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Branding in an AI-driven world
 — October 1, 2018

Branding is a fascinating art. Logos, slogans, and commercials all converge to create a brand’s DNA and narrative over time. And this fascinating complexity is what attracted me to the advertising industry more than a decade ago.

The 20th century has witnessed the rise of many awesome brands that have achieved global awareness and world domination, a feat that was unprecedented for businesses of previous eras. The Nikes, Coca-Colas, McDonald’s, and Disneys of this world have become force-of-nature brand names that evoke much more than sneakers, fast food, computers, and entertainment. Today they embody performance, happiness, fun and magical moments.

Or, as global agency Ogilvy would put it, by embodying a “big ideal” that lives at the intersection of a brand’s best self and a cultural truth.

Creating iconic brands like these is a marketer’s dream, but it’s getting more complex every day with the hyper-fragmentation of media and the shortening attention span of always-on consumers. The art of branding, somehow, is broken. Not because people no longer care about brands, but because the rules of the game have changed… and most marketers have been slow to embrace them.

21st-century brands

The world is not as predictable as it used to be. The explosion of new media and infinite consumer touchpoints have become a real puzzle for marketers. In a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) world, managing brands with rigidity automatically becomes an ideology of the past and a recipe for failure.

With the rise of messaging apps, AI and chatbots, the business world is entering a new communication paradigm, one that calls for more flexible, fluid brands. I call it “liquid branding,” as opposed to the rigid command-and-control brand management style that has been the bread of butter of marketers and their agencies for close to a century.

Liquid brands

As conversational interfaces like Facebook Messenger, Google Home and Amazon Alexa become the new communication channel, brands are doomed to become invisible if they fail to adapt. To survive and thrive, a brand’s value must transcend its logo, slogan or 30-second anthem spot and be built on more intangible elements like personality, tone and conversational style.

Conversations, not campaigns, will become the core pillars of brand building.

As a result, branding can no longer be set in stone. Nor can it be entirely planned. AI-first brands will evolve to be more “liquid’ — ever-evolving, self-adjusting personas that leverage context and timing to become more relevant and likable.

Living brands

In a world powered by artificial intelligence, every brand will undergo a paradigm shift. More than ever, successful brands will look, act and feel like real people.

As marketers, our job will be to create brands that real people want to be friends with.

If our brands suddenly become entities capable of intelligence, humor and, yes, conversation, it means we need to stop spending time crafting the perfect headline and start spending more time defining the brand’s overarching mission, vision, values, and personality. This personality will be, like for real humans, multi-faceted. As a result, imperfection may sneak in from time to time, and that’s okay.

As consumers increasingly value instantaneity and authenticity above all else, their humanity will compensate for their small shortcomings.

This transformation in the way brands are built will require an equal shift in mindset among marketers. We’ll have to let go of our obsessive control over each micro interaction (which will become increasingly automated anyway) and focus on the macro level.

Ceding control over their brands can sound scary to the more seasoned marketers out there. But it’s the price to pay to make brands feel more human and approachable.

Autonomous brands

Pushing this logic further, it’s safe to say that an AI-powered world will likely lead to almost autonomous brands. Brands will become self-learning algorithms that will evolve and grow organically. They will alter their personality to fit circumstances (like one-to-one conversation VS one-to-many), leveraging first-party and third-party data in real time to adjust their conversational style.

In a conversational world, brands that stick to the “yell & sell” approach will lose. Those that “chat & listen”, engaging in utilitarian exchanges focused on value creation, will win the battle of personality and personalization.

Creating seamless relationships will become the new obsession of great marketers and product managers. The ultimate goal: to craft brands that are more likable and relatable. But until this vision truly materializes, I guess most brands will remain what they currently are in the digital space — that awkward friend who crashed the party and who everyone spends the night trying to avoid. It’s time for all of us to change our age-old marketing tactics and start embracing a new conversation-driven era of customer engagement.

Hyperpersonalization at scale is no longer a utopian dream — with AI, it’s becoming a real possibility. Let’s seize the opportunity to build better, smarter, friendlier brands.

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