Are brands keeping pace with technology?

Adrian French, Brand Strategist

Are brands keeping pace with technology?

Technology isn’t evolving as quickly as you think it is | Brands are always playing catch-up | Pace isn’t necessarily ace

Depending who you ask we are now living in the information age, or the experience age, or the age of the internet …although this last one is like saying we’re living in the age of the donut or whatever else happens to be right in front of your nose right at this moment. In any case, it is undeniable that information and communications technologies shape our lives and how we live them. And there is a perception – sometimes an anxiety – that these technologies are emerging and creating change at great speed. 

On the other hand, brand and branding – the distinction being the discipline itself and the practice of doing it – appear to move less quickly. If technology is moving at the speed of the information superhighway, brand is moving at the speed of a donut. And this might not be a bad thing.

So just how quickly is technology evolving? In 1965, in what became known as Moore’s Law, co-founder of Intel Gordon Moore identified 'a doubling every year in the number of components per integrated circuit', using this to describe and predict the rate of change (later Moore adjusted this forecast to the rate of growth doubling every two years). Over subsequent decades his observation came to be used to describe ‘a driving force of technological and social change, productivity, and economic growth’.

The pace of change doubling every two years? Sounds like a lot. And reading the news headlines on any day of the week it can certainly feel like it:

Amazon company recently opened a convenience store, Amazon Go, in Seattle that allows customers to grab soft drinks, sandwiches and other food from shelves and leave without visiting a cash register. Shoppers gain entry to the store with a smartphone application, and are charged for items using sensors and other technologies similar to those in self-driving cars.

So it’s easy to form a sense that technology is accelerating change and the way that we go about living our lives day-to-day.

But others argue that technology isn’t changing quite so fast. This article in the MIT Technology review in May 2016 claims ‘Moore’s Law is dead […] The world’s top supercomputers aren’t getting better at the rate they used to.’

And this from David Moschella, for the Leading Edge Forum, writing that ‘The Pace of Technology Change is Not Accelerating’. He asserts that, in fact, the rate at which we are adopting technologies like Fitbits, 3D printers, smart thermostats and other technologies that will deliver the Internet of Things - when compared with the rate of adoption of technologies that have gone before - is relatively slow.

So is it merely a perception that the pace of change is increasing? In the same article Moschella asks: ‘Why do so many of us have this sense of accelerating change?’ And he suggests that there are 2 reasons for this:

1.    It is human nature to think that one’s own time is special…

and

2.    Many people conflate diversification with acceleration. The impact of technology is expanding on an increasing number of fronts, and this proliferation can mask the fact that the overall rate of adoption for any particular technology hasn’t really increased.

And this second point is critical to understanding what is going on:

It is the diversification of technology is the thing that people find breath-taking.

The overwhelming choice we are faced with is sometimes frightening and other times confusing and exhausting.

Take a refrigerator as an example. A fridge is a device for chilling – let’s pick a food stuff at random – donuts, say, but in order to make my choice of fridge beyond its size, aesthetic and energy efficiency I also have to decide if it should be self-de-icing and even ‘smart’, telling me when it’s time to buy more (although I never need to be told). Both the addition and combination of technologies make simple choices, like choosing a fridge, feel more complex. And because technology is being added to things that didn't have it in the past, it creates a greater number of variants, giving us a sense that - as in this example - fridge technology is ever changing.

So it is a proliferation of choice that gives us a sense of acceleration, even if there is none.

We’re all more or less human and according to Videk Wadwha ‘the problem is that the human mind itself can’t keep pace with the advances that computers are enabling’. In an article in MIT Technology Review, he considers laws and ethics in relation to technology, arguing that ‘we haven’t come to grips with what is ethical, let alone with what the laws should be, in relation to technologies such as social media’.

And this is where brand comes in.

It’s the job of brand, in part, to make technology human and accessible. Brand is the thing that allows people to self-limit their choices, making overwhelming situations more manageable; brands are trusted guides along complex journeys.

Brand, when business gets it right, IS the choice.

But, like the law - and as technologies evolve and proliferate - brand is all the while playing catch-up.

According to Guy Gouldavis at digital agency TVGla, the new brand imperative is to move ‘at the speed of culture’. A neat way of putting it. ‘Marketers must be technologically and culturally agile to connect with modern consumers. For brands to survive in this era, they have to move at the speed of culture, which requires thinking about culture differently and mobilizing in a new way.’

I agree. And, crucially, agility doesn’t always mean moving fast. As far as I’m concerned it can also mean moving at the speed of a donut if your customers need a brand that gives them reassurance and solidity at a time when everything else around them is in a state of change, perceived or otherwise.

For brands, the pace at which we apply technology mustn’t lose sight of the human experience that it creates. Brands that will win ultimately are those that balance the advantages of technology in its application with an understanding of the basic needs that drive us all. 

And sometimes this is something unchanging, something sugary and round, something that doesn’t need to happen at a pace.

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We live in a world where almost everything is somehow connected with a brand or presented to us via a brand or a branded platform. And much of the content we consume is enabled or enhanced by technology. This is a kind of brand-technology Venn diagram that overlaps so far it forms a perfect circle.

This is the world in 2017: brand and technology are the two most important factors in the way we experience and make sense of the things around us.

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