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Fast Company has a piece that considers how brands and the ways in which they advertise  to consumers are evolving, changing in part because of how technology has empowered shoppers.

"The landscape has shifted so much that an individual can now have more sway than an institutional brand," Fast Company writes.  "A brand can also be lifted up to new heights or brought to its knees by an individual.

"It may be the end of brands as we know them."

One of the things that seems to be happening, the story suggests, is a shift away from the transactional:  "One of the key touch points between brands and people online is e-commerce. The entire process - from product selection to payment - is transactional. However, when asked what people value most in their customer experience and will pay more for, 'friendly service' and 'knowledgeable service' score as high as 'efficiency' and 'easy payment.'  Conversations are highly suited for delivering friendly and knowledgeable services."

Going forward, fast company writes, AI will enable even more of these conversations:  "It’s already possible for us to have fairly natural conversations with AI on just about anything. In the next few years, it will be entirely possible for machines to provide friendly and knowledgeable services that are as good as, if not better than, those provided by humans in the form of conversations."

Which means, the story suggests, that brands will be required to facilitate these interactions in a way that feels more interactive and collaborative.  "Not only has AI collapsed the space between your idea and execution, but so has the influence between institutions and individuals. Building a brand has now become accessible to anyone and everyone. That is why it also has gotten that much more competitive. Fiercely so."

This also means that brands will have to be more precise about having and communicating perspective:  "Many brands try to express their point of view. Patagonia proclaiming that Earth is its only stakeholder is one excellent example, while Mastercard Europe helping Ukrainian refugees with 'Where to Settle' … is another instance of a company putting money where its mouth is.

"On the contrary, when a brand doesn’t stick to its POV, it can be far more damaging than it would have been a decade ago, as we saw in the case of a transgender influencer and a brand that relied on her but didn’t support her. 

"The mistake wasn’t not having a POV. Rather, it was not sticking to it."

KC's View:

One of the things that I also found interesting in the piece was the focus on "functional speed" as being far more important than scale.  Fast Company quotes Scott Galloway as pointing out that NFL Hall of Famer Jerry Rice wasn't that fast, "but he had ‘functional speed,’ the instincts to accelerate or decelerate when it mattered most.”

I bumped into this recently in another context.  I was talking to a guy I know after he sent me a copy of an article he'd written for a magazine, which I liked a lot.  I asked if he'd be willing to talk about the subject on MNB, and he said sure - but he wanted to wait a couple of months until the article is published.

A couple of months?  It never even occurred to me that it would take that long to be published.  I worked in print media for a long time!  I just forgot.  In fact, it never even occurred to me that the piece would be posted in dead-tree media as opposed to online.  I've gotten so used to some level of functional speed that I hardly remember what was on MNB two days ago, and I generally have no idea what's going to run two days from now.  (I'm not being anti-print here.  I love newspapers and magazines, and continue to get the legacy versions of publications like the New York Times and The New Yorker.   I believe there is a role for media properties that don't exist in the moment, that take a longer view than I do.  It just isn't the world in which I live and work.)

But the lesson here for retailers may be that they have to prepare to move away from their traditional approaches to consumer advertising and promotion.  They need to engage shoppers in a conversation, will full awareness that an individual consumer can have far more impact than a significant marketing budget.  And as AI evolves, they'll need to find ways to use it to facilitate those conversations.