What does technology teach us about how to market brands?
The answer is a way of engaging, not a means of engaging. The digital revolution in brand marketing is generally approached as an issue of platforms, but it is much more. Technology doesn’t just give people a new way of doing things; it gives people a new way of thinking. The biggest impact of technology is the change it creates in people’s perceptions. Certainly, technology expands access, speed and productivity, but technology has much more far-reaching effects. The digital revolution is changing how people conceptualize the possibilities available to them in their lives.
Absent digital technologies, it would never occur to someone that marketers could be engaged in dialogue, much less dialogue at the point of contact. People used to take it for granted that there was no tête-à-tête with ads. You could watch them, but you couldn’t change them or talk back to them. People no longer believe that. Even if they don’t interact with ads, they recognize that ads no longer enjoy an exclusive position on the dais.
But the presumption of dialogue created by digital technologies goes beyond the technologies themselves. Once the door has been opened in one area, people want to see it opened everywhere else as well. People now want the same freedom of engagement in every aspect of their lives. Every point of contact carries the same expectations. People now want it at retail, in customer service, for promotions, with media content, and so forth. People have learned a new capacity from digital technologies and they want to exercise it everywhere, even in low-tech points of contact.
Beyond dialogue, there are three other expectations that have been intensified by digital technologies. Portability is one. People can carry knowledge and connections with them. People are weaning themselves from place-based expectations about everything.
Video is another. Digital technologies are rapidly moving away from text-heavy formats, with more video and other visualization techniques instead. This will put text at a disadvantage in other domains as people get used to video as a suitable substitute for text.
Speed is yet another. Digital technologies operate instantaneously, so people are losing patience with anything that operates more slowly. The meaning of ‘real time’ is now on a technology scale not a human scale.
There are other aspects of the technology experience that could be mentioned as well, but these are four crucial things that brands must do irrespective of advertising through digital media. Digital expectations are now the norm for all forms of marketing.
People learn empowerment from technology. The way in which people can affect the world is through technologies. Expectations arise from these forms of empowerment, and these expectations affect everything else.
Economists hint at this change in expectations when they talk of liquidity. The easier and cheaper an activity is to do, i.e., the more liquid it is, the more it will be done. Expectations operate in parallel with that. The more liquid an activity becomes, the more people take it for granted, and once a capacity becomes commonplace in one domain, the more people come to expect it in other domains.
The ultimate impact of technology on brand marketing is not so much the new white spaces marketers have to advertise. It is the new expectations that consumers develop and then apply to every interaction with marketers, and, indeed, to every aspect of life. Technology doesn’t just expand the power people have; it changes their ways of thinking as well.
Contributed to BSI by: J. Walker Smith, Executive Chairman, The Futures Company
Sponsored by: The Brand Positioning Workshop