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Marketing in a machine world

With the evolution of brand purposes, brands began talking to the human soul. And now the next ‘organ’ to attack could be the device!

Last Updated: Mar 07, 2020, 10.59 AM IST
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It is highly unlikely that all buying decisions would be left to the device.
By Madhukar Sabnavis

Imagine a world of Consumer IoT. Your Maya didi or Ramu kaka (Indian version of Alexa or Siri) recognises you are running out of butter at home. It orders butter from an online store, paying with a wallet through a bank. A drone delivers the butter when you are not at home, connecting with your device and doors of home and fridge. When you taste the butter, you grimace slightly, Maya didi or Ramu kaka recognizes your disapproval and re-orders another brand of butter and it gets substituted to your satisfaction. The choice of brand for butter (two times), the online store, the wallet and bank is determined by ‘Artificial’ Intelligence based on

a. Your past brand decisions in the category
b. Your past brand decisions cross category determining your mindset
c. Your profile matched with similar types in the immediate or larger universe basis which the brand choice is made
d. Some other algorithm

Or based on ‘Influenced’ Intelligence. Either the marketer has paid the algorithm writer - Mr Artificial Intelligence - to modify brand to his choice. Or used another kind of ‘viral’ marketer - a hacker has created a virus that enters and influences your device to drive choice to the marketer’s brand.

Is this a reality of the future? Or is it too far-fetched, unimaginable to ever be real?
A friend and colleague, B Ramanathan (currently CEO of Ogilvy Indonesia) told me, a few years ago, that as the mobile becomes a part of human body, the battle for marketing may extend to it. Seemed preposterous at that point of time but today, one sees that marketing is moving in that direction. In the 70s and 80s, it was about battle for the mind; in the 90s, it moved to winning the heart. With the evolution of brand purposes, brands began talking to the human soul. And now the next ‘organ’ to attack could be the device!

Will this be the end of marketing and brand building as we have known it for the past few decades? Yes and No. Yes, because there is another player to deal with for marketers to create brand preference - the device. No - because it can be seen just as an evolution. Marketing attacked mind first (USP was the concept); next worked to get the heart to over-rule the mind (creating desire) and then used the soul (by driving purpose) to appeal beyond heart and mind. It will evolve to a case of getting mind, heart and soul to influence the device (or vice versa). It will make the world of marketing more exciting - if it happens. Just as addressing the heart made considered decisions impulsive; we may move into an era where routine decisions could become more considered through smart marketing activities. How do you get the consumer to dictate to Maya didi or Ramu kaka what brand of butter to buy rather than just leave it to her or him?

The reality is that even today many brand decisions made by consumers are ‘habit’ and ‘routine’ driven. Consumers have so many decisions to make in life in general, that to go through an evaluative process every time they buy many products is stressful. Past purchase and heritage give brands a distinct advantage. And saliency in categories where experimentation is low risk. Yet, marketing has successfully worked towards changing mindsets of some consumers through disruptive messaging, ideas and interventions at appropriate points of contacts to drive brand switches. The device could be viewed as another point of contact.

‘Quiet influence’ has been part of marketing armoury for decades. There was debate on the ethics of subliminal advertising and its influence on consumers when aston bands made their first appearance in the late 80s and early 90s in video cassettes. There is still not enough quantitative proof of the impact of this form of communication, but it continues to exist. Such issues will continue to be points of discussion in the new age- whether it is right to pay algorithm writers to promote a brand over others and whether hacking is moral. It would also bring into focus the brands within the devices market. Ethics could be the brand differentiator for one device brand over another! Ultimately, David Ogilvy’s dictat ‘The consumer is not a moron - she/he is your spouse’ (my variation) will win. Consumers will find their way through such influences. And if it really matters, will get involved deeply before making a brand choice.

It is highly unlikely that all buying decisions would be left to the device. As consumers continue to interact with the outside world, the influences of others (word of mouth), spaces like malls and retail shops and the content on devices, among others, will continue to have a role to play in decision making. Impulse, considered and machine made decisions would happily co-exist. And marketing efforts would be work around these for optimum returns.

Something worth thinking about.

(The author is vice chairman of Ogilvy India. Views expressed are personal.)

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