The Battle for Brands to Become More Human: Four Takeaways From Seattle Interactive Conference

Craig Chaplin

Some Kindlers recently got the chance to attend this year’s Seattle Interactive Conference (SIC), which is fastly becoming the Northwest’s answer to SXSW. The conference gathers digital marketers, creatives, strategists, designers and developers to discuss the challenges and opportunities that our ever-evolving, technology-fueled industries provide us.

This year’s session content — delivered by some of the world’s largest brands like Expedia, Amazon, Starbucks, REI and Microsoft — were connected by some consistent insights and trending topics.

1. Personalization vs Data Privacy

People are craving personalized experiences more than ever before, while also becoming increasingly uncomfortable with the amount of data that companies collect and share about them.

Many brands have developed interfaces that are filled with hidden program ‘trickery’ and deceptive ways of how and why they collect data — that many consumers don’t even know exist. But when they do find out (case in point: Facebook and Cambridge Analytics) you’ve probably lost their trust and loyalty for good.

So what’s the answer? Jordan Barr from Expedia and Anne Marie Tallariti from Starbucks both agreed that it’s about understanding why you’re collecting data in the first place and how you intend to use it. Be open and honest about your collection of data and what the audience is getting in return.

It then becomes about HOW you use the data. Use data to monitor human behavior and find ways to connect relevant opportunities based on customer preferences or user actions. It can’t be just for reporting ROI, rather equally needs to add value back to the customer and enhance their overall experience. For McDonald’s Worldwide Convention, Kindle developed a very purposeful, live data dashboard meant to display real-time metrics from the show floor. Through this dashboard, we were able to react in real-time and shift experiences onsite based directly off of attendee behavior and preferences.

2. Technology vs Creativity

Digital marketers are becoming more equipped in using data to inform strategy and measure results than ever before. However, relying too much on the data to drive action and predict outcomes can often stifle creativity. The results for many brands are that they operate in a rush, purely to ‘feed the data machine’, with content that lacks any real substance or purpose and provides very little value to the end-user. This occurs because many brands are still designing and creating for the ‘what’ without stepping back to think about the ‘why’.

Panelists Chandreyi Saha Davis from Amazon, Kate Jaffe from Rover, and Geoffrey Colon from Microsoft agreed that, “there’s no creative tension anymore. Nobody is willing to disagree or take enough risks… It’s much more exciting to explore the contrarian point of view.”

The lesson? Don’t try to be ‘data-driven’. When you make too many decisions based on data, the results become less human, and ultimately, less interesting.

Data itself doesn’t change the world, it needs humans with bold ideas to use the data to find ways to do something new and different. So be bold, be contrary, take risks, and lead with meaningful creativity.

3. Artificial Intelligence vs Human Connection

Whether we like it or not, we are becoming increasingly surrounded by AI and robotic assistants. So how can you help consumers better connect with your brand on an emotional, meaningful level? In other words, how can the ‘robots’ that we all hate dealing with become more ‘human’?

A successful brand personality consists of two parts, ‘voice’ and ‘tone’. Voice is synonymous with your brand. Tone is how you adapt that voice to people and events. So, whether your brand archetype has a more serious, leadership personality, or a more comedic, fun-loving one–this is where successful brands pivot in tone slightly to fit the need accordingly.

Many brands are using machine learning technologies that monitor and measure things like vocal emotion and aggression patterns, written tone and facial expression to get a sense of the emotion and mood of their consumers.

4. Selling vs Storytelling

A common message across many presentations was that “brands that matter need to be human at their core”. And storytelling is one of the most impactful ways for brands to wear their humanity and purpose with authenticity.

One of the best examples of this in action was from Microsoft’s Storylabs – a proprietary content platform designed to share “mindfully told brand stories that inspire and add value”, not to sell. What “The Steves” (Steve Clayton & Steve Wiens) from Microsoft explained was that “the best stories are about people. Fundamentally, they are stories of humans doing human things”.

The fact that the creation of some of these ‘brand stories’ have unexpectedly resulted in the development and launch of award-winning products for Microsoft (such as the Xbox Adaptive Controller) is further proof that a combination of empathy and creativity has the ability to change the world.

Another key point they shared was that “well-told stories are particular about platform too.” Too many brands and marketers jump onto the latest technology bandwagon, without giving thought to the best medium for the story they are trying to share.

At Kindle, we’ve had great success with launching brand storytelling platforms and creating compelling podcast content for our clients, but it was great to see the industry data supports the increasing value of this content medium — as much as it was being inspired by some of the biggest brands, who are human at the core, and who are doing it the best.