This year’s World Economic Forum in Davos focused on the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ – a new era of emergent technologies like 5G, AI and connected devices that are already changing our lives.
This technology offers risk and reward for businesses in all sectors. Effective and early adoption of artificial intelligence (AI), for example, is already boosting the bottom line of multinational organisations through improved productivity, organisational efficiency, bigger brand reach and better data collection. But some organisations have been slow to react, ceding ground to early adopters and opening up opportunities for disruptive competitor brands to take advantage.
As a brand implementation specialist, the discussion at Davos raised some important questions for me: what are the key innovations that brands must be aware of, and how can businesses ensure their brand activity is ‘future-proof’ in our rapidly changing world?
Five Tech Trends to Watch
The backbone of the Fourth Industrial Revolution will be 5G – the fifth generation of mobile networks – which is 50 to 100 times faster than 4G. Geographic proximity will no longer matter when communication over a network is facilitated at speeds close to real time.
This huge leap in bandwidth will signal a revolution in user experience and customer expectations, as both brands and consumers access information at unprecedented speed. Businesses will have access to more data, meaning deeper customer insight and more personalised interactions. 5G can also unlock innovations in health care, agriculture and education, while accelerating progress in smart cities, connected devices and autonomous cars.
Linked to the 5G revolution will be rapid developments around AI and machine learning, allowing businesses to gather and interpret data at greater speed and in more depth. Currently available services which analyse our behaviour to personalise experiences, like Google Assistant, Netflix and Amazon Recommendations, are just the start.
Businesses will have to consider how they handle all that data, what they do with it, and whether those uses will impact consumer brand perceptions. For example, how does an organisation ensure its use and storage of data is secure, trusted, transparent and reputable?
Many of us already have connected devices in our home – such as thermostats, light switches and security cameras. However, organisations now need to think beyond the initial hype around the ‘Internet of Things’.
There are key questions to consider: how can this technology be used as a brand touch point? How can businesses reassure consumers about data security and privacy? Will the technology convey an accurate brand promise and tone of voice, and to what extent will consumers wish to be targeted through connected devices?
Similarly, voice-controlled devices are already in many households in the form of digital assistants like Alexa, Cortana and Siri – but these are just the starting point. If implemented effectively, these devices could signal a radical change to the customer journey. For example, consumer choice may become less conscious through automated ordering based on previous purchases. This may also impact SEO strategy, and the very nature of ‘brand voice’ may alter as brands experiment with ‘sonic branding.’
Finally, various forms of digital reality – including virtual, augmented and mixed realities – are becoming prominent in daily life. Early adopters in the entertainment and gaming sectors have experienced varying degrees of success, but the technology is here to stay. This puts new, creative brand experiences at consumers’ fingertips, challenging the traditional customer journey and changing the nature of retail.
Alongside consumer-facing businesses, B2B brands are also benefitting from smart new ways to engage potential customers and current employees through digital realities. For example, as part of a major rebrand project, Merck are harnessing virtual reality to support their internal branding. The company wants to instil a fascination for science and technology in the heart of its activities – starting with employees – so virtual reality is the ideal platform to create an immersive brand experience.
With these innovations in mind, what practical steps can businesses take to future-proof their brand?
Five steps to future-proof your brand
- Define the brand proposition
According to VIM Group’s Brand Performance Study, businesses perform better when brand is a strategic starting point – but we found that just 7% of organisations were using brand as a starting point for business decisions. So elevating discussion about the brand proposition to the boardroom will help to bring brand and business strategy closer together.
Strong brands ‘promise and prove’: they make an enticing proposition and prove it every day. Organisations must avoid the temptation to stray from their brand story when adopting new tech.
Having a brand proposition that is clearly defined throughout your messaging, identity and culture will ensure the brand is always coherently communicated, regardless of how the tech landscape changes.
By attracting the right people – employees who believe and act in line with your brand purpose and values – means the organisation will adapt easier and have a surer footing in the changing tech landscape. Employer branding strategies, onboarding, e-learning, brand portals and brand management platforms will all be practical tools to help employees live and breathe the brand.
- Be a pioneer
In this era of ‘digital Darwinism’, waiting too long to experiment with and adopt new tech could leave your business behind the competition.
Businesses often want to be seen as innovative – but it is critical that they actually back that belief up with tangible action.
Delegating responsibility for experimenting with and exploring emergent tech is a good starting point. Setting up an agile brand organisation, including a brand asset management system, will also enable you to respond quickly and in a cost-effective way.
- Invest in brand organisation
Good brand organisation is an ongoing process that requires a continuous cycle of cash and time investment. However, when managed effectively this can be one of the soundest investments a business can make. This investment needs to be continuous rather than just a one-off.
Clearly defining your brand organisation will help the business respond to opportunities from new technology. Adoption of any new tech should be rooted in a company-wide understanding of the brand.
Organisations will also need to update their approach to brand management and internal ownership. For a coherent brand experience, and to boost collaboration, brand should become a key consideration for all teams. That means saying goodbye to the ‘silo structure’ between teams such as IT, HR and Retail which all have a stake in brand management but rarely discuss it collectively.
Brand managers will become more like community or relationship managers, who hold a conversation with other internal stakeholders to influence brand development, rather than writing the rule book on brand activity. Designating internal brand ambassadors will also help the organisation to monitor its core messages and make adjustments.
- Encourage coherency, don’t enforce consistency
Ten years ago, many businesses believed that the key to a strong brand was the consistent application of a visual identity across all channels. But today it’s more about conveying one coherent and convincing brand promise across the whole range of brand touch points.
That means putting an end to the ‘corporate style police’. Brand management must become more dynamic to keep connecting with consumers in a transparent, personalised way. An evolving set of brand principles is essential in this time of fast-paced technological change.
- Make brand performance measurable
Many organisations are not clear on the exact value of their brand or which analytics will best measure its performance. However, boardrooms require hard data to justify brand investment.
With more data, more brand touch points and new ways of interacting with consumers, it’s important to agree clear KPIs and monitor brand performance on a continuous basis. These metrics should be used to trial and adjust. This will be particularly important during a programme of brand investment, for example if the organisation is adopting new technology or changing its visual identity as part of a digital transformation programme.
A lack of measurement and vague objectives can lead to badly spent budgets and missed opportunities. This underlines the fact that a rebrand is not a one-off investment – it’s a continuous process that requires monitoring and flexibility.
To make the measurement of brand performance easy, an invaluable tool will be a brand dashboard that merges different data sets from the whole organisation to provide real-time insight on brand analytics.
Jo Davies is the Managing Director of VIM Group.