Technology humanizes brands

The year is 1914. Mrs. Pinkerton strolls into the bakery at 7:30 every morning to buy bread for the day. The proprietor, knowing this, has a loaf freshly baked for her. Heartfelt discussion ensues about the Pinkerton family. Just another genuine customer experience in a simpler time.

Flash forward to today. Brands and customers come together again. “The Baker is Back.”

For the past 100 years, we’ve built a society engineered for efficiency. Now, consumers can obtain virtually anything they want, whenever they want. While convenience has been achieved, consumers are increasingly craving humanism in the brands they buy and in the experiences they have with those brands.

How will brands accommodate this rising expectation? Here are my predictions.

Here in Atlanta, startups and forward-thinking brands are bringing back the emotional connection between consumers and brands. Sanitizing one’s brand and presenting its “best face” is tempting; but honesty, authenticity and humility are more impactful in this overly skeptical market we’ve created.

In 2015, more brands will remove their curtains and strategically shed their desire to project “perfected personas.” Instead, they’ll reveal their faults to avoid having to make insincere, reactive apologies — to which consumers are far too familiar. This will endear them to the public, and their sales will reflect it.

How will these big brands keep their ear to the ground to decipher what consumers crave? An Atlanta-based start-up, Decooda, offers a data processing engine that looks to social networks, survey data and even transcriptions of call center conversations with customers to determine sentiment, emotion and purchase intent of consumers — all done in real time.

A new level of consumer loyalty will emerge in 2015 thanks to unparalleled consumer participation with brands. The cleverest brands will acknowledge consumers’ craving to participate in customer experiences. By placing the customer squarely in the operations, R&D, marketing and overall decision-making of the business, customers will find themselves fully immersed in the story of the brand, and a new level of customer loyalty will be achieved.

One example is Athens-based Red Dress Boutique’s “Buy for Boutique” program. It empowers the brand’s best customers by giving them the opportunity to provide feedback during CEO Diana Harbour’s buying trips. They’re eager to help choose next season’s inventory by having an immediate impact on the boutique’s purchase decisions. Red Dress Boutique’s revenue increased from $63,000 in 2010 to $7.1 million last year.

With the advent of the Internet of Things, beacons, RFID tags and other retail technologies, marketers are about to be overwhelmed with data, and consumers will be overrun with shotgun marketing messages. Smarter brands, though, will offer timely, engaging, personalized messages and offers to consumers. They will use this data to create, as Chris Surdak says in his book, Data Crush, “trillions of markets of one.”

It’s time we use technology, and the intimate details we’ve learned about customers, to humanize brands and produce meaningful connections.

A start-up at Atlanta Tech Village, Taonii, is doing just that. By learning a variety of users’ preferences and likes, the Taonii app offers customers unique offers and messages that truly interest them.

In 2015, I predict, companies will reallocate traditional advertising dollars to establish “conversation centers.” Socially savvy employees will be hired to converse with prospects and customers — not from a reactive, service-based perspective, but from a proactive, predictive and positive reinforcement angle.

I’m excited about the industry we are in, the city we live in and the opportunities technology is enabling for us. As consumers, we all pine for simpler times and truly personal connections in our shopping experiences. Just like the days of the corner bakery.

Ed King is director of strategy for Atlanta-based Max Media.