We're on the cusp of a third wave of digital, led by a new era of services transforming branding and customer experience. The opportunities and challenges for brands are immense if they're brave and fast enough to catch the wave.
"""What makes a living brand distinctive is that it can adapt in real-time from what used to be very broad promises to tailored promises."
Why brands need to come alive
It's a hard-fought battle trying to win mind share these days when customers are so digitally dizzy. To cut through the buzz and grab a little of that time-deficient attention span, brands are going to need to become ultra-responsive merchants of experience that focus entirely on their customers. They'll need to hum with humanity. Be alive.
"It's no longer enough just to provide an experience. A brand needs to be fluid yet authentic in its relationship with customers. What makes a living brand distinctive is that it can adapt in real-time from what used to be very broad promises to tailored promises," says Thomas Müller, Head of Design Fjord EALA, Accenture Interactive.
This is the future of brands where customers play a starring role in the genesis, evolution and ultimately the bottom line of a company. The static, centralized, one-size-fits-all approach no longer applies in this new era of branding. Data and design will be pivotal in humanizing a brand. Companies will break free from the rigidity of their own channels and atomize their products or services.
They'll do this because they have to and because finally they're able to. Thanks to living services.
The rise of living services, the third wave of digital
We're on the verge of a third digital era characterized by the digitization of everything and liquid customer expectations.
"Living brands are very much connected to the rise of living services, which are underpinned by a transformative digitization platform that is super smart with how it gets data and what it does with it. It understands context and people so that it's not just a service that sucks in data and is able to spit out the right results, but can also influence the way a brand behaves, the way it speaks and even the way it modulates its voice," says Müller.
The desktop web launched the first digital wave in the 1990s while the iPhone sparked the second (mobile) era in 2007. The technologies driving the third wave - living services - are network connectivity, the cloud, data/analytics, sensors, user interfaces, and devices. This enables everyday objects and places—transport, homes and workplaces—to become more intelligent and useful to customers. Take, for instance, the "Find your way" app developed by Copenhagen Airport that improves a passengers travel experience and airport efficiency. Or, Ecobee's home thermostat that can learn a customer's preferred temperature in their home.
"The ubiquity of mobility, devices, and connectivity - and the resulting abilities to process data at incredible speeds - allows services or platforms such as Google Now to be relevant at a specific point in time and in context, making them a living service," says Müller.
The parameters for competition have shifted from intra- to inter-industry because customers now expect the delightful experience they had with one brand to transfer across all industries.
How are brands going to keep up?
Data, design and generating customer love
For a brand to deliver differentiated "wow moments," designers and data scientists need to work together to build agile living brand systems. These allow brands to flex and change according to customer whims and new opportunities.
"Airbnb is an example of a digital-first, service-centered company that initially found its niche as a mediator between people who have places they want to rent and those looking for a place to stay. But analytics and the intelligence they collected have allowed them to flex and push into new places, such as offering highly bespoke experiences beyond just vacation rentals or business travel," says Müller.
"""Design is no longer about making things pretty but making sense of the world."
They were able do this because they also understand the significance of experience, the importance of being design-led and the value of not being risk averse. It's this combination that brought about a 30 percent increase in engagement, simply by changing their review icons from stars to hearts. Design needs to be embedded into a brand's organizational culture, not just in the way they think and do business. This makes it easier to identify what role a brand plays in a customer's life to determine how best to deliver its service to them.
"Design is no longer about making things pretty but making sense of the world. Data is the oxygen we can breathe into brands to add humanity or life to them. Truly successful brands are living brands because their experiences build and nurture relationships with customers," says Müller.
A brand that takes the time to build relationships through contextual, personalized experiences is a brand a customer is much more likely to fall in love with. But how does a brand find out how much they're loved and how to sustain that love?
This is what Accenture Interactive and Fjord set out to answer with their Love Index study. Two years, three countries, four industries and 26,000 surveys later, they've come up with five dimensions for measuring customers' feelings towards a brand. And it all depends on how FRESH they are: Fun, Relevant, Engaging, Social, and Helpful. Where a brand sits on the index determines how much affection a customer has or doesn't have for them. This insight allows Fjord to establish brand values, which are incorporated into design principles and detailed brand behaviors at the (increasingly micro) service, experience and interaction levels. As it turns out survey respondents were gaga for Netflix, which makes the disruptive streaming service the benchmark for experience for all brands.
To get anywhere near Netflix's giddy heights brands will have to deconstruct themselves and atomize.
Atomization and the art of letting go
A living brand is atomized - it allows its products and services to be broken into elements that can be distributed across various platforms and third party services. This involves loss of some control over how a customer experiences their brand, but offers access to many more contexts and channels. Spotify is one living brand that has embraced atomization. It's music streaming service is available across multiple digital platforms, including desktop, iOS, Android, Sonos home entertainment, and Samsung Smart TV.
"It fits into your life wherever you are. You can even change the pace of the music according to the pace you run when it's used in conjunction with Runkeeper," says Müller.
Which means when a consumer listens to their music through the Runkeeper app, it's a Runkeeper moment they have, not a Spotify one. The same if they preordered Spotify music for their Uber taxi ride; the music is experienced in an Uber context.
Brands like these will thrive in this new digital era because they're no longer constrained by their own narrow channels; the customer has the power, but the brand has their attention.
As more brands become living, holding onto their customers' attention is going to be a challenge.
The challenge ahead: how to remain distinctive
As more brands embrace living services and become living brands, the challenge won't be that companies need to become nimble, design-centric, data-driven, empaths. That will be the norm. The test will be whether they have the traits that always made one brand distinctive from another: credibility, personality and character. Of course they'll have to flex and modulate based on the customer's needs in the moment, but clarity of purpose and choosing the right data will also be essential.
"Discern which data matters, what will be irrelevant and what will really make a difference so your living brand obtains character. And it will have character because you've blown the right oxygen into it at the moments that matter," says Müller.
Accenture's Living Brands
Discover more about Accenture's Living Brands www.accenture.com/interactive