Even a digital-only future needs a human touch

Such a transformation will force marketers to think beyond ‘consumers’

By Frances Bonifacio and Rami Hmadeh, Special to Gulf News
15:10 March 13, 2018

Thanks to technology, a humanoid future is here to stay. It will be human-centric.

It will be a future where communications will be radically more meaningful and largely more profound than it is today. Perhaps, human relationships will become more personally entwined as people will eventually learn, unlearn, and re-learn how to have richer engagements and deeper connections.

As we understand, the future of communication won’t be shaped by technology alone. Contrary to what brands and communicators tend to envision, technology won’t usurp communication, it will merely augment it.

It may sound like an anti-thesis to rapid digitalisation and innovation, but as we came to comprehend in the recent La Futura Conference in Dubai, we are bound to be confronted by a paradigm shift in brand behaviour. If brands are to make it at all in a future where nothing else but artificial intelligence seems to pervade, then “consumer-centric” as we know it will no longer be. And human-centric strategy — which views the consumer as a human being and deals with him cognitively — will be the ascendant norm in bringing brands to market.

By the year 2030, human-centric will be the definitive arbiter of brand relevance, let alone, brand endurance.

A future without technology is a future not necessarily bereft of technology. It is not resisting technological adoption, but it means going to basics where brands rely on basic human or societal instincts to get tribes to mobilise themselves into self-evolved communities.

It harks back to man’s essential need for belongingness. And presupposes that today’s Generation Z, growing up in what seems to be one big bubble of a mainframe, will naturally seek to gravitate towards that which they were intrinsically wired to do — cohabitate in a jungle of digital and technological highways.

In a future not too intent on employing mass broadcast or on any crude form of technology for that matter, brands will want to go back to the heart of their brick-and-mortar operations where neighbourhood relationships are strongest. They will want to spur relevant conversations not only between the brand and its close relations, but more importantly, among the multitude of crowds, tribes, and clusters within such neighbourhoods.

But it really goes far beyond brand discourse. The objective is not to have neighbourhoods evangelising each other about the brand’s merits. It is essentially harnessing the passion and the natural enthusiasm of tribal communities by forging avenues where acts of being, gathering and experiencing together are greatly reinforced.

Think streetwear brands like the Supreme and Palace. Timing their product drops has instituted a type of behavioural consumption that clearly understands that consumers are not solely motivated by advertising alone, nor are they deciding within a social vacuum.

The element of togetherness — from anticipating upcoming collections within online forums to the act of lining up outside retail stores — is in essence the epitome of societal consumption.

A future with technology is one where machine learning, automation, big data, cognitive computing and deep learning will all be a function of Artificial Intelligence. It is clearly going to have a big impact on daily lives, so it is imperative for brands to get the humanistic aspects of the technology right. Brands need to study and redesign the ways people interact with AI systems, ensuring that if they are to embark on a fully automated future, they develop technologies that are compatible with society’s core values.

Technological innovation alone is not enough as it will always need a human buy-in to fully flourish. Though innovation per se doesn’t ignite from human needs, it should always be in concord with human wants and wishes. The real question is how to build and redesign systems that benefit and augment people’s lives, inasmuch as how to create real value for real human beings.

If AI takes a role in truly understanding human needs and aspirations, there should be more time for brands to invest in human relations and real community building.

The real future of communication calls for brands to transcend the age-old understanding of marketing, which merely views consumer groups as viable markets for products and services. Instead, it encourages openness to embrace something called “societing”, which seeks to understand individuals within their tribes or neighbourhoods, either through organic or artificially augmented methods.

This could inspire a renewed sense of community where connections can once again be real. Especially in a region where Generation Z now accounts for more than half of the population, “societing” will hopefully introduce them to authentic human-centric relationships way more fulfilling than their virtual ones.

— Rami Hmadeh is the CEO of Serviceplan Group ME. Frances Bonifacio is Director of Strategy at the firm.