News & Views

Opinion / Human Concepts

by Contagious Contributor
Jason Glenister, Creative Director at Unicorn XP asks how should brands engage consumers in the digital era?

The digital age seems a long time ago now – a revolution in its time – but now it’s simply the world around us. Today we’re all so used to the type of seamless digital experience that social media networks provide every minute of the day, that anything else just feels wrong. So, when a brand seemingly tags on a digital element or one that doesn’t answer a consumer’s needs – it feels clunky, awkward and we simply switch off.

Coming from a film-making background I’ve witnessed the ‘digitisation’ of the industry in all its gloriously imaginative wonder and equally, ill-advised mishaps. For brands and films alike, technological innovation doesn’t make a poor idea better, and never did. But used sparingly in a good brand narrative, it makes the story real, human and believable. It doesn’t provide the story, it simply becomes part of the journey. So, with that in mind, how should brands engage consumers in the digital age?

Take a reverential back seat

No matter how advanced the digital technology out there may be, brands should always take a reverential back-seat and not try and take control. They should put their customers first by meeting their needs, benefiting their everyday lives and improving their day-to-day experiences whenever possible – with invisible digital experiences. After all, digital technology is all around us and ideally should be there to make the world better, cleaner, faster, cheaper and greener.

Brands can benefit from being less ‘technology’ obsessed and instead step back and become obsessed about the customers’ experience instead. With the latest innovations coming through, the question should not be ‘AI or not AI?’ but more ‘how might AI or any technology benefit my customer?’

Avoid the ‘Mr Potato Head’ approach

The mistake often made is to simply try and shoe-horn in an innovation without properly thinking how it relates to the rest of the brand narrative or worse, if it’s at all useful. Otherwise, it risks being perceived as a digital bolt-on to a mutated Mr Potato Head – where an arm is where his eyes should be and a foot where his ear ought to live – and obviously just stuck as an afterthought. It all feels a bit wrong, disconnected from the original concept and off-putting.

We can all spot that a mile off and it ends up jarring the consumer’s experience and disconnecting them, rather than connecting. Instead, 'digital’ should be incorporated into the very DNA of the brand. It should be part of how it expresses itself, how it shows itself to be different – by being useful, helpful, invisible and a bit more human. Not a giant digital mutant potato.

Inspire others to tell their stories

Digital technology offers unprecedented opportunities for brands and people to share their stories and experiences. Brands can use digital technology to give consumers a more enhanced way of seeing and sharing the world around them. The more freedom brands give to consumers to express themselves through the tools of innovation, the stronger connection they will make with the brand.

When we work with brands, we try to get them to think about what their target audience wants and desires, not necessarily what the desired outcome is for the brand. By focusing on what customers or consumers want to do, to say and share, we can provide them tools to tell that story – all via the glow of the brand.

Be useful

One of the most powerful ways that brands can connect with consumers through technology is by being useful. I know, it sounds simple, but it doesn’t always work that way. For example, by using customer data in helpful, useful and creative ways, it can feed back and inspire people to make connections with what they like to do and to see. Ultimately the aim is to combine the physical with the digital and create brand expression through brilliant creative storytelling, which feels seamless and ‘technology neutral’ – with the digital aspect becoming invisible within the journey.

Or in the case of our client Aubaine – high-quality restaurateur – we’re helping them think about how they can use VR and gamification to train, engage and inform their staff as simply and as enjoyable as possible. And by taking a fresh approach to traditional staff training they not only use technology for the right reason, they also attract higher staff recruitment levels within their industry. Let’s face it, with today’s innovations and technical advances, staff training and skills-learning should never have to be boring.

Be more human

This should be the core thinking in everything a brand delivers when approaching a digital project. Does this digital concept feel ‘human’ or just technologically impressive? Does it help our customer’s daily lives? Is it useful, funny, relevant? To think of digital reality in this way, helps to stop us all obsessing over the ‘technology of things’ or how it works – and look more at how to ‘apply’ these amazing new resources and functions to things that live in the physical world around us.

Maybe we should all concentrate more on the creative idea, as opposed to the technology – after all, it’s just the tool that helps bring it all to life.