Anyone who glanced at the promised digital future five years ago, seemed to understand: In 2018, smartphones will be out of date, we’ll be wearing google glasses and apple watches, pay cashless and the refrigerator will order supplies on its own.
Many things did not happen after all. And yet a lot has changed. The transformation is often inconspicuous but profound. Since the beginning of this decade, our use of the internet has more than doubled. On average, the Swiss spend between 3.5 and 4 hours a day surfing. This is about a seventh of our life. We shop and pay digitally, we send mails and messages. The Swiss are hardly going to go to the post office or the bank anymore, some 3,000 branches have already been closed. Our medical records are digital. At the tax office Obwalden, 90% of tax returns are received digitally. The change is real.
How can companies prevent their brands from getting lost in this transformation? Brand managers are facing several problems. The first one is the growing variety of places where people encounter brands. The contact points multiply constantly and exhaust both the budget and the manager. New options are added all the time, such as new social channels, VR apps, voice search or influencers.
Listening instead of reading
Committed brand managers strive day after day to make their brand visible and, above all, recognizable in this blur. To remain consistent in ever more varying forms of communication has become a demanding task. On top of that, we see a most interesting shift from reading to listening going on. Journalists write about the “post-text society” with a mixture of fascination and horror. Classic as well as social media are spreading more and more content audiovisually. Brands are being experienced in motion and sound.
Voice Search is growing. According to Google CEO Sundar Pichai, one in five mobile searches was spoken two years ago, and it’s likely to be significantly more now. No problem, if you are asking your search engine to look up Mercedes or Mini. But who knows how to pronounce the Nissan Qashqai?
Naming becomes the ultimate task in brand management and a name’s phonetic quality is increasingly important. But audio branding is much more than the spoken name. It is about a full characteristic world of sound: an audio logo, a brand music, functional product sounds or a brand voice. Progressive Swiss brands such as Swisscom, Migros or the newly launched Bank Cler have the acoustic expression of their brand fine-tuned and well under control. But the majority does not have a plan yet. Or not a good one.
A bland brand remains bland.
The categorical imperative of branding is: Make your brand relevant and differentiate it from others. Many brand managers are currently focusing solely on technological innovation because digitalization is driven by technology. But that is falling short. The buzz words are: Artificial Intelligence, Big Data, Virtual Reality, Internet of Things or Blockchain. But focussing on the “mechanics” of digitalization distracts from the essentials: brands are aimed at people. In the end, it does not matter which technology they use to interact with us. Digitization in itself is not relevant. It is a means to an end. Those who are too slow, will lose. But those who keep up with the digital shift have not won yet. If you go digital with a bland brand you end up with a bland digital brand.
Technology goes “human”.
Ironically, technological development follows a similar route. Technology becomes more human. Voice commands and gesture control make interactions more natural for us. The classic dichotomy of man and machine is gradually replaced by a symbiotic cooperation. Artificial intelligence can help to make a complex digital world easier to live with. Alexa, Google Assistant & Co are just a beginning. The direction seems clear. Step by step, technology makes itself invisible.
In the digital world, brands that are founded on a strong idea will prevail. Those who make a relevant promise and live up to it. Those who give us confidence in a hectic and unsettling world. For man is essentially still the old Neolithic, who choses what alleviate his fears and gives him joy.