All over the world, brands are working behind the scenes like a busy laundromat. In the service of increasingly discerning customers, they’re ironing out every crease, looking to please with blanket seamlessness across every interaction.
This squeaky-clean efficiency is being powered by big data, emerging technology and harnessing new skillsets: from UX strategists to creative technologists, developers to service designers.
But at the same time, brands are also becoming aware of the risk of engineering a uniform kind of seamlessness. Differentiation, after all, counts for a lot and businesses built on robust data simply aren’t enough: human curiosity and emotion still need to be engaged with to ensure a brand’s enduring success and relevance.
So how do we cater to both needs?
Instead of getting stuck about how to bridge the emotional/data divide, we need to be thinking about how to build ‘two-speed brands’.
Just as there are ‘two-speed economies’, like Australia’s industrial exports versus its tourism and professional services economy, brands can also reap the benefits of operating a two-speed approach. After all, brands with longevity deliver at speed: visible, available and accessible when you need them.
But they also deliver at a slower pace: on depth of experience when people have the time, energy and curiosity to take notice of details, join a community or explore the world of a brand. Brands need to have two-gear transmissions.
Thinking about building two-speed brands allows brands to bridge the purpose they were built on with the experiences they have to deliver in a time-poor world. Moleskine is such a brand. Founded in 1997 in Milan, it doesn’t as much sell its iconic black-bound notebooks rather than it provides a connection to literary and artistic greats like Hemingway and Van Gogh who have used similar books in the past.
But the brand also shifts into second gear with the development of special paper tablets and pens that allow for instant digitisation into the Moleskine app, or even, integration with Adobe creative cloud. This isn’t a brand ‘going-digital’. It’s a brand that delivers two different speeds of engagement.
Building on the sartorial metaphor that started this piece, many successful sneaker brands also function at two speeds to provide depth of experience. Whether it’s buying direct from Nike or a retailer, it’s easy to get access to the latest ‘drop’ – just click away and have it shipped.
Want a Nike shoe in the colours of your favourite sweater? Get on Nike-ID, get customising and have it at your doorstep. But if you want to truly buy into a community, you can also get your hands dirty and play with aerosols, patches and laces at Nike Labs in Tokyo or queue for two days in the freezing cold to buy a truly limited-edition release at a Footlocker.
And make no mistake, this isn’t about old world vs. new; analog vs. digital. It’s worth thinking about how brand stories can function on two speeds as well. Uniqlo is expanding rapidly all over the world – to many, they’re seen as having affordable, quality basics.
But to those willing to take the time, there’s plenty to marvel at when it comes to their commitment to technology and fabric innovation – partnerships with fabric manufacturers yield ingenious solutions like Heattech and Airism that generate unexpected heat and cooling effects and are really what deliver on their proposition of ‘LifeWear’. Similarly, Airbnb can be a cheaper place to stay for some, and true immersion in locality to others.
Outside the realm of clothing, even chat-apps like WeChat and Line can deliver very different experiences based on choice of features. Ease of communication on one hand, but an exciting way to participate in pop-culture by purchasing and sharing digital stickers on the other.
When you think about brands as having two-speeds we’re forced to build brands that are grounded in longevity, purpose and story while being in keeping with our very fast times. We’re also able to think beyond the physical, digital divide and create experiences with true depth.
Perhaps even more importantly, we give human curiosity and the need for emotional connection something to nibble on. As more and more brands safely make it through the journey to seamlessness, a two-speed approach might just be the way to make sure they don’t all end up in the same place, or worse still, pick up our outfits from the laundromat only to realise we’re all wearing the same thing to the party.
John Corleto is a senior strategist at FutureBrand.