There was a point in time where brands were the aspiration, but in our new world, brands have become entirely subservient to people. The explosion in data availability and advances in AI are changing the relationship brands have with their customers.
In the past, deregulation and access to marketing tools gave way for the proliferation of commoditised services. A hyper-competitive world, where choice is abundant was born. Surviving meant optimising quality for lower the cost. Winning, however, meant innovating.
Today, technology and data are the new secret weapons of brands. There is a whole new world of possibility: immediate, hyper-personalised, and predictive.
The dynamics of this reality is not new. In the past, in-house butlers, drivers, cooks, and maids took on the role of personal assistants, providing different forms of service. They lived with people and knew what they liked/disliked. They shared their experiences - good and bad, old and new. They observed and learned about them, knowing exactly what makes them tick. They anticipated their needs and kept their secrets. Despite class differences, there was familiarity and trust.
It is not surprising that today we are, with the help of technology, recreating that model of utter comfort and luxury. Brands today are the faithful service providers of the past.
Grocery retailers anticipate usage to proactively deliver weekly shops. Health insurance companies monitor daily habits to reduce insurance premium. Automotive players provide on-demand means of transportation, regardless of when and where. Today, the promise of simplicity and usefulness is seen as a premium. People are, according to the latest Global Simplicity Index, ready to pay up to 64% more for a more intuitive experience.
The concept of 'smart' is moving from phones, cars, and homes to entire cities and larger urban environments. The call for change is currently coming from brands that enjoy ubiquity and access to the masses - it's little wonder we see Amazon and Google topping the UK rankings in the Simplicity Index. Other established brands that have been long known for production of physical goods are now investing into further developing their service offering in hopes of not being left behind in the 'smart' world.
In the wake of Alexa, Siri, Cortana and the Google Assistant, Toyota has created Kirobo Mini, Sony's introduced Agent M and, Adobe's embedded Sensei into its software.
But how similar or different are these intelligent assistants?
In contrast to how sci-fi has presented robots in the past, brands are designing personal assistants today to reassure and please with an earnest friendliness and eagerness. The objective is to reduce resistance and ease the adoption of a new shiny object that will accompany us day and night. As a result, they all look and feel the same. But what about what they do or can do?
These entities are meant to be intelligent. That goes beyond fast and vast processing power to include perception, judgement and learning. If these entities are designed to emulate human behaviour, then there is no limit to what they can do. You can practically train them to do anything.
What then becomes of their purpose?
Now, and more so in the future, there will be a clear separation between brands that provide, and brands that produce. The former kind will carry and maintain the relationship with people - the latter ones will take a back seat, becoming less and less top of mind.
Brands will diversify and extend into service areas that have not been traditionally considered part of their core expertise. The lines will blur between brand specialties. Consequently, traditional categories such as automotive, electronics, F&B, aviation, etc., will get diluted and morph into other newly recognised categories.
Luxury will be redefined. There will be a shift towards placing a much higher premium on efficiency, accuracy and precision versus traditional codes that signal heritage and invite indulgence and belonging. Competitiveness will hinge on advancing intelligence to deliver more of what's inherently human, better and for more people. Traditional means of communication will be replaced with more intimate face-to-face communication, placing less value on creativity and more value on scientifically reviewed performance metrics.
The future of what brand is will be shaped by AI. In this new world order, brands must rethink their role and how they deliver it. The smartest, of course, will win.