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What’s Coming, And What To Do About It

At the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, there’s always a lot of talk about the future. But it’s usually cached in generalities. Bold proclamations are rare. Ray Velez, Chief Technology Officer of Razorfish and Will Sansom, Director of Content and Strategy of Contagious, teamed up on Monday for a presentation that bucked the trend, making four “big hairy provocations” for the future. For each, they offered their Toolkit For Transformation—how the industry can handle the coming changes in dealings with consumers, creativity, and organizational change.

Provocation #1: In the future, brand loyalty will become extinct

Velez and Sansom believe that the end days of brand loyalty are in sight. This, they said, is due to our age of “considered consumption”. If consumers have a truckload of brands to choose from, the amount of information at their disposal about brands is the entire fleet. Review websites and social media have eased and expedited word-of-mouth, making it easier than ever to switch between brands. And consumers are switching because, according to Veelz and Sansom, they don’t like being pigeonholed into segments. They’re seeking personal relationships and the value that comes with them. And with knowing more about each brand, they’re also switching because a brand stands for something important to them.

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In response to this, Velez and Sansom suggested that brands design around consumers, and not short term sales targets. From a creative standpoint, they suggested disrupting not just your advertising, but your business. They cited Volvo’s Life Paint, which helps bike riders be more visible to cars. Here, an automotive brand created an outside-the-box product, but one that fit in with their brand ethos of safety. And, the duo urged companies to make a commitment to being in beta to better iterate and develop as the world changes.

Provocation #2: In the future, the unconnected world will need connecting

Invoking Mark Zuckerberg and his vision, Velez and Sansom touched on the billions of people who aren’t yet connected to the internet. As the internet grows, many in developing markets will be coming on board. But brands shouldn’t just look at this growth as an opportunity for more customers. Rather, brands should understand that people in developing markets have no “mental model” of what the internet is. So the challenge isn’t simply connecting these people, but educating them.

Before thinking about advertising to these news consumers, brands need to focus on educating and enabling them to use the internet. Sansom mentioned Barlcays as a brand that’s working in an initiative to help spread internet literacy. Since new users will have no concept of what a browser is brands should start thinking beyond browsers. This blank slate should be creatively liberating. And finally, Velez and Sansom said companies should let the needs of the unconnected guide the future of their businesses. They might just find some refreshing new ideas.

Provocation #3: Great brand experiences will liberate us from our screens

Sansom believes there’s a misconception that the internet has to be screen-based. Nowhere, he mentioned, did the internet’s founders say that everything had to be shared via a screen. Velez piggybacked, citing Virtual Reality and how while many believe it’s the future, it could actually be leading us the wrong way. Instead of liberating us from screens, VR brings a screen closer to our eyes than ever before. Augmented Reality, he believes, is more in line with pushing us beyond screens. And Sansom noted that this non-screen way of thinking may be a chance for brands to focus again on experiences. He mentioned the GlowCap, a connected medical pill bottle that alerts someone to take their medicine and sends family or caretakers a notice that the medicine has been taken. It’s an example of adding value via technology, but without being confined to a screen.

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Thus, brands should think about designing for the “human interface”, not the screen. While admittedly lofty, the pair suggested that brands try to start thinking like supercomputers, to spark creativity around how their products or services can add value without the use of a screen. And they urged companies to make themselves a “part of the mesh”, to think about strategic alliances and getting smarter about sharing expertise.

Provocation #4: In 10 years time, your agency will be an algorithm

This one won’t go over well for many in attendance at Cannes. But Velez and Sansom’s point is a smart one. Industries are all about making everything better, faster, and cheaper, and it’s naïve to think the ad industry won’t try and do the same. In fact, it’s already happening. Agencies already use computational thinking for programmatic media buying and tracking online sentiment. It’s not crazy to think we may soon enter an age where computational thinking can be used to create a credible piece of advertising.

It seems counterproductive to ask ad folks to embrace this coming change. But marketers’ goal should be to get consumers what they want, when they want it. Computational thinking can help achieve this. It can inform (or eventually create) the thinking to produce more personalized experiences and more effective creative. And while most would think this would eliminate the need for human employees, the opposite may be true. Computational intelligence may free up human beings, allowing them to re-enter the analog world and employ brain power for more meaningful pursuits for their employers and clients.

While we may not agree with everything Velez and Sansom said (they curiously spent some time talking about how computational thinking will lead to brand loyalty just moments after talking about how brand loyalty is dead) there’s no doubting that if the past 10 years are any indication, the next 10 years will look vastly different. And the speed of change may only increase. We shouldn’t spend time thinking about what we’ll do when things change; rather, we might be better served attempting to predict what will change, and start acting on those gut feelings.

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