Telling your story in the connected world
Fell Gray and Heather Baillie
Technology companies live or die from change, with innovation at the core of their DNA. We all know the stories of humble beginnings in garages for Apple (#1, +3%), Google (#2, +6%), Microsoft (#3, +10%), and Amazon (#5 ranking, +29%), and how they rose to become leading global brands. In today’s Internet of Things (IoT) world, technology companies of all sizes are laser-focused on making our lives better through connected experiences with Artificial Intelligence (AI). According to Gartner, AI will somehow figure into virtually all of the new software products and services released by 2020. As businesses race to create these breakthrough experiences, technology brands are already tackling the requirements for distinguishing themselves that all brands will have to adapt to soon.
Blurred category lines
With the shared goal of creating these truly connected and intelligent user-first experiences, technology brands have been forced to diversify their portfolios. This expansion has resulted in customers becoming competitors and competitors becoming partners. We see this as companies race to build on-device AI, requiring the development of custom AI technologies and software that enable machine learning, natural language processing, and sensing and identification. You’d expect ARM and Qualcomm to be the only ones innovating in this area, but more companies have gotten in the mix. Microsoft has joined in, with its AI coprocessor that will be incorporated into the HoloLens Holographic Processing Unit (HPU), as well as Apple with its Neural Engine for the iPhone. These blurred boundaries across the traditional category lines pose new challenges for positioning brands that have historically defined their value through the things they make and how they are made.
Another way technology brands are adapting is in navigating shared ownership of the experience as this “device mesh” reduces friction in interactions, backed by interoperable technologies. Nest, owned by Alphabet, works with Google Home and Google Assistant as expected, but also integrates Amazon Alexa, Philips Hue personal wireless lighting, and others to enhance your home living experience. Amidst all these brands, questions about perception and relevance arise. How do people attribute value to each brand delivering the entire smart, connected home experience? And how do brands shift from guiding people through a static identity to differentiating signatures and behaviors?
A new, ambient channel
These brands are already looking past the familiar channels like packaging, physical devices, and human interactions to scenarios based on ambient user experiences. Amazon Alexa now has over 15,000 skills to interact with, which has freed its voice assistant from the smartphone, weaving technology into the background of our environment. Alexa conquered CES 2017, according to Wired, with dozens of Alexa-enabled devices. Now you can easily call your assistant from your Ford with the help of a built-in button. Whirlpool appliances respond to the now familiar prompt, “Hey Alexa.” These are just two examples of the ambient brand experiences that are now part of our everyday lives.
Building brands, one interaction at a time
Mike Markkula, a marketer and the second CEO of Apple, wrote “The Apple Marketing Philosophy,” sharing two philosophies that continue to guide Apple design today: empathy for the user and focus in all endeavors.
These now become best practices, as all of us must evolve to building brands through behavior and service interaction design. And we must devise new structures and new skills to support these practices, seamlessly blending communication, product, and service into a single cohesive experience that is undeniably engaging. This means CMO’s leading cross-functional teams—front and back of house—with strategy driving the experience, and the experience driving strategy. Facebook excels at this practice by improving the product itself to increase virality and invitation rates amongst existing users through, new experiences like Facebook Live.
With the rise of user-first brand experiences, we must ask what behaviors and interactions are unique to our brands and which are the ones worthy of investment for the future. This will be how leading brands of tomorrow will adapt to grow in our changing world.