New Innovations are Helping Tech Adapt to Humans – Not the Other Way Around
If there’s one theme that’s emerged with technology in the last few decades, it’s that the more advanced our technology becomes, the more it empowers us to personalize our lives. We can personalize everything now, from what shows we watch, through sophisticated video streaming services, to the method by which we communicate with others via today’s many social media channels. And, of course, with mobile, we’ve entered a new age of personalization with apps and services that enable us to tailor the way we communicate, shop and follow news.
This personalization theme has always intrigued me, and it was recently on full display at this year’s South by Southwest (SXSW) in Austin, Texas. Although I’m a rookie when it comes to attending SXSW, in the last couple of years I’ve had the chance to catch several other international conferences, including Mobile World Congress, the Consumer Electronics Show and the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. And this perspective has allowed an eye-opening insight.
With many of these conferences, technology is the driver in the way we’re able to personalize our lives. But the profound differentiator at this year’s SXSW was that the human is very much at the center of the equation, driving the technology. It’s the continual journey with the human, or consumer, that’s the most important thing to understand, and how new technologies play different parts along this process. In other words, the journey to enrich our lives through more personalization is really about the journey with us, the humans, and not the technologies.
This insight is one that was revealed at several panels with tech experts. They gave a fascinating glimpse into the mindset of some of today’s brand visionaries and how they’re integrating personalization as a foundation for their businesses.
Understanding Your Customer’s Mind, Emotion and Context
One SXSW highlight was a session called “Building Influential Tech Brands,” which featured several innovative leaders from startups as well as established brands.
Among the speakers, Marcela Sapone, co-founder and CEO of Hello Alfred, shared some observations on using personalization and building a brand that truly resonated. Hello Alfred is a startup that offers an innovative private-butler service in which someone can be hired to come into your home while you’re at work and take care of chores such as house cleaning, grocery shopping, and dry cleaning drop-off and pickup – all of which will be completed by the time you return home.
In discussing how she and Hello Alfred’s other co-founder have developed their company, Marcela explained that the company’s model is centered on truly putting yourself in the shoes of the person you’re selling to, and understanding their mind, emotion and context.
To this end, she developed a few guiding questions to define what the brand could and should be, and everything they could think of to deliver on that:
- What does someone think of as soon as they hear of our brand?
- How do we carry through with everything after that point so that our brand resonates everywhere, across every experience and interaction?
- How do I make something so personal, so contextual, so important to the person I’m interacting with that the value is not something explicit that the person notices, but implicit?
Along with defining these brand-experience guidelines, Marcela elaborated that it’s critical that a company doesn’t stop with this consumer journey but goes further and further with it. Companies must constantly seek ways to deliver value to the consumer to the point where this mindset becomes second nature.
Marcela’s lessons struck a chord about the way that brands should frame their strategy to more effectively connect with consumers through personalized service. These insights align perfectly with technology in that, in every step of the innovation cycle, we must constantly put ourselves in the shoes of the customer.
Start with What You Would Want to Feel If You Were the Consumer
Another SXSW highlight was the session “Forget Unicorns: Breeding Dragons in a Mobile World,” which explored how established companies could use some of the characteristics of unicorns (private companies valued at more than $1 billion) to launch fast-growing “dragons” within their own organizations. It was led by Bonin Bough, brand visionary and Chief Media and eCommerce Officer of Mondelēz International, one of the world’s largest snack-food companies.
Bonin reinforced the theme that brands must drill down more and more to the individual in their customer outreach. In his own customer outreach efforts, he described his innovative approach for engaging with mobile users. For example, instead of talking in abstract terms with empirical data to communicate, he tries to take a more personal journey to understand what it takes to reach a consumer and how the consumer uses mobile. He does this to the point where he asks people personally, through a text message, to have conversations with him. And he’s even published a book on this approach, Txt Me: Your Phone Has Changed Your Life. Let’s Talk about It.
This was an excellent arc to understand as far as how to enrich the personal journey. From the beginning to the end of this arc, we have this pursuit of personalization. The underlying theme is, “Start with what you would want to feel if you were the consumer.” And it’s important not to just answer this at the topmost level, but to continue this as part of a long-term journey and do everything we can think of to continually deliver on a brand promise.
The Role of Virtual and Augmented Reality
In addition to these sessions, it was fascinating to witness the personalization theme on display at several virtual and augmented reality exhibits at SXSW. Among these was an event one hosted by Samsung, held in the Gear VR Lounge, that featured an amazing virtual roller coaster experience based on two roller coasters at Six Flags’ theme parks. It was a showstopper that had a long wait throughout SXSW.
The buzz, excitement and long line also revealed people’s growing desire for personalization and deeper immersion in experiences. With virtual and augmented reality, it’s truly amazing that we have established a whole area of technology now entirely focused on improving an individual’s experience.
Yet one important distinction to keep in mind is that virtual reality is designed to be an isolated and solitary experience, enabling someone to be entirely engaged in that experience. Augmented reality, however, offers interactions while still providing a customized environment for engagement, so we experience reality differently from the reality we’re actually in. But in both cases, the reality is being adapted to us, the individuals.
Beware of “End-to-End”
These experiences and highlights underscored that we have an important opportunity to arrive at a new understanding of a company’s journey with the consumer. New technologies play different parts along this journey, but the journey to enrich our lives through more personalization is really about the journey with us, the consumers — and not the technologies.
As a final note on that, one thing that can be a particular impediment regarding the notion of personalization is the frequently used term “end-to-end.” This marketing modifier, a trap of technology services language, can limit our focus on consumers. We need to beware of this term. Our journey with the consumer, after all, should be thought of as a never-ending cycle, with no end to the process.7