The new and unprecedented challenge for brands

startrekpicTo boldly go, where no brand has gone before.

Brands are facing an existential threat like no other.  Exactly how it will play out and how soon the question.  As Twitter’s Bruce Daisley said on MediaCom’s Connected Podcast recently (and out soon here), it’s impossible to predict the next twenty years, just as twenty years ago we had no idea about what life and work would be like today.  Yet we can be clear about one thing.  There’s change to come that will make navigating the challenges of today look easy.

You can point the finger at Star Trek for some of this disruption. It’s Captain Kirk who inspired one of the great changes that will challenge current orthodoxies about brands.  William Tunstall-Pedoe is the engineer and tech start up founder who taught Amazon’s Alexa how to talk.  He acknowledges that his inspiration was the talking computer on the Star Ship Enterprise.  His definition of his job as an engineer is to close the gap between science fiction and reality.  Of course Captain Kirk’s relationship with the computer running the star ship was largely benign.  (There was the episode with the evil computer Nomad, but Kirk talked it down, luckily for the galaxy).

Tunstall-Pedoe is optimistic about the future of voice.  In future everything that you do via tech you will do simply by asking.  Already millions of households worldwide have voice tech products.  Many people have already made them part of the family, anthropomorphically telling them good night.  What this means is more change.  Tunstall-Pedoe notes that all change means risk, but urges keeping risk in perspective and believes that voice tech will change people’s lives for the better.

We must all hope that the risks will be managed, that malware will stay under control and that change will be for the good.  At the same time we must plan for the worst.

In the world of media and marketing one of the worst outcomes may be the disappearance of some brands.

We have been through several eras of advertising.  In the 1950s we were in the age of interruption, when consumers were happy to pay attention to ads because they sought the reassurance of brand names and trusted what businesses said to them.  From the 1960s to the 1980s we were in the age of entertainment.  People would still pay attention to ads but only if they were entertaining.  For the last couple of decades of the 20th century we were in the age of engagement.  The rise in media channels meant that reaching people at the right time in the right place with the right message was key to successful comms.  The early 21st century was the dawn of the age of dialogue where millions of dialogues between consumers shapes their opinions of brands.  Where what a brand says about itself is just one factor in brand salience together with every other aspect of the customer journey from search, social, influencers, reviews, sourcing, authenticity, employee brand, service and experience to repeat purchase and loyalty.

Most purchase journeys are still predominantly visual.  Brands are designed with those visual cues in mind.  If voice dominates things change.  Maybe only the strongest brands will survive.  There will be categories where consumers defer to the voice tech assistant.  The question to ask is what is it about the brand that will ensure that it continues to cut through.  To be one of the brands that stick in the consumer’s brain so that they don’t just buy the category they buy the brand.

Voice will shift the balance of power and techniques to thrive will be essential.  As Mr Spock pointed out “Computers make excellent and efficient servants, but I have no wish to serve under them.” 

Brand strategy now must plan for the worst to ensure that the brand survives.







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