Branding in a post-digital world: Relevance
Rob Coke, November 2015

(Final part of six – read the introduction).

Being in people’s minds is what it’s all about. Brands now have to stay relevant, both by entertaining, and of course by being constantly useful. That means solving people’s problems, however small they might be.

Make things people want

We’ve seen over the past decade or so that old business models won’t remain if they can be disrupted, or they’re not in the customers’ interest. This is obvious in the move from ownership to subscription models, like Spotify, Netflix and Office365. People are becoming more comfortable with the idea of not owning things, but having access to them, and anything that can be improved this way, will be. Similarly we’ve seen a move from established commercial transactions to peer-to-peer transactions like Airbnb, Uber and Etsy. Zipcar, CityCar and now the big manufacturers like Audi are doing the same with car sharing – connecting people who have a need, to those with an unused asset.

 

Anticipate needs

One way of staying relevant is to be servile, to give people something before they realise they need it – which is where smart use of data comes in. I’m not talking about data as in ‘how do you target’, but ‘how do you give people something more?’

In the world of the super-rich, it’s normal to have people around to second-guess their needs and demands, to concierge their lives. And with the use of mobile technology, iBeacons and sensors, this world of luxury is becoming available to the rest of us plebs.

A really mainstream example of this is Disney’s Magic Band. It’s a wristband that connects with ‘my Disney Experience’ – where holidaymakers plan their selections in advance: fast-passes for rides, dining reservations and entertainment options. They get sent their Magic Bands before trip, building the excitement and adding another layer of anticipation. This is the way things will be going, with discreet, hidden technology bringing more magic and luxury to the everyday.

 

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Break boundaries

Wearable technology still seems like a novelty to us, as if we’re trying to find a use for it. We tend to think of how it enhances sports performance by monitoring, like in the Ralph Lauren ‘smart’ tennis shirt used at the US Open. Or we look at Apple Watch and wonder why it’s not radically improving the lives of its wearer. But wearable tech is going to find its most valuable role in protecting us.

In January, Stan Larkin from Michigan was the first person ever to leave hospital without a human heart. Okay, the Total Artificial Heart machine he carries around as a backpack isn’t the most discreet piece of kit, but it keeps him alive, and at home, while he waits for a heart transplant.

Looking ahead, the Medical Secretary of the NHS, Sir Bruce Keogh, has said that wearable tech plays a vital role in the future of the NHS. He imagines a time when someone with heart disease is sitting at home being monitored by discreet sensors, on something like a plaster or watch. Then – days before he has any noticeable symptoms – he gets a phone call telling him his body is going back into heart failure, so someone will be with him in half an hour to give him drugs to stabilise it. When an organisation like the NHS says their future depends on wearable technology, we know it’s time to take it seriously.

 

A return to ideas?

This could all be seen as a return to old-fashioned values for brands, as command and control softens into something more flexible and responsive. Technology, and particularly the Internet, has enabled us to do a lot of new things, but often on terms that were restricted by its capability. Now, as smarter technology recedes into the background, user interfaces are becoming more intuitive and constant connectivity beckons. People’s expectations are rising, and brands must be prepared to respond, and be clear about what they stand for. As the medium becomes more natural, the quality of the message is exposed.

So those are my five principles of the post-digital brand: have a purpose, live your values, build two-way relationships, strive for authenticity, and always be useful to ensure you remain relevant.

Overall, remember that post-digital means being more human. And being more human means being led by ideas. So stop worrying, keep thinking and set yourself free!