News & Views

Atomised brands: Learning to lose control

by Contagious Contributor
Mark Curtis, chief client officer at Fjord, design and innovation from Accenture Interactive, on why brands that distribute themselves across different platforms and services better suit their customers needs

The dramatic transformation of the music industry perfectly epitomises the impact digital has had on our world. To many, it won’t seem all that long ago that vinyl was king. Consumers would wait patiently in line to buy their favourite artist’s latest album, taking it out of its crisp paper cover once they’d returned home and placing it on the record player, the speakers crackling as the needle scratched over the record’s surface.

This experience is a million miles from what we’re used to today. We’re no longer limited to playing music on our record player or radio. With streaming services like Spotify, we can access it from touchpoints and environments that would once have seemed entirely incongruous to the music-listening experience. Spotify is available through everything from desktop, iOS and Android, to Samsung Smart TV’s and even car dashboards (as in the case of some Ford models). You can literally access the service throughout your day, and in whatever touchpoint or environment you like.

Brands like Spotify have learned a valuable lesson about the modern consumer environment. With the number of digital touchpoints and platforms constantly multiplying, people’s expectations are becoming increasingly liquid. Consumers no longer expect to be limited in the way they once were with products and services. They expect a brand to be entirely portable, travelling with them and complimenting their individual experiences and preferences. The brands that are responding best to this shift are those that, like Spotify, have embraced something I like to call ‘Atomisation’.

Atomised brands take a less rigid approach to their products and services, allowing them to be super distributed across various platforms and third-party services, while still retaining their brand identity. They operate in a world where the rules of branding and conventional business structures are fundamentally challenged and disrupted, where services appear intuitively to offer themselves to consumers according to their time, place or situation.

Atomisation is widespread in music streaming services, as in the case of Spotify, but financial services have also emerged as early pioneers. This is being witnessed most markedly with payment processing and social banking where many banks are integrating services with retailers or social media channels. Turkish bank Garanti’s digital banking initiative iGaranti is a good example. The service provides wallet, savings and loan apps and is integrated with social networking sites Facebook, Twitter and FourSquare. This integration allows customers to send secure payments to friends and take advantage of location-based shopping.

The atomisation trend witnessed through iGaranti and Spotify is part of a much bigger transition we’re now witnessing. Big data, smart mobile technology and connected devices will increasingly combine to allow businesses to create a new type of smart digital service, capable of constantly evolving and learning our individual preferences and environments, almost as if it’s alive. These Living Services will be more contextualised and personalised than any we’ve experienced before.

Early examples are already beginning to emerge. Smart thermostat ecobee is able to program itself using its owner’s preferred temperature and schedule, as well as adjust its settings to suit the weather. And personal finance app, Pocketsmith, looks at all incoming and outgoing transactions to create a long distance forecast of the user’s predicted bank balance – even to a given date. The process of atomisation is crucial to building the hyper-personalised and contextualised experiences Living Services promise and modern consumers increasingly expect.

There’s no doubt both atomisation and Living Services represent significant challenges for brands. They overturn well-established marketing orthodoxy and it will take time for many businesses to evolve their rigid, 20th century operating models to accommodate them.

But, the enhanced customer relationships promised by these trends will mean that the brands able to stay the distance will be party to one of the biggest paradigm shifts in service history. So, ditch the age of vinyl and embrace the new atomised world. Consumers will expect nothing less.