Over-obsession of tech-based brand-building solutions doesn’t work

30 Jul,2020


By Siddhartha Mukherjee


In the last five years or so, our brand management vocabulary has gone up a few notches. Two specific keywords – Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) – have scored the highest share of voice. Global and local organisations have emerged as profitable service providers. Brand-owners are giving jaw-dropping attention and gorging on these domain areas. Crores are getting invested into this. Brand Building, Sustenance and Sales are depending on it.


However, here is my word of caution. Obsession or, should I say, over-obsession of technology-based brand-building means and thought processes are eroding our sensitivity to the non-linear shifts that occur in all human behaviour. It erodes our natural ability to extract meaning from qualitative information. The world of brands is about emotions – not of the brand-owners but of the stakeholders. Tech-based thought processes will never give us accurate understanding of the emotional shifts based on delta change in social, psychological, geo-political stimuli. It will be counter-productive.


Neil deGrasse, the versatile physicist, feels: “In science, when human behaviour enters the equation, things go non-linear. That is why physics is easy and sociology is hard.” With tech-based solutions, we are not building brands. We are just experimenting with alternative routes to create a steroid to boost sales revenues.


Let us understand the basics. A logo is owned by a company. When promise is added to the logo, it becomes a brand. Which again is owned by the company. However, a brand’s reputation is formed based on the stakeholder’s experience and how s/he processes brand promises through this mesh of emotions. Now, reputation is not owned the company. It is owned by the stakeholders outside the company. Brand creation and sustenance, therefore, is about understanding the emotions of these millions of stakeholders across demographics, psychographics, etc. It is about understanding their fears, emotions, expectations, aspirations, sadness, etc based on different brand message stimuli.


Here is where, I feel, that too much dependence or obsession with STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics)-led products and solutions like AI and ML will not do justice to brand building and sustenance. Here is where, we must have a balance between New Age (AI, ML & DM) algorithm-based solutions and old age brand building and data creation techniques. The fact of the matter is that this is something that has been sorely lacking in almost all organizations. Many don’t realise that it is the old way of thinking, led by human intervention and not by machines & robots, that provide brand owners and brand builders something very essential, known as “Critical Thinking”.


So, it is about a balance of New Age Brand Building Solutions Vs Old School Critical Thinking.


Critical Thinking comes with the background of Humanities – disciplines that explore human or stakeholder culture – such as literature, history, philosophy, art, psychology, anthropology, sociology, political science, economics, geography, geo-politics and so on.


Critical Thinking or Humanities understanding provides mental dexterity to brand management professionals. It opens their mind and enhances their ability to read stakeholder emotions more accurately and holistically. It leads to understanding the “emotional connect” of the target audience stakeholder. It provides human intelligence as against machine intelligence.


Our brand building and marketing machinery’s potential to build strong brand and stronger brand reputation has been hijacked by the promises of the tech-based AI and ML world. Never before has our brand management matrix been so divergently linked with criss-crossing mesh of pretty much all subjects around us. However, both as brand owners and builders, we must remind ourselves that the important role of human intervention is the most important factor towards making sense of changing stakeholder emotions.


Siddhartha Mukherjee is a senior marketing services research professional. He was until last year Business Head at Eikona and is currently Founder of Brand Balance (brandbalance.in). This column will appear every other Thursday.


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