For decades, popular belief in what artificial intelligence could do outpaced actual technological progress. Now, that’s no longer the case. IoT sensors and user interfaces create enough data, cloud-hosted computing platforms provide enough processing power and AI software provides enough accessibility that the “imitation game” is on.

Every company has the option to imbue its corporate brand, its product brands or a dedicated intelligence brand with the customer-facing appearance and experience of a sentient being. One that senses, empathizes, decides, acts and learns. A living brand.

What Can a Living Brand Do?

  • Sense: Gather data that is foundational to understanding and responding to a customer.
  • Empathize: Recognize and modulate responses based on a customer’s emotions to help them feel understood.
  • Decide: Process implications of data to give accurate advice that also adds value to a customer.
  • Act: Automate tasks in a way that reflects the customer’s desire for control along the way.
  • Evolve: Learn lessons from past outcomes to improve next results.

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What Is a Living Brand?

This is a major shift in technology and an even bigger shift in branded experience. Brands have traditionally used mass media symbols to represent their promise. They pull from a robust representational toolkit: logos, colors, taglines, tone of voice, sonic signatures, mascots and spokespeople. Think of McDonald’s golden arches, its Happy Meals and its popular jingle, “I’m Lovin’ It.”

Digital media has helped brands engage customers in their promise by deploying personalized brand content, facilitating branded community experiences and telling experiential signature stories around brand purpose and values. Dove’s Real Beauty self-esteem campaigns featured a wide range of women experiencing Dove’s encouragement to see their own beauty.

Winning Through Platforms book coverPlatform-enabled living brands perform their promise in real time by interacting as the brand would interact if it were truly alive, based on brand attributes, values and personality. We don’t mean that a machine should masquerade as a human — everything should remain transparent to the customer — but that brands are increasingly capable of intuitive human behavior.

The advent of AI has led many brand thinkers to celebrate brand intelligence, but a living brand can be much more than just a thinking brand. Living brands can make experiential the functions of a whole person when performing a platform company’s brand promise.

A living brand can sense, empathize, decide, act and evolve. While customers could experience each of these, they shouldn’t. It is possible to assess your brand’s actual performance against a desired experiential performance profile on each of these dimensions. You can set where you want to be as a differentiated brand, from seen and felt to invisible, and score where you are today to identify the investments that will drive your living brand ROI.

 

How To Develop Your Living Brand

To develop your own living brand, first you should develop a living brand strategy, then construct a living brand architecture, and finally design a living brand experience.

 

Develop a Living Brand Strategy

A living brand strategy outlines what distinctive benefits your brand will deliver to your customers through intelligence and other living attributes. It articulates the distinctive new flows your platform company enables, powered by intelligence. It then identifies the end benefits that those new flows deliver plus provides a humanized role that your brand will fulfill in your customers’ lives. Each of these should be unmatched by competition.

Trellix, a new cybersecurity platform company, has an intelligent ecosystem that learns and adapts in ways that improve three major cybersecurity workflows. Each workflow improvement leads to better business resilience and confidence. Trellix learns and adapts: Before attack for optimal readiness, acting as a lookout scout and preparedness expert. During attack for best-in-class response, acting as an analyst and response commander. After attack for continuous improvement, acting as crowdsourcer and forensic detective.

For you to do this too, break apart each of your customer flows into their component steps and identify the steps that are powered by intelligence, unique versus your competition and deliver valuable end benefits to the customer. These will likely form the most disruptive foundation for your living brand strategy. When you look at these disruptive steps together, what human analogy best captures what they do?

 

Construct a Living Brand Architecture 

Living brands exist in relation to other brands. To construct your brand architecture, you need to define those relationships next. Determine which brands in your portfolio will become your company’s living brand(s). Describe how each living brand will physiologically function. Finally, make any needed adjustments to your current brand and naming architecture.

Once you’ve decided which brands will get a brain to become a living brand, you’ll need to determine each living brand’s physiological functions. How does each one sense, empathize, assess, decide, generate, act and learn? If you have multiple living brands, is there a division of labor and specialization (i.e., one brand senses and another brand acts) or does each brand do everything, just in different circumstances? These living roles will be reflected in your brand, naming and modifier nomenclature systems to reflect living brand capabilities and architecture decisions you have made.

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Design a Living Brand Experience

Your final part of the living brand development framework is to map what, when and how your living brand shows up throughout the customer journey. This requires you to define the brand’s psychology and manners of direct expression, verbal and visual, determine at what customer journey touchpoints its expressions will be experienced and update the brand’s messaging.

Each organization’s living brand can come to life in different ways to meet their unique business objectives. For verbal expression, a consumer goods company could use AI in its customer service chatbot to detect customer sentiment and shift the tone of its responses accordingly, meeting frustration with empathy or satisfaction with celebration. For visual expression, companies across industries can use a living approach to design to enhance the customer’s experience.

Excerpted from Winning Through Platforms by Ted Moser, Charlotte Bloom and Omar Akhtar. Copyright 2023 by Emerald Publishing. All rights reserved.

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