology is the biggest disruption that marketing has experienced. Yes, it has been so every time a new medium cropped up, but this wave is special. In this largish bucket, I’m dumping everything from the Internet of Things (IoT, which, in addition to really smarter devices and spaces, will also, I hope, give the entire domain of social a reboot) to 3D printing (HP’s entry, scheduled for mid 2014, should push this further in the mainstream journey) to wearable tech/techsessories (Google Glass is the poster boy, though development is happening on various fronts) to Social TV. (a classic example of how social adds itself as a layer to existing media platforms and augments it)  I also add to this the advancements in devices – specifically mobile, which is already forcing marketers to quickly rework their strategy to adapt. The reason I used the word disruption is because by fostering a new kind of phenomenon like say, the collaborative economy, and getting ready to challenge traditional manufacturing, technology is going beyond its role as an enabler and changing brand experiences.

Marketing Technology: While the first point was about technology in a relatively generic sense, this is is about the application of technology and associated tools in the marketing domain. This is everything from marketing automation to web content management to advertising technology and so many, many more things which will probably make a move towards mainstream in 2014. This very popular image would give you a vastness of this domain. With the kind of data that phenomena like IoT and wearable tech will spew out, and the levels of customisation that customers expect, everyone, across domain would have to at least attempt Amazonian levels of efficiency.  Also, increasingly, technology will help us integrate offline with digital. (example)

We can scream buzzword, but big data exists, and we’re only taking baby steps towards harnessing it. I can already see the first levels of it in social media advertising, where intelligent tools and dashboards allow not just better and real time targeting but also better analytics on everything from planning to attribution, to aid decision making. Extrapolate this to multiple media platforms, devices, delivery channels within each and think of the possibilities. I think the domain will move much faster because of two reasons – one, the fragmentation of marketing channels and the impossibility of managing it with only manpower resources, and two, the marketer’s ROI obsession. To quote Scott Brinker, “software is the new fabric of marketing” I see the ‘big’ in big data moving on two paths simultaneously – qualitatively big that would help in personalisation, and quantitatively big that would help in scaling. (mass customisation for larger audience sets, better targeted)

Agile Marketing: Yes, we have borrowed it from the software development guys. No, it’s not really new, nor is it surprising because if marketing is getting a technology influx, it is only obvious that software processes might be a good way to approach marketing. Everything that I have written above will ensure that by design or not, marketers will increasingly be forced to adopt this methodology as the days of predictable media platforms draw to a close. In a dynamic business environment, where new platforms are popping up regularly, and even known platforms are changing their rules constantly, the only way to cope, let alone thrive, would be to run various simulations continuously,  iterate and develop incrementally, break silos and communicate effectively, and have flexible frameworks that can be more responsive to the speed of the change cycles.  What I hope to see this year – at least at an early stage – are software/tools that are customised to the requirements of marketing. But irrespective of that, get ready to sprint! (read more)

Promotainment: Roughly, the phenomenon formerly known as advertising. Thanks to everything above, creativity will need to be channeled differently. In YouTube’s top trends for 2013, three branded videos managed to capture a place for themselves. But this only covers part of the story. Mere entertainment will not be enough to bond with the consumer, for sufficient pull to happen, brands will have to define a purpose (business and beyond) that will resonate with consumers, and treat it differently according to contexts. These contexts could be platforms, locations, topical opportunities and a host of other things, with each experience adding to the perceptions of the consumer. Experiences and ‘content’ need to be created for each of these contexts, and brands need to reboot the way they handle communication. (The Making of a Content Brand) The other key player in this mix is privacy – everything from transience (eg. Snapchat) to the ‘negotiation’ with consumers on what information they share to get what benefit. Customisation as per contexts and audiences and yet cohesive within the larger purpose framework. Not an easy challenge. (A wonderful take on this, and more from Vyshnavi Doss – Brand Avatars)

Marketing Organisation: I came across the fascinating Big Shift concept and the three ‘waves‘ – foundation, flow and impact – only recently. The third wave is how organisations respond to the fundamental shifts in knowledge and the flow of information that are characteristic of the first two waves. While this is a larger institutional shift, its impact will also felt in the structure of the marketing organisation. Add to this, the transformation required for agile methodologies and a fundamentally different content marketing process, and the existing marketing silos have no choice but to evolve. Technologists, ROI drivers, specialists in different kinds of brand experiences – real time, real (offline) and otherwise, data wizards to analyse the tons of data streaming in, CRM folks, creative people and many more will be part of this new structure that realigns the marketing domain to fit the new business landscape dynamics. (a good illustration)

These subjects, and in my mind, one of its results –  social business – will form the majority of this blog’s content in 2014. We’re at the cusp of an extremely interesting era in brand marketing, thanks to radical shifts in pretty much everything happening around us – what I keep referring to as institutional realignment. Here’s to an exciting year ahead!

