11.032014

you-ification — the future of business is personal

The future of business is personal.  We are embarking on “The Age of You”, in which “Mecosystems” (ecosystems that revolve around and cater to you) and “responsive experiences” (customer experiences that adapt to your needs and preferences) will prevail.homepage-thumb-jez

This buzzword-laden declaration is inspired by Interbrand’s 2014 Best Global Brands report which includes several provocative articles about the uniqueness of today’s business environment and the opportunity for brands.  Here are a few highlights explaining how the future of business is personal:

The Age of You” is the way Interbrand describes the new era that we are transitioning into.  It is the natural evolution from the prior ages of brands and brand-building.  In post-war America, Interbrand explains, “’Branding’ began as a mark of ownership, trust, and quality, and evolved into a more sophisticated symbol of differentiation and identification.”  It calls those initial brand years — the 1940’s through the 1980’s — “The Age of Identity” because “the purpose of a brand was to serve as a market positioning identifier, setting businesses and individual products apart from the crowd, both visually and verbally.

The role and understanding of brands changed in the late 80’s when companies began to view them as business assets that could contribute significantly to financial performance.  Although it seems a bit self-serving for Interbrand to call this era “The Age of Value” and mark its inception by the firm’s first-ever brand valuation, the timing does coincide with the acquisition spree that many corporations undertook and the increasing recognition of the intangible value of an entity.

By the late 1990’s, advances in technology had leveled the playing field between offerings from established leaders and imitations or derivatives sold at lower prices by emerging challengers.  So corporations looked to create differentiated experiences as means to competitive advantage.  Also, Interbrand says, “Benefitting immensely from the rise of digital and, later, mobile technology, savvy brands like Apple grew stronger and new category-killers like Google, Amazon, and Facebook soon reset customer expectations and significantly raised the bar for brand experiences.” Thus “The Age of Experience” had dawned.

But now, ubiquitous computing is ushering a new brand era, “The Age of You.” This isn’t simply about customizable products and personal shoppers.  “From the way we manage our personal brands and share pieces of ourselves through various social media platforms to the increasingly personalized world of commerce — which uses purchase histories and location-based services to tailor products, events, services, and offers to whoever we are, wherever we are — our data selves are known, communicating, and growing every day,” Interbrand’s report explains.

This new age presents an opportunity (or a challenge, if you’re a glass-half-full kind of person) for brands.  All the data people produce can, if analyzed and interpreted properly, provide the insight brands need in order to understand who they really are and what they really need.  It’s quite possible for brands to “integrate disparate products and services and develop experience strategies that truly sync up with our needs and preferences.”  But doing so requires brands to listen vs. telling consumers what they should want, to use data to uncover genuine insights, to be open and interconnect and partner with others, and to adapt quickly.

Instead of brands being the hubs of business and devices at the center of interconnected networks, the Age of You puts people at the nexus of systems – thus the development of “Mecosystems,” ecosystems that organize integrated experiences around people.  With Mecosystems, sensing technologies and location-based mobile systems will combine with a person’s unique set of preferences so that supply chains will reorganize around the individual and brands will produce “responsive experiences” (my term, not Interbrand’s.)  The report notes, “While the current responsive approach to design mainly focuses on how to scale webpages to various screen sizes, what brands really need to consider is how to adapt the overall user experience to each particular device.”   I would take that one step further, replacing “device” with “interaction.”  Brands will need to curate experiences for different interactions, whether in-store, person-to-person, on-screen, virtual reality, etc.

All of this may sound way out there – and certainly the jargon flows freely as the future is envisioned.  But the main takeaway is undeniable.  If brands seize these opportunities and master these new capabilities, they will fulfill Interbrand’s vision:  “Connecting businesses to people — and people to each other — brands will then serve as enablers of both business and personal value creation.

, , , , , , , , , , ,

  • Jon P

    Hi Denise,

    I find the Interbrand language counterproductive to good customer experience. Have you ever heard a friend express the desire to have a brand organize an integrated experience around them? Or to have their personal experiences curated?
    Our data selves don’t drive our behavior, our feelings do. And I’m starting to feel a little creeped out by the idea that I’m being spoon-fed an experience based on data analysis. Thus the age of the “canned experience” has dawned.

    Mecosystem is a dumb phrase that means people are self centered. But when has that ever not been the case? Collecting and analyzing a hundred streams of data may be a valuable marketing tool, but it will never be a substitute for listening. I agree with your point—brands need to listen more, and uncover genuine insights.

    Unfortunately, we seem not to be entering an era of listening, but of making too many assumptions based on broad data. The secret to selling products (or winning elections) will always be in understanding the feelings of our constituents. Boston’s Mayor Menino was the embodiment of that truth.

    My advice to marketers: get out from behind your computer screens, and out of the office more often.

  • deniseleeyohn

    Hi John — thanks for sharing your thoughts. I agree with your advice and caution, but I do think there is tremendous value in companies using data that I provide to them to customize an experience for me. And although I’ve never used the words “organize an integrated experience around [me],” I have longed for companies to anticipate exactly what/when/how I need and to give it to me seamlessly — and in the rare instances when it happens, I am overjoyed, and ready to become a loyal customer and ambassador for the brand. Thanks again. — denise lee yohn

    • Jon P

      True, Denise—when done well, you get the feeling someone is paying attention. But for every good experience, there are a hundred companies demonstrating they haven’t a clue.

      For instance, I got a mailer from Comcast yesterday trying to sell me an upgrade from DSL to high-speed internet service. But I’ve been a customer on their fastest X1 platform since the day I signed up with them 16 months ago!

      So-called data-driven insight presents many more opportunities to alienate customers than to delight them. But a human being who goes out of her way to provide good service, or to understand my needs, works every time.