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Use technology to make people care about your brand (without being creepy)

Members of the IPA's Brand Technology Group provide an industry view on the impact technology is having on brands, consumers and agencies.

Caring is creepy? Google Now shows personalisation working well

Is your brand ‘always on’? Well, it shouldn’t be. Truth is, even the most interesting brands in the world are not actually that interesting to real people, most of the time. And although as an industry I feel we’ve started to realise that brand love doesn’t come easy, there’s still a reality check needed for the way brands talk to consumers.

If we start with the assumption that your audience isn’t really your audience, and they’re not particularly interested in what you have to say, how do you get them to listen? Let alone buy something?

I think there’s a valuable but often neglected way of making our audience care: just be there when they have a reason to be. Identify the brief moments when your brand (or more specifically the service or product it offers) actually could be useful, maybe even essential.

On the sliding scale of ‘brand/user engagement’, your audience could quickly go from ‘I literally couldn’t care less’ to ‘I’m considering this now’ or perhaps even ‘this is all I can think about’. Take energy suppliers for example – most of the year no one is really interested or engaged with their energy supplier, but if a huge bill drops through the letterbox, or they’re suddenly sitting there in the dark, rest assured it’ll be the only thing on their mind.

So how do we identify these moments, and in turn make sure our brand is there to offer help before they’ve even thought they needed us?

Luckily, the answer is simple. (Unfortunately, the actual implementation of that answer less so). We use a healthy mix of technology, data and our brains. There’s an array of tech/services/people out there using data to better understand consumers. Take Google Now for example, kindly predicting what time I’m traveling home just so it can give me traffic and weather warnings.

We’re also connecting our fridges, washing machines and security systems together in order to make life at home more intelligent and, erm, connected. Then there’s programmatic media buying that, by using multiple behavioural data sets, can help make our ads more pointed and relevant (annoyingly including those banners that follow you around, reminding you of that shirt you’ve just bought).

While data is a powerful tool, there’s a fine line between it being helpful and just downright creepy. So how do we make sure to stay on the right side of that line? The best way, in my opinion, is to be so useful and so clever that it transcends creepy altogether. In theory, broadcasting your exact location at 3am on a Sunday morning to Prius drivers across London is creepy – but the fact they can come and pick you up, take you home, all without worrying if you’ve got enough cash, is magic.

The ideal scenario for us, representing those low interest brands and trying to interrupt someone’s day, is to be there at the moment that it might actually matter. We can use technology platforms, with all of the data available to us (individual user details, user profiling and behavioural data), to provide a relevant message/offer/service that can deliver on a need right there and then. What if, for example, an energy company could be there just as the huge bill lands – providing an alternative solution, a better way?

In theory, we have the data and the technology available to us to do this, so what’s the hold up? Why aren’t we helping brands be more relevant and useful all of the time? Well for one, it’s difficult to weave this into the creative process. We can’t just bolt on personalised executions once the TV script is nailed. It needs to be baked into the idea, right from the start. But at what point does the ‘programmatic media’ chat come up in the creative brainstorm? To be honest, I’m not sure. (I’ve tried – blank stares.)

For me, the best way to start identifying these moments that matter, and subsequently crafting creative solutions around them, is to first understand our audience. By using data and technology at our disposal, we can gain access to their mindsets, experiences, interests, wants, needs and desires, and everything in-between. And If we can do this, we can start to make our ideas feel more clever, targeted and personalised.

Approaching creativity in this way in order to get to new and interesting insights and ideas might seem scary, but it’s definitely worth embracing. Lean on new services and techniques to break the creative process, twist it around, and you might just get to somewhere you’d never considered.

Finally, let’s not forget to be humble enough to admit that people aren’t interested in our brands most of the time, but also to be ready when they just might be. So maybe it’s time to shift the focus from the ‘always on’ approach and instead work on being really, really useful at just the right time. Perhaps then, your audience might just find your brand quite interesting. Or at the very least not creepy.

Rob Meldrum is director of experience architecture at Wieden+Kennedy and member of the IPA's Brand Tech Group which provides an industry view on the impact technology is having on brands, consumers and agencies

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