Brand Smart 2018 Recap

By: Elina Yufa

When I’m walking across the street, I trust that that taxi won’t run me over (well, sometimes). When I ask Alexa to set a reminder, I trust that she’ll have a better memory than I do. When I make a purchase, I trust that it’ll go through without a hitch. We put a lot of trust into brands and how the world operates on a daily basis.

At Brand Smart 2018, futurists, researchers, branding leaders and agency experts came together and shared new ways to build, enhance and energize brands against the challenges of technological disruption. Behind all of this, I believe something much larger was revealed – the importance of trust.

Jens Ulrik Hansen of Future Associates laid the groundwork with the shocking understanding that we are currently going through a megashift and brands cannot think linearly anymore. There has been a steady decline in trust in media and a loss in confidence in search and social. With everything you do, your brand is really dealing with trust and upholding it.

We got a very real glimpse of this with industry analyst and AI expert, Susan Etlinger, as she shared with us the power of new interaction models and information asymmetry. AI was designed to mimic our way of life, thus involuntarily amplifying bias. With interactive programs like ALEX and Watson, JellyVision CMO Bob Armour and IBM program director and product strategist David Haucke are optimistic. These technologies have streamlined time-consuming processes and even brought fun (with chicken sounds) into once mundane tasks. AI saves us time to create more value.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed with this surge, you’re not alone. From their recent report on AI, Carolyn Baird, Global Research Leader of IBM Institute for Business Value shared with us that 74% of marketing professionals believe AI will fundamentally change how they approach customer experience and how customers view their brands, yet only 41% of them have an AI strategy.

Although AI is becoming increasingly relevant, branding can also be simplified. Let’s be honest – we can’t all afford to create a sophisticated interactive program that does our laundry for us. Craft brands like Vital Proteins and Spikeball go back to the fundamentals of branding – supporting the people behind your brand and letting them set the narrative. They are perfect examples of how we can do so much more with less. As Nicholas Gonzales, Marketing Director of Spikeball beautifully put, “Smaller budgets make you sharper.”

Once you harness that community, how do you personalize the experience? As a digital marketer, the session that really struck a chord with me was about “seg-ME-tation” and understanding why customers buy brands. Surprisingly, 80% of people write lists, but 20% of those lists include brand names. Did you ever think about whether you wrote cookies or Oreos? How do you get your brand on the list? Our panel of leaders, including Elizabeth Ehrhardt of IRI, Carrie Bienkowski of Peapod, Michon Ellis of LimeGreen Moroch, and Sanjiv Gajiwala of Mike’s Hard Lemonade Co, suggested going beyond demographics and creating personas that incorporate attitudes and purchasing behavior, based on transaction data. Think precision over reach and find the values that you share with your audience to help guide the conversation.

In addition to understanding the customer journey, it’s important to keep in mind your growth model – what do you need to grow, and how do you want to grow? That’s not an easy question to answer and may require some big thinking. Margo Kahnrose of SpotHero and Erin Huizenga of Borough & Block guided us through the practice of design thinking – what we would normally call “the creative process.” Think about it like insurance for good ideas. Design thinking gets you ideas faster, puts boundaries around a scope, and provides a safe way to take risks.

When implementing your ideas, how often do you think about the security of the customer experience? How are you earning the trust of your users? The latest buzz-word is “blockchain.” Melvin Petties of explained this tech innovation better than I ever could, but The Economist called it “The Trust Machine.” It’s a shared and public ledger that everyone can inspect, yet no one has the ability to alter. In this case, trust is about finding where the data broke, not about pervasion of privacy.

Last, but certainly not least, Erich Joachimsthaler of Vivaldi inspired us to move from a “world of walls” to a “world of webs.” Meaning, instead of solely comparing and defending ourselves from the competition, we must define our brand in creating trust and embed it into the lives of our consumers.

In summary, lack of trust is a blindspot, so here’s how to win it back:

  • Deeply understand where your customers stand on issues and find the values you both share.
  • Don’t be enamored by technology, but keep your eye on the purpose behind it.
  • AI has to be inclusive of everyone so bring diversity into your teams to take every angle into account. Be very careful of sensitive topics and interactions.
  • Stay ahead of the consumer and give them solutions they weren’t expecting.
  • Support the people behind your brand and get them to participate in value creation.


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