Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

It’s about time

Time

There’s a question I’ve been asking myself for a while now – is time a man made construct or not? Days, seasons, years and cosmic events would happen even if we never tracked them, but our lives are defined by the time frame we live in – from a personal as well as socio-economic and technological standpoint. I recently got a perspective I thought I should share. I also found this overlapping with the devices we have used to track time. Hence these thoughts.

Form: For a while, the mobile phone was the watch, but wearables (my attempt at a primer) is the new entrant. I already see a little crossroad in wearables – the smartwatch/accessories like Glass, and the activity tracker, both connected to the mobile device. The former, in addition to being a chronograph, is aiming to be a personal assistant of sorts by aping many functions that a mobile phone does – GPS, messages and notifications, and contextually relevant information. (I liked this post on Google Now and Android Wear) The activity tracker, on the other hand, focuses more on fitness and health. What connects them is the battle for the wrist. Between Android and Apple, I’m hoping they combine both the above streams quickly. I’m also hoping that both will get better at moving from data to actionable insights.

Function: To bring the focus back to time, the form factor increasingly makes me think of time as an app. In this era, our control on time is negligible –  I can decide how I spend my day, (application of time) but I cannot really control my life span –  therefore we are bound to think of increasing its efficiency. I’d expect the device  to notify me on the best way to use my time – roughly speaking the bottom two levels (and a portion of the third) of my favourite framework – Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. But as we gain on immortality, we might have so much data on ourselves and the collective consciousness (related post) that it will offer more value in the top two levels – relevance and value to others (esteem) and self actualisation. The simple guiding thought is that isn’t time one of the only things that stops us from self actualisation, the other being economics?

Future: From a function perspective, I think the ambiguity on time (as a construct or not) exists because we can control it only partially. As we control it more and more our need to control it becomes lesser (increasing lifespans is one reason) it will automatically become a construct/’application’. (Very roughly, think of fire – before we learned to ‘create’ it, it might have been an enigma, but the moment we did, it was more an application.) Then, the decisions we make will probably be influenced less by time. Time will have to find a new way to be contextually relevant. Therefore, from a form factor perspective, I expect to see devices which provide us contextual applications of time wherever they are located eg. say bearables (implants, micro-devices attached to skin etc) that tell you it’s time for a heart checkup through an interface that’s probably an app on a portable device. It’s only a matter of time.

Even further on, the philosophical question to ask is that if one had an infinite supply of time, would one still measure it?

until next time, watch this space

Revisiting brand purpose

I had almost completed a post on brand purpose when I came across this.

discipline

I have realised that in my personal life, even ‘what you want most’ is a dynamic thing. I am not really arguing against discipline – there was a time when it kept the blog going. But what I wanted most was just simply that the blog shouldn’t die. To get back, in a rapidly changing environment, I sometimes feel that ‘living each moment fully’ is a better bet than a disciplined course of action towards a purpose.

Back to the brand purpose post. In the original draft, I had flipped Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. In the human context, the hierarchy is traveled upwards, as each need is met and reasonably satisfied. But I wondered if, in the brand context, it should be traversed in the reverse direction. I mapped self actualisation (the brand version of ‘what you want most’) to the brand’s purpose, Esteem to confidence in that purpose and finding the first set of people who will help translating that into a working model, Love/Belonging to getting a community in whose individual narratives the brand narrative can play a part, and the last two levels (Safety, Psychological) as bettering the efficacy and efficiency of the brand respectively. Yes, it is fairly rudimentary, but think about it! :)

But the quote and my reaction to it made me think, is it possible/good to define a brand purpose that remains consistent in a rapidly changing business landscape? Maybe it’s cohesion, as opposed to consistency? Is a flexible purpose accompanied by an agile way of operating  the middle path? Are we getting to a point where the only constant in a brand purpose is relevance and value in the consumer narrative and the brand is guided more by a set of unique principles and perspectives that are constantly reshaped by its environment?

When does a hotel’s brand purpose meet AirBnB or a watch company’s that of wearables, or a bookshop’s that of an online retailer of books/e-books? When it affects business? Is that around the same time as ‘too late’?

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