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 until next time, have a wonderful 2014!

Time Vault

bottle3

This was my ‘water bottle’ at Myntra, and the victim of many of my colleagues’ jokes, mostly thanks to its size. It is really tiny, and you could finish all the water in it in one gulp. It has been disfigured many a time, courtesy its battles with hot water. But it bears its scars with dignity, even though it wobbles a bit. It also seems to have a fair amount of stature, since at least three of my colleagues asked me if they could take the bottle after I left. I refused, but now that I’m ready to join the new workplace, I don’t know if I should use it anymore. But I don’t want to throw it away either, since it holds a lot of memories and in future, will probably be the only unchanged remnant of some good times. I wish I could store it somewhere, but I’m also trying to get rid of my hoarding habit!

That’s what led me to think of this concept – since we’re in the era of 3D scanning and 3D printing, theoretically it should be possible to construct a 3D scan of the bottle with its basic dimensions, exact contours, texture of material etc and store it. I should then be able to print out an exact replica using a 3D printer. These technologies are not yet mainstream, but I’m wondering if this could be a way of storing memories. We can store images, text, sounds easily now but not smell, taste and touch. This could at least take care of the touch aspect.

At some point in the future, I’m hoping if it’ll be possible to store such treasures as a file and print them out whenever I feel like it. An entire folder full of memories – of different times in my lives, that I can easily bring to life. It would be like a time vault. Vault as a noun -storehouse – and vault as a verb – leaping, in this case across time thanks to ‘physical’ memories. Maybe, in the future, we could live in the past for a day, and come back.

until next time, the future of memories

Manufacturer, Market, Media

Sometime last year at Myntra, we were having a planning meeting and everyone was asked for their take on the future of (fashion) e-commerce in a 5 year time frame. I confessed that I had no idea, and asked the group whether they had heard of 3D printing. Since this was before the hype machine went into overdrive, none had. My perspective was that if I could print branded merchandise on my own, what would be the role of an intermediary? (interestingly, I read something on a similar note more recently)   I have no idea how mainstream this phenomenon will become, but 3D printers are already being sold online by Staples and Amazon. eBay also has an app that allows users to buy custom goods from three of the top 3D printing companies. (via)

There are multiple themes which we can explore from here – the augmented human, the collaborative economy and social commerce – to name a couple. But since these are fairly obvious and have at least been kickstarted on the blog, I thought of connecting this to my post from last week – the future of owned media – in which I explored the possibility of a media marketplace which is tapped by businesses to create, curate and possibly even market content that is relevant to them. The journalism that brands want subsidising the journalism that society needs. I hypothesised whether Bezos’ purchase of WaPo was a vague start to this, given Amazon’s presence in multiple domains.

It’s interesting that Bezos had invested in MakerBot, probably the original poster boy of 3D printer manufacturing, (via) but thinks the digitisation of physical goods is a while away. It becomes even more interesting when WaPo publishes a story on the business case for 3D printing in the context of e-com players’ need to minimise delivery time. The long tail would explode even more! The article also mentions how “Amazon’s giant fulfillment centers could be another place where just-in-time manufacturing and delivery come together.

What role does media play in this? IMO, we’re increasingly moving towards interest based communities and our consumption of media is influenced by this. With Kindle, WaPo and several other components in the mix, Amazon could indeed be well placed to aggregate the long tail of not just creators and consumers of physical goods, but information (media) as well.

until next time, the Amazon of news

Humachines and the role reversal

In his post ‘Virtual People‘, Scott Adams writes that his generation would be the last of the ‘pure humans’  raised with no personal technology. Someday historians will mark the smartphone era as the beginning of the Cyborg Age. From this day on, most kids in developed countries will be part human and part machine. As technology improves, we will keep adding it to our bodies.

Singularity has appeared on this blog in various forms, and in at least a couple of posts, I have written about the augmented human, and like the proverbial frog in the slowly-boiling water, we wouldn’t know when it happened. (check this post for a fantastic short film on the subject) In fact, medical applications of 3D Printing are already accepted and on the rise. Not just ‘accessories like hearing aids or dental braces, we have moved on to a lower jaw, (previous link) 75% of the skullan ear, and yes, ‘cyborg flesh‘! It’s obvious that the applications are improving the lives of many. My question though remains – as we replace more and more of ourselves, possibly the brain itself within my lifetime, what happens to the essence of us that makes us human – the feelings, the emotions, the zillion unique reactions to various physical and mental stimuli?

