The promise of the internet has, arguably, not yet been fully realised. You tend to hear more about the downsides of 'parasocial' relationships and social networks than you do about the good enabled by the internet. However, one thing that is absolutely undeniable is that the technology that underpins this new era of communications has linked us all together to an extent that would have been unthinkable even in the late ‘90s.
Dr. Erich Joachimsthaler, founder and CEO of Vivaldi, believes that we are currently in the Third Internet Age of interconnectivity. In his new book, he argues that our new age is as different from the previous age of social media that birthed Facebook as that time was from the age of search and ecommerce that led to the rise of Google and Amazon. Consequently, there is huge potential for a new internet titan to come and dominate this new age.
While we are all linked interpersonally through devices and social networks, this new age creates new levels of connectivity such as data to data, and things to things which enables new levels of interactivity, collaboration and co-creation between users, manufacturers, and others. These interlinked layers of connection means that companies and brands are having to transform themselves in order to not get left behind, both in terms of how they interact with other companies in their supply chains, and with audiences who have never been as connected as they are in 2019.
Joachimsthaler coins the term ‘interaction fields’ to describe how everything connects and how everyone: “Just as traditional businesses were disrupted in the second era, now it’s whole industries and categories that are blurring and will radically change and reorder. Competitors emerge from anywhere, including other industries - Tesla into aerospace, Netflix into content creation, and Google into mobility. As technologies converge, these walls disappear by democratizing data, shrinking distance, eliminating intermediaries and empowering consumers, making way for ever- escalating customer expectations.”
He notes that, while industries like banking and financial services were among the first to really take advantage of the new opportunity, that was only because the information available in those industries was digitised sooner. Marketers, who by design now have access to a wealth of data in their own right as well as on behalf of brands and clients, are bound to be the successors of those industries.
Joachimsthaler uses John Deere as a prime example of a company changing as a result of the interaction field model. Far from simply producing the old, mute pieces of machinery that helped establish it as a global brand, its new products are active data gathering machines. He points out that John Deere is no longer an independent entity, but instead one of many linked businesses that benefit from each other’s success. In the interaction field era, a rising tide floats all boats.
A new focus on consumers
There is currently a huge focus on brand values, driven in no small part by the fact that consumers can communicate on a much greater scale than ever before. The result of this is a much greater focus on brands using the communication tools at their disposal to set out their stalls in terms of their values, so that ever savvier audiences do not choose to use a competitor whose values align more closely with their own.
However, the current thinking of customer centricity and customer obsession and of merely knowing the customer extremely well is no longer sufficient, states Joachimsthaler. In a world where everything connects, it isn’t just consumers that are the end all and be all. John Deere isn’t creating the value for farmers alone. John Deere merely orchestrates value creation of crop producer, fertilizer companies and many others. Hence, John Deere must translate brand values to a host of other stakeholders and deliver relevant value propositions to them.
It is still important for brands to stand out and to differentiate themselves from competitors in terms of those values, but brands are no longer just defined by them. Brands are also defined by the interactions they facilitate in a network or an interaction field. The challenge for a brand then is not just telling a story or communicating values but creating, facilitating, and motivating interactions, collaborations and connections.
John Deere must ask itself how can it design a system that eliminates the frictions and inefficiencies for farmers and create higher productivity for hectare of land and more profits per square foot. How can it solve for the pain points, frictions or efficiencies for everyone in the interaction field? What entire new values can it create? Brands don’t just declare themselves, they act as well. It is the sum of those actions and meaningful and frequent interactions that is the brand.
“Rather than pushing products and images out from the company, the company seeks to attract people and partners into their field, inspire and encourage them to share data, to connect and interact. Higher interaction velocity pulls in new customers, competitors willing to collaborate, and new participants who help to create value for everyone in the interaction field.” The role of the consumer is no longer just to be a recipient of communications and messages but an active and proactive participant in creating value for everyone in the interaction field.
Consequently, the reality is that all companies are being disrupted by the rise of interaction fields just as much - if not more - as any other industry. Attempting to manage the relationship between brands and consumers when each are inextricably connected to their peers and one another is orders of magnitude more complicated than ever before.
That isn’t to say that the industry needs to throw the baby out with the bathwater, however - there are still many fundamental communication skills that underpin everything that can be done with Interaction Fields. What this new age of the internet offers is a compounding factor; whatever was previously possible in the ages of search and platforms is now possible faster and on a broader scale. While many are undoubtedly already grappling with the challenges of this Interaction Field future, marketers are in a strong position to to redefine their brands, to create new value and to unlock opportunities for their customers and many other participants in the interaction field.