Category Archives: Human Brands

OK Google, welcome home!

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I have become increasingly interested in the world of new technologies entering our homes. Particularly in the influx of voice based AI technology such as Google Home and Amazon’s Alexa.

I guess voice based AIs bring together a subtle mix of things that interest me: humanness, linguistics and communication. It’s perhaps for this reason I’ve been more curious about it than past technologies. Needless to say, my curiosity is further fuelled by the fact that it is also the next big step for us in the brand building space.

It brings to light one tough question for advertisers: With the Amazon Dash button, and perhaps even Alexa and Home stripping brand purchases and brand roles in consumers’ lives down to the bare minimum, what is our role as brand builders now?

But perhaps more interestingly: What does it entail for creators, as they bring these technologies into consumers’ homes? And this is the question I’d like to address in this post.

While I certainly believe that the potential human voice AI presents to creators is interesting, I also believe it is very easy for us to get lost in the what. It is easy to focus on what problems it solves and what users can do with it. And later, what opportunities it presents for businesses and brands.

But, the key to success for any voice based AI would be the how. The key to making one voice based product more successful than the other will really come down to the personality of the assistant.

Developers must be conscious of how they approach the voice AI. We must treat it not as an ‘opportunity’ for tech companies to enter the home in a new way, but as a guest who has been ‘invited’ to the home. And we all know what makes a good house guest. Following these unwritten norms will be key to engaging well with consumers.

Furthermore, there is a fundamental difference between other technologies and the voice technology. Other technologies (decreasingly so) are quite removed from us in the way we interact with them. There is ‘friction’. Voice; is naturally closer to the human interaction than a device that is alien, cold to touch and has perfect design. While the mobile phone is drastically reducing the friction between humans and tech, it’s more from its ubiquity than its ability to lend itself to being so.

Voice; on the other hand, is naturally more familiar and hence more permissive. But we’d have to use this power carefully, and any personality that sounds either like a ‘robot’ or an ‘advertiser’ (in the stereotypical sense of the words) in the near future are bound to fail.

The key to success lies in being human.

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Targeting, Astrology and Racism

There are so many things that guides a single person’s behaviour.

Her religious inclinations.

Her neurological make up.

How little, or much she values money.

Her state of hunger at the moment in time.

Her upbringing.

Her unresolved fears.

Her philosophical values.

Her relationship with her father. Or mother.

Her personal experiences and learnings.

Her health.

Her economic well-being or lack thereof when she was a child.

Her sun sign. (?)

Her politcal opinions.

Her view of the environment.

Her conclusions on what is worthy of pursuit in life.

How little, or much she values her own time.

And mathematically, we know that the more the people, the less likely we are to know how they would behave. Because if each of these inclinations directs one person one way, it is likely that they will direct five different people in five different ways.

And you really, really think, bucketing her in a large, not-clearly defined group labeled merely on the bracket of years during which she was born will determine how she behaves?

Insights from the insightful Dara Ó Briain, if you prefer it:

Courage Trumps Content

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We do not remember the greatest people in the world simply because of what they said, or what they stood for. We remember them for having the courage to stand for it.

For having the courage to have a view that was different. And having the courage to say it out loud. Having the courage to be branded by it.

If MLK Jr. had written about his dream in his personal journal, he would have touched nobody’s life.

If Muhammad Ali was more concerned with sounding smart than true, his poetry would remain unheard.

If Nike was worried about offending sensibilities, it would not become the landmark that it is today. Neither would the legendary Superbowl ad from Apple become what it is today, if they thought they might hurt a certain group of people.

So, do us all a favour please, if you have something good to say – then say it like you mean it. We might love you for it. You might change our world for the better. And you might be remembered for it.

But if you’re not going to go all guns blazing with what you believe. Or if you fear what you will be remembered for. Or fear that you shall be typecast. Or narrowed down. Or you would rather be loved just a little bit by everyone, rather than loved to bits by a few – then please, don’t say it at all.

Just  go home.

To Have Or To Be: Social

If we believe that brands can be human, then by extension the human sciences can teach us a lot about how brands behave. Or should behave. Philosophy; I find, has several answers to the problems that brands face. One idea that I think is particularly relevant was explored by Erich Fromm in his book “To Have Or To Be?” (Fromm also has a book “On Being Human” which also holds several introspections for the humanness of brands)

In “To Have Or To Be?” Fromm suggests a premise that humans have two states of life: the having mode, and the being mode. He explores in depth the two states and their effect on the quality of our lives and relationship with the world. Briefly, the two states are:

The having mode: “In the having mode of existence my relationship to the world is one of possessing and owning, one in which I want to make everybody and everything, including myself, my property.”

The being mode: “In the being mode of existence, we must identify two forms of being. One is in contrast to having … and means aliveness and authentic relatedness to the world. The other form of being is in contrast to appearing and refers to the true nature, the true reality, of a person or a thing in contrast to deceptive appearances as exemplified in the etymology of being”

I think there are several areas of branding where this idea of having or being can be applied, but I’d like to start with how this affects a brand’s view on and use of social media.

Social media, in my opinion, is a tool for something that people always needed: belonging. It simply gives a place for people to engage and interact with each other. An online bar of sorts. By extension, a friend of yours who is boring in a bar, is going to be boring on Facebook too. So why should we view social media as being different from just being social!? People who are inherently social, don’t have a “social media strategy”. They’re just themselves, but online.

If we were to extend Fromm’s two modes to brands on social media, we would have two types of brands: Brands that have social, and Brands that are social. 

Brands that have social are by nature hoarders. They talk about “What are we going to do online?”, or “How do we engage with our audience?”, and often the answers to these questions seem almost unnatural to these brands. These brands seek to measure the quantity and quality of their social presence: with a primary goal of increasing social media presence. While there is nothing wrong with measuring presence, it must not be the sole driver of what brands should do online. This brand personified, in a bar, would probably be clueless about what to say to people around but would focus on how many people he/she could impress. Nobody wants to “engage” with someone arrogant, defensive, unapologetic or even trying-to-please-everyone. (Of how many social media failures does this sound familiar?)

On the other hand, brands that are social, will extend themselves more naturally to social media. Without even trying. They’re the friends in the bar whose company you enjoy. Whether it was before social media or after social media, Coca-Cola has always been about bringing people together. Coca-Cola (among other brands) is in the state of being social. It finds it easy to integrate itself into conversations, situations that people are really involved with because being social is core to who the brand is. A “social media strategy” for such brands is easy to define, because these brands are inherently social. 

In this era of social media proliferation, brands must not define a social media strategy outside of their brand strategy. Rather, if social media is so important to the brand, they must define the brand in a way that it is social by nature, or that a part of the brand’s identity extends itself to being social. 

On Brands Being Human

Very often in the business of branding we talk about several ideas and concepts that explore the idea that brands can be human.

We have projection techniques in consumer research that helps consumers understand our brands. We have brand archetypes that help us define them, and we use words like “identity”, “personality”, “tone of voice”, “philosophy” and “purpose” in helping define our brands. I do believe that this is one of the most versatile and powerful ideas in branding, as it allows us to make a lot of difficult concepts easy to understand and also gives us a clarity on what we set out to achieve.

But I also believe this is the most abused concept in brand building.

In sticking with the analogy of people, the reason is simple: The most interesting humans are not those who define who they are and then shove their values and personality down the throat of the people around them. They define who they are, and live by those values. And that’s certainly something that brands can learn from people.

So, the next time you are making your marketing plans or brand campaigns, don’t seek to remind people what your values are. Rather, seek to live by them in everything you do so that your audience can understand it for themselves.