In this wonderful post titled “How not to be alone“, in which the author writes about how we have begun to prefer (diminished) technological substitutes to face-to-face communication, (I couldn’t help but remember this)  he quotes Simone Weil, “Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.” And from that statement I realised how the the narrative might come full circle – I remembered this post I had read a few months back. It mentions bots that have passed the Turing test (“test of a machine’s ability to exhibit intelligent behaviour equivalent to, or indistinguishable from, that of an actual human”) and has a compelling argument that while we’re singular entities with a complex design, we’re still just blueprints –  with many similarities. This also  entails that we’re building machines that can mimic, and evoke, our emotions. Thus, he writes, the era of artificial emotional intelligence is not far.

Perhaps, in the future we will outsource our humanity and reverse roles – half-machine former humans who deal with each other in mechanical ways and go back home to a humanoid bot that will give it all the empathy and emotional anchoring needed. Or would it need it at all? :)

until next time, be human, comment 😀

For brands to make it….

At #SBS2013 Jeff Dachis posed an interesting thought, captured by Gautam in this tweet.

Both Gautam and Haroon then shared interesting links in this context – content from Jeremiah Owyang and Loic Le Meur respectively. (had not seen the first one before) The ‘lunch conversation’ didn’t really happen around this, so I thought I’ll share my thoughts here. :)

Jeremiah’s post also has a link that shows how fast this collaborative economy is growing. Recently, he also wrote a post on the ‘maker movement’, and his experiences at a fair he attended. It also had a short note on how brands could leverage the movement – become enablers, building a marketplace around themselves, and offer customised products directly to individuals.

At #SBS2013, as part of my presentation on ‘The Currencies of Engagement @ Scale‘ I’d shared a rendition of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to show how engagement should be scaled to (also) satisfy the needs (of a user from a brand) at the top of the pyramid. (slide 17 here) It had both collaborative consumption and co-creation listed as narratives because they traded in the currencies of community and esteem respectively.

At this stage, I thinks brands have a great chance of being a significant part of the ‘maker movement’ if they can change the outlook of their business processes – from production to marketing. After all, they’re makers too, except that when they attained massive scale, they moved more and more towards a one-size-to-fit-everyone approach, pursuing efficiency @ scale. Again, it is not as though brands who do not change will suddenly cease to exist – it’s just that their narratives won’t be strong enough for any affinity. As I said in  the presentation, there is a limit to the currencies of efficiency narratives – cheaper, faster etc – because once a better player comes along, a switch is imminent.

In the medium term, these brands will exist because not everyone has the same involvement with every category. Let’s take the example of an automobile. I still ride a two-wheeler, because for me the narrative is a very functional one – move from Point A to Point B. When I do buy a car, it will continue to exist in the functionality narrative, but I know several for whom the car is a reflection of their achievements in life. Just like the t-shirts I wear are a representation of my philosophies. For those several, a t-shirt might just be another garment they wear, or again, a representation of their material possessions – easily captured by wearing a costly brand with little involvement in the design. My belief is that in every domain, there’ll be enough consumers who buy a brand for the currencies they offer at lower levels, (price, convenience etc) and that will continue to be the short head. (in the long tail concept) But as time passes, the economics won’t work out because the resources a brand has to spend to keep its consumers would prove to be far more than the money it makes out of them.

At this point, all the narratives at the higher levels of the pyramid (co-creation, collaborative consumption) are in the long tail, but brands will soon realise that with evolving technology dynamics, it will have to learn to cater to the long tail, where the currencies will be different. This is most definitely an evolution and not a sudden shift. For starters, brands would have to learn the new dynamics of production and distribution and the impact on their balance sheets. They will have to learn balancing acts. Imagine a branded retail store that allows you to buy their regular products as well as make your own versions (which are also branded – hello NikeID) at various levels of customisation. In terms of economies of scale, the former would be better off with traditional mass production and the latter with a technology like 3D Printing. The online version of this store would also have both, and probably the ability to buy the materials and print it yourself as well.

It is not just the production side which will require a balancing act, think of what the brand stands for. It needs to speak different languages to different kinds of consumers – from the guy who wants a convenient off-the-shelf purchase to the guy who wants every-part-customised, so that both feel they’ll get value from the brand. There are nuances as well – sometimes my association with the brand is not because it allows co-creation or collaborative consumption, it is only because I identify and relate to other things they stand for – and my consumption of them deals with the currencies in community or esteem. In short, what does it mean for brands? Exactly what’s happening to everything else – massive disruption. The way to tackle it is to try and get a bearing of the narratives your brand should be part of, (oh yes, Big Data and predictive analytics can help) because no brand can compete for every consumer with every maker.

until next time, break first, then make

Bonus Read: Emerging Bets at the Intersection of Technology & Culture