partners creative logo

The new brand mastery: Data driven, AI powered, consumer controlled



Five years ago, hot on the heels of some significant global rebranding work and regional talent branding successes, I wrote a book titled “Brand and Talent. While it was certainly not the only book that advocated a total purpose-driven, integrated approach to strategic management of brand, business and human capital, it focused on a number of trends that have since become mainstream.

“Brand and Talent” suggested seven new and disruptive (at the time) principles:

  1. Brand and talent are intertwined drivers of strategy, management and performance — In other words, your “brand strategy,” “talent strategy,” “business strategy” and “sustainability strategy” are one and the same. They should not each live independently in marketing, business and HR.
  2. Therefore, systems and design thinking are required to thrive in a connected world. — In order to thrive (and survive) in a complex, connected, dynamic, uncertain world, organizations must apply user and consumer experience principles at every stage of brand, talent and business management.
  3. Organization and talent brands are two sides of the same coin. — Clear enough. But at the time “Brand and Talent” was published, “employer branding” was all the rage and organizations were falling over themselves to create stand-alone employer brands. Unfortunately, for many organizations their new employer brand was often at odds with, or poorly connected to, their parent brand.
  4. Internal / external delineations will blur and even disappear. — Traditional segmentation of audiences and methods of engaging with those audiences can no longer be effectively or efficiently managed using traditional, silo-based organizational models.
  5. Purpose-led brands outperform most other brands. In an age of increasing transparency and social awareness, doing well by doing good is becoming the gold standard of a well-managed business enterprise.
  6. Simple beats complex. — Traditional models of corporate communications and reputation management require radical simplification to be useful in a complex and fast-moving environment.
  7. Technology will challenge conventional business wisdom. — Traditional “go to” lenses such as product/service leadership, customer intimacy and operational excellence may no longer be sufficient for defining and establishing a differentiation strategy. Is brand experience a new or replacement value? Or something else?

All of that is now mainstream — but new currents are rising
Every one of these principles is now being expressed explicitly in the practices of leading agencies and consultancies involved in brand development and brand-related work. You can’t swing a proverbial cat at a conference or on the web these days without hitting someone talking about “purpose-driven” approaches, design thinking and integrated leadership.

However, time continues to march on. In the past five years and as some firms are playing brand catch-up, emerging technologies and evolving consumer expectations are once again changing the equation. Today.

Three big developments are having a particularly transformative impact on brands:

  1. The emergence of “data mastery” and the convergence of data science with technology is driving analytics at speeds and volumes we did not anticipate even five years ago. — Much of what was holding back the application of the integrated approaches the book proposed was the ability to make use of data to describe, predict and prescribe approaches to the opportunities and challenges presented.
  2. Automation and machine intelligence. — The rapid advance of robotic process automation and augmented, assisted and artificial intelligence has been a game changer in brand marketing and communications, in engagement with internal and external stakeholders, and in talent acquisition and management.
  3. Social media and the rise of the empowered consumer. — Social media has long been recognized as a valuable platform for talent attraction, engagement and brand building. However, the adoption and adaptation of these tools by consumers and organizations has accelerated far faster than simplistic demographically based models catered to. As a result, a business’s brand is increasingly becoming a collaboration with its consumer and its talent bases.

The upshot of this? Multiply those seven principles by the three developments above and you arrive at profound implications for brands and brand leaders. These range from changes in the workforce / workplace and the definition of work itself to the role of AI and automation in creating, growing and defending brands. It means thinking about not just what is potential / what is possible but also what is legal, and indeed ethical, when it comes to data management and artificial intelligence. It means reassessing whether “cash and carry” products and services make sense for your organization in the age of XaaS and subscription models. And much more.

So what are the implications for future brand management?
McKinsey & Co. recently observed that given the unprecedented acceleration of technology, “Many of us learned a set of core economic principles years ago and saw (their) power early and often in our careers. This built intuition — which often clashes with the new economic realities of digital competition.”

McKinsey’s point is that many of the business fundamentals we learned have been turned on their heads (or at least their sides) by the fourth industrial revolution. I believe the same is true of branding: The immutable rules of this modern discipline might not be as immutable as many of us believe or want to accept. Powerful truisms and pithy sound bites from modern commentators abound, but are they based in an increasingly data-driven world?

And what about creativity?

We will explore the evolution of the seven principles and the disruptive forces that are impacting them in a series of articles over the coming months. Including a look at tangible, pragmatic recommendations for brands and their stewards … And marketing automation and AI, the next frontiers of purpose-driven transformation and branding, the new meaning of talent brand (and how to benchmark it), microcampaigns and microbranding, everything as SEO … And more.

Let’s continue the conversation, I welcome your observations on these important subjects.

This post was first published in Branding Strategy Insider, October 16, 2018.