Future-proofing your brand (Part 1 of 3)

by Ofentse Sefolo
Future-proofing your brand (Part 1 of 3)

In the next three issues of Walls & Roofs magazine we will be exploring the in-depth topic of future-proofing your brand. Each topic is broken down into more detailed sections which aim to serve as a quick yet thorough reference guide.

Today there is widespread political, social and economic uncertainty – from significant political upheaval in countries such as the United States of America, the United Kingdom Brazil, Venezuela and now Germany, to economic and social controversies such as the meat scandal in Brazil, the European car emissions wrangle and the perceived slow response of digital businesses to the global rise in “fake news”.

When combined with unprecedented access to information, whether accurate or not, through social media and the Internet, consumers have lost trust in institutions such as the government, businesses and the media.

Consumers – fatigued from fake news and the political discourse – crave brands with integrity and transparency. They are savvy, discerning and seek meaning and purpose from the brands they choose. They are also, more than ever, in the driver’s seat, dictating what they want from brands rather than aspiring to become part of them.

At the same time, technological advances are moving at breakneck speed. Artificial intelligence (AI) threatens to disrupt the global economy, while autonomous vehicles – which used to just live in sci-fi fantasies – are likely to be on the road and amongst us in just a few years.

Against this political, economic and social climate, chief executive officers are rightfully concerned about a myriad of unforeseen forces that threaten the longevity of their companies.

We will delve into the backbone of how to create more innovative business cultures, and retain the talent that will help specific industries such as the fashion retail industry to move into the next century and beyond.

The robots are coming

Use human resources for human problems

“Ask what internal processes you can outsource to machines so that your employees can spend more time on creative tasks.” – Chloe Jerrard, consultant, EMEA.

As recently as May 2018, an Information Technology & Innovation Report suggested that legislators needed to “take a deep breadth and calm down” before panicking that the robots would take over our jobs.

Yet we can’t afford to ignore AI, as all signs point towards its potential mass adoption and the resulting economic revolution that would take place. For now, we are urging companies to look in the middle and consider man-made co-working. Work being undertaken at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) suggests that human-robot teamwork is far more productive than if either was to work alone, reducing workers’ idle time by 85%.

A key example
Amazon is one of the first companies to undertake such collaboration. At their Warrington factory in the United Kingdom, about 1 200 full-time employees work alongside robots that help them to procure products, cutting down on walking time. While there are still kinks to be ironed out, this sort of collaborative working is a sign of how humans and machines could be operating together soon.

Regardless of whether robots will technically “take our jobs”, they are already changing the playing field of business processes.

ASOS, for instance, uses AI to streamline its purchase-to-pay process. It has rolled out the instream solution, which cuts down on labour-intensive clerical tasks and decision making. It takes unstructured and semi-structured information (email, social media, fax and other electronic data streams) and turns it into accurate and structured data that enters its business systems, minimising the need for human interaction.

US online retailer Jet.com uses AI to process information on product availability in a customer’s geographic location, allowing them to create a dynamic pricing model. Businesses that fail to adopt such optimised methods will soon lose their competitive edge.

Always consider empathy

“Use empathy to listen to your customers and AI to deliver the solutions.” – Andrea Bell, executive editor, North America

During a WGSN Futures summit in London, James Poulter, head of social media at Lego, spoke about his daughter, Hazel, talking to Alexa. After observing how she treated Alexa, who at times she spoke lovingly to and at other times demandingly, he realised one striking observation: “For Hazel, there is no such thing as the Internet of Things – there are just things. And there is nothing artificial about artificial intelligence.”

Technology incites change
At the same time, technology is making lines more and more blurred, so older humans won’t be able to distinguish either. The head of WGSN Insight, Lorna Hill, hypothesises that by 2020, we might speak to robots more than we do to our loved ones.

To quote James Poulter, the integration of AI within our daily conversations and interactions requires a shift in our mindset towards AI. He argues that we should prioritise artificial empathy (AE). On the other end of the spectrum, empathy is the one antidote to the increasing automation of our lives. As Jean Lin, chief executive officer of Isobar, says: “The power of being human lies in empathy – something that cannot be automated or outsourced.”

From Facebook’s empathy lab to Johnson & Johnson’s new patient app initiatives, empathy helps to provide an antidote to the increasing alienation we feel with the rise of technology in our lives. Whereas AI can frankly help to create more personalised and optimised experiences for clients, it will never be able to inspire the one-to-one human connection that we as humans crave.

Consider zero user interface

“Start thinking ‘zero interface’ to create frictionless, invisible experiences for customers.” – Greer Hughes, consulting director, What does APAC stand for?

The move towards “zero user interfaces” will radically change how we interact with each other and the intelligent machines in our lives. A zero-user interface describes a world where users aren’t learning new technology, rather technology learns to meet users’ needs. Tactically, it refers to technology unmediated by a screen. Instead, it will be integrated into our everyday experience, eventually our brains.

In this world, apps as we know them are likely to disappear, leaving room for a smart system that interacts with us wherever we are, while voice technology will improve to a conversational level.

Two opposing approaches
In China, there has been less reluctance to accepting AI than elsewhere in the world, as it is effectively being used to create both streamlined and innovative retail experiences for millions of Chinese consumers. Alibaba has been an outspoken advocate of artificial intelligence. Currently, it uses AI to shape everything from the customer journey to product discovery and customer care with its chatbot, Ali Xiaomi.

Through experimentation, Alibaba has been able to create real-time personalised experiences for Taobao and Tmall shoppers. In Alibaba’s 11.11 Global Shopping Festival sale in 2017, more than 6,7 billion personalised “virtual window shops” were created on the platform by more than 230 000 merchants, showing both the scale and level of customer service that AI can bring.

Top tips

1. Create man-machine co-working teams to optimise productivity.
2. Use empathy to listen to what your customers want, and AI to help deliver solutions.
3. Tap into AI to streamline business processes and free up human resources to solve human problems.

Acknowledgement and thanks go to WGSN Mindset for the information contained in this article. This is an edited version. For the complete copy, contact WGSN Mindset or visit www.wgsn.com.

Don’t miss out on Part 2 of this exciting and educational read!

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