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So What Is the Future of Branding and Marketing?

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Inspired by Brand Smart 2018

Disruption: (n): A forcible separation or division into parts.A disrupted condition.
A radical change in an industry, business strategy, etc., especially involving the introduction of a new product or service that creates a new market.

Generally, when the word disruption comes to mind, bad connotations follow. An interruption, a negative interaction with the status quo, or, rather, “status flow.” But, as we’ll discuss, disruption can be a good thing.

So what is the future of branding and marketing? As innovators with big imaginations, we’re always exploring that question. Earlier this month, we attended Brand Smart, a branding conference in Chicago hosted by the American Marketing Association (AMA) of Chicago – where a number of leaders in the field asked the same question. The theme of the conference? Brand Reinvention in the Age of Disruption.

During the conference, speakers focused on AI, the importance of being diversity-conscious in your branding, the use of AI automation, digitization, blockchain, social media, innovation and brand story authenticity.

Branding in the Age of Distrust
We’re at an all-time low when it comes to trust in the media. With the proliferation of “fake news,” bots, misinformation campaigns, and over-polarized reporting, people just don’t believe what they read or see anymore. This decline in trust could have a detrimental effect on brands and marketing – but it also presents an opportunity to brands. By becoming your own media company, you can fill that void of credibility. However, first and foremost you must be devoted to authenticity – ensuring that your story and voice are true to your brand, and that you’re being honest and transparent with consumers and users. One of our clients, Lifeway Kefir, understands and has implemented this. They are actively engaged on social media, but they stand completely behind the healthful brand and its promise, without turning to misinformation. They genuinely care about the consumer, and it shows.

AI Contains Human Biases – But Can Also Overcome Them
There have been multiple instances of how AI shares implicit biases regarding race, gender, region and class that humans do. If human beings coded and taught AI, then it stands to reason that their biases translate over. This plays out in multiple ways: Alexa doesn’t understand AAVE (African American Vernacular English); in one case, when AI analyzed images of people in kitchens, it automatically processed the human beings cooking as women based on historically expected gender roles; the company Street Bump—an app that senses and tracks the locations of potholes and bumps—mainly recorded those street hazards in affluent neighborhoods. The biases in AI are so substantial, they may seem insurmountable, but being aware of them is the first step. If anything, it’s a sign that you should make sure you have more diverse teams at your company.

But while AI may encode bias, it also reveals it. For instance, the makers of Street Bump realized that they were only recording road hazards in more affluent neighborhoods and decided to fix the problem. As a way of circumventing their situation, Street Bump attached sensors to garbage trucks – which go everywhere. It’s these sorts of solutions that can lead to changing the way brands approach bias. By recognizing both AI’s limitations and strengths, we have the potential to bring real change to your industry.

Don’t Be Afraid of the Future
According to a recent study, 74% of businesses believe that AI will fundamentally change the customer experience; however, only 41% have a current AI strategy. Just like digitization and the internet changed everything, so will AI, yet people are afraid of the encroaching technology and aren’t utilizing it. Instead of fearing it, embrace it. AI can help with automation, with connecting with your customers via chat bots, and with analyzing big data… and it has many other uses as well. It’s not that you have to throw out the tried-and-true methods, but find a way to integrate them in order to take your brand to the next level. In many cases AI is already here, with programmatic advertising being just one example.

Directly Connect to Your Consumers
Building a brand is about building a community. When most brands launch, they can no longer hope for widespread distribution. Instead, they should go directly to the consumer. Building your brand from the beginning and creating a direct community, where consumers can interact with company employees, is a key tactic for success. Spikeball, for instance, didn’t start advertising to promote their brand, but instead reached out to college students who played intramural sports. They sponsored their travel to games, and in turn, got their name out there. Our client, TAITRA, understands this. They take their brand, Taiwan Excellence, directly to the consumer through trade shows and festivals like Taste of Chicago and Summerfest in Milwaukee, connecting on a person-to-person level with their audience. The essential element here though, is authenticity, and…

…Transparency, Transparency, Transparency
One of the things that has made RXBAR – a “healthy protein bar made with real ingredients” — so successful is its packaging. On the front of their packages, the ingredients are listed (for example, “3 egg whites, 6 almonds, 4 cashews, 2 dates, No. B.S.”). While this might just seem like a pitch for clever packaging, in fact it’s about transparency. Think about the phrase “No B.S.” It implies – without stating – that other brands might be feeding you misinformation or obfuscating, but RXBAR is not. These days – especially with people’s distrust of the media – transparency is key, and the more you can promote that as a part of your brand, and, of course, honor it with your policies, the more you’ll stand out in your industry as a trustworthy, and trusted, product.

So there you have it. Disruption might seem like a challenge, but if you stay authentic, transparent, and make a commitment to creating tangible benefits for your brand using new technology, you’ll be fully prepared to make disruption work for you.

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