The computer keyboard is, by all counts, awkward, inefficient and confusing. Designed in the late 1800’s to avoid typewriter jams, the QWERTY layout—named for the top left keys—slows texting to a rate of 14 to 31 words per minute, while the average speaking rate is about 120 wpm. Countless other dinosaurs are ripe for reinvention, and brands are taking notice. Nest is a company that reimagines “unloved” home products. The brand’s smoke detector uses beautiful design and innovative functionality to build users’ affinity and connection with the device—to increase use, and ultimately, safety. The banking sector, known for embracing technology to constantly reduce costs, is finally rethinking the ATM. Bank of America just launched an interactive super-ATM featuring video-chat, integrating the services of both an ATM and an in-person bank teller. Coin is bringing credit cards into the 21st century, with a single device that replaces all other cards—and syncs with iPhones. The future awaits—which outmoded products will be reinvented next?
Solar is not expensive, although many believe it to be. Similarly, China’s labor population is actually shrinking, not growing, and U.S. carbon dioxide emissions are on the decline, not the rise. These facts—and seven other stealth economic trends—highlight a lesson for brands: perceptions can exhibit a slow resistance to change, even when they are no longer correct. The NFL is trying to reach women. Yet, they kicked off an ad campaign last year featuring Condoleeza Rice in a Cleveland Browns jersey. The NFL based its campaign on the outdated perception of women as shoppers—instead of true fans who value game-time experiences. In a different way, Coca-Cola is working to move away from outdated perceptions of its brand. As its global brand value lags behind tech giants Apple and Google, the soft-drink maker is investing in clean drinking water. It is also rolling out water and internet kiosks, globally, that are dubbed “downtown in a box” in developing countries. With change being one of the true constants in life, which brands will always know what’s really going on?
Scientists at MIT recently brought us into the future of movies like “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” by emotionally tweaking the memory of a mouse. Specifically, they figured out a way to attach positive and negative feelings to neutral memories. This science fiction-like news raises exciting possibilities for brands. For decades advertisers have used the power of nostalgia and memories to influence decision-making. Recall Don Draper of “Mad Men” and his now classic pitch that rendered Kodak executives speechless by connecting the ache of memory to a product. Today brands from Nordstrom to Netflix are using our digital footprints to read our behaviors, eliciting mixed reactions from customers. Could a day come when customers actually want to opt in to brands reading our brains? Consider a fitness chain cueing us to work out more regularly based on experiences we’ve enjoyed before, or a clothing store knowing exactly what we want upon entering their doors. When that future comes, which brands will be ready to know their customers’ deepest desires?
Data used to mean numbers, but these days it is increasingly unstructured, text-heavy and difficult to organize—think social media pages and video content. What to do with all this information? Brands that have made heavier upfront big data investments are seeing better ROI, generating algorithm-driven insights predicting which products will win or fail, improving marketing strategies, and driving cost reductions. Some are even taking advantage of big data to inform person-to-person interactions. Amazon is winning customers over with warmer service. Google’s people operations department is using unstructured data intelligence to influence decisions in leadership, management, hiring and teamwork. How useful data is, for companies and citizens alike, ultimately depends on how easy it is to understand, fueling a whole new field of data visualization. Like this snarky, but beautifully re-designed NSA PRISM PowerPoint, this much is clear: simplicity reigns.
The notion of “fast food” is about to reach a whole new level. As Stephen Colbert recently reported, NASA is funding the creation of a 3D printer capable of printing pizza—for astronauts on extra long missions—using cartridges filled with carbohydrate and protein powders in lieu of ink. Technically known as additive-layer manufacturing, 3D printing works by building up layer upon layer of material to make solid objects. In design and manufacturing, the nascent technology is already making waves with the world’s first ready-to-wear item, a threadless bikini, and GE’s mass production—or rather, mass printing—of jet engine parts. Many observers believe the process is too complex and expensive to run for most products, but Staples has plans to introduce the first consumer 3D printing service in-store, and 3D printers for the home may hit the market for just $347. With the tipping point for widespread accessibility closer than we think, what will innovative brands—and consumers—dream up next?
With Google Glass available this fall, we may see the world through Google’s eyes right out of the crib. Sound scary? A recent Atlantic article investigates technology’s impact on toddlers’ brains, weighing concerns about creating zombies against ensuring children don’t fall behind their peers. Being a digital native does not necessarily mean being passive, though. Take 17–year–old Nick D’Aloisio, who started playing with his first Macbook at age 9 and created Summly at 15 out of frustration studying for a history exam. Rather than question technology’s impact, we may need to help children sharpen their problem-solving skills and ability to innovate. For brands, these inevitable changes are blowing open doors of opportunity to interact with children at even younger ages. But the bar is high. Those brands that create numbing, boring experiences will be tossed aside, challenging brands to up their creativity through ever more engaging sites, apps and other online media.
A new book from Al Gore says we are in a “period of hyper-change,” which has huge implications for brands entrenched in legacy products and services. This is perhaps most evident in the case of the U.S. Postal Service, which announced plans to launch its own wardrobe line, cheekily named “Rain Heat & Snow” featuring wearable electronics. Nike is more proactively staying competitive as an activity-inspiring brand with new technology products like FuelBand. Most brands, though, are taking less disruptive steps to adapt. Yahoo refreshed its homepage with a Twitter/Facebook-like newsfeed being careful not to upset loyal users, while American Airlines’ rebranding shifed from representing America as a symbol of world power to one of spirited progress. Subtle changes may provide near–term relief. But as technological advances remake the marketplace with growing speed and frequency, legacy brands may have to become more comfortable venturing beyond their core competency while staying true to a higher brand purpose.
Ray Kurzweil, now Google’s director of engineering, says that by 2029 computers will have emotional intelligence and be convincing as people. Another far-off prediction, you might say, but this futurist’s future is here. A 2007 study found that our brains are wired to socialize with anything remotely social, even prompting apologies to robot cats. This has huge implications for consumer brands, which already under-leverage personality as a brand asset. For example, a raincoat glowing in your closet to remind you you’ll need it later that day could feel like a helpful friend—but it could glow differently if by L.L. Bean or Burberry. This new outlet of brand expression promises to blow open opportunities for how brands apply their creative palette to product development. Which brands will take advantage to create deeper loyalty with customers? It will depend on brands’ capacity to value personality as much as function. The future looks bright for the brands that do.
Nimble brands have a knack for increasing their competitive advantage during crises that send others scrambling. Consider the Occupy movement, which leveraged its greatest asset—mobilization—to outpace the Red Cross and remake its brand, as established entities like Tide, Hanes and Duracell seemed to miss the boat entirely. Another scrappy group, Newscred, is daring to resurrect the news industry, creating badly needed revenue streams for flagging publishers by connecting them with brands wanting high-quality, content-rich marketing efforts. It’s not just startups stepping in, though. The New York Times notes that retail chains like Home Depot, Costco and Sam’s Club are shifting, chameleon-like, to fill the post-crisis financial service gap by offering financial products. Walmart is even experimenting with selling life insurance as part of its strategy to fully capture the unbanked population, or a quarter of its customers, proving yet again that size is ultimately less important than the insights and adaptability that drive relevance.
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