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Google I/O, Design, and Brand Evolution

Reporting on last week’s Google I/O conference, Fast Company published this click-bait headline:

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    A headline perfect for Buzzfeed, if it wasn’t so true

The interesting thing is: 

This doesn’t feel hyperbolic. It almost feels inevitable.

So how did Google go from a Stanford research project called “Backrub” to running the thermostats in our homes and software for our televisions?

The Fast Company article touts Google’s focus on Material Design as an indication of Google’s further advances into new aspects of our life:

With Material Design, Google has become a second reality inside touch-screen devices—complete with its own rules of logic and physics—and if Google has its way, it will eventually break free of touch screens to quite literally reshape the world around us. 

Google could not have pulled this off 5 or 7 years ago. Not because they couldn’t engineer such a future, but because they couldn’t design one.

In the last 5 years, Google has taken huge leaps forward in its design and UX principles — so much so they’ve gone from Design laggard to Design leader.

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        Functional, not beautiful                                                        

Google, for all its [real and nontrivial] hubris, deftly and humbly evolves. Who would have thought the company that eschewed design for nearly a decade would so quickly and forcefully evolve and grow?

What would happen if more big companies could get out of their own way and learned to embrace evolution? What if they stopped trying to prove their old ways were perfect and infallible and shamelessly stole and applied great ideas — regardless of the source?

All this is easier said than done, of course, but companies like Google that evolve and quickly slay sacred cows will be the companies running our lives in the future. And we’ll welcome them (for better or for worse).

Most Valuable Brands in the World

Millward Brown released their list of the most valuable brands in the world.

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I scanned the top 25 and had two observations:

1. Tech rules the world. Four of the top five are explicitly tech. If you, large brand, aren’t embracing technology, you are going to lose. I don’t think that’s an overstatement.

Of the non-tech companies in the top 25, arguably only 3 (Coca-Cola, McDonalds, Marlboro) have not significantly reshaped their business around technology. Side note: How quickly will more of Marlboro’s profits come from eCigs than tobacco cigs? Brand, disrupt thyself…)

2. Perception ≠ Reality. Perception is that Microsoft is dead. Coca Cola’s sugary carbonated water is off trend. McDonald’s isn’t fresh enough for today’s consumers. Anti-smoking laws and campaigns (and taxes) have scared away smokers. While all of these statements may hold some truth and yes, these brands may be on the slow decline, the reality is these brands still matter. A lot.

Think about you in 30, 40, 50 years. What will you remember? How will you describe your life?
Most people will selectively remember a few highlights of their lives: Their longest tenured job, family traditions, some key relationships.
Of course, people can’t possibly sum up 70, 80, 90 years of existence in merely a couple of paragraphs. Yet people act and live as if they can.
It’s the Twitter card summary of life. Everyone knows it’s insufficient, but people think this way each and every day.
Now think about your brand. Your brand can’t possibly be defined in 140 characters, right? Well, it is. That’s all the mental capacity humans will devote to thinking about your brand before they need to make a quick decision.
That’s why RedBull has become the “fall from space” company (e.g. Stratos). Nike is the innovative athletic wear company (e.g. Nike Fuelband, etc).
You know these companies are far more complex and nuanced than just one or two initiatives. But these are the types of heuristic shortcuts people employ when they think about your brand. 
Do at least one thing really, really well. If people are only going to remember 1 or 2 things about your brand, give them something interesting to hang on to.

Think about you in 30, 40, 50 years. What will you remember? How will you describe your life?

Most people will selectively remember a few highlights of their lives: Their longest tenured job, family traditions, some key relationships.

Of course, people can’t possibly sum up 70, 80, 90 years of existence in merely a couple of paragraphs. Yet people act and live as if they can.

It’s the Twitter card summary of life. Everyone knows it’s insufficient, but people think this way each and every day.

Now think about your brand. Your brand can’t possibly be defined in 140 characters, right? Well, it is. That’s all the mental capacity humans will devote to thinking about your brand before they need to make a quick decision.

That’s why RedBull has become the “fall from space” company (e.g. Stratos). Nike is the innovative athletic wear company (e.g. Nike Fuelband, etc).

You know these companies are far more complex and nuanced than just one or two initiatives. But these are the types of heuristic shortcuts people employ when they think about your brand. 

Do at least one thing really, really well. If people are only going to remember 1 or 2 things about your brand, give them something interesting to hang on to.

Beacon-ing in 2014

Yes, New Year’s trendspotters and prognosticators, we know and we’re with you. We’re in the age of the mobile device. So what’s going to change? How’s it going to matter?

Here’s one thought: Until location based information can be unlocked (there’s both privacy and battery life concerns), we won’t see widespread adoption of this utility. 

It’s this passive, no-effort utility that only location-sensitive mobile/wearable technology can accommodate. And the potential is huge. All of that big data sitting out there on Acxiom’s and Google’s servers can be put to use to bring about marketing nirvana. Or something like that.

Where the magic happens — inside a Google Data Center

With technologies such as Apple’s iBeacon, we’ve begun to address the concern around battery life (interestingly, even post-Snowden this is probably of greatest concern people have with location-triggered messaging).

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So what if that changes? What if people will now trade their in-store location information in exchange for coupons to their favorite products? What if your home would respond to your movements throughout the house — turning lights, heat, and screens off or on, depending upon your presence? Imagine what Tinder will do with beacon-like information… 

It’s happening, so how do modern brands respond?

Here are some ideas:

1) Don’t lose your head or your soul chasing the shiny object. Identify your brand’s purpose in someone’s life and only use technology to further your brand’s usefulness — not distract or annoy, merely because you can.

2) Create custom experiences. Use the technology to do things no one else can do. Partner with manufacturers such as Nest or LG or Samsung who are building the next wave of connected devices and appliances. Use your brand’s customer empathy to unlock new opportunities to serve.

3) Experiment. Boldly. History favors the progressive. Carve off a piece of your marketing budget for ROI-agnostic experimentation. These types of technologies and utilities are difficult for large companies to invest in because they seem so far-fetched. But if your brand is guided by a purpose and values, you can trust your team invest — even its R&D dollars — in initiatives that can pay big dividends in the future. (See: search engine building self-driving cars)

More on Beacons:

from Wired

from Apple Insider

wesleyhill:

Man, this song

Merry Christmas