My way? Branding in a personalized world

I follow comments on articles and posts with not-so-always-as-unattached-as-it-should-be bemusement; quite often the article/post is more of a catalyst than an actual source of information.

I’m struck by a thought tonight though, after a particularly vitriolic back-and-forth session on a Daily Show post: what will “authenticity” look like in the future, and how will we recognize it?

There used to be “trusted” authoritarian figures – Cronkite, Brokaw, those types. But with the advent of “social media”, our trusted advisers are friends, or others in our community (digital or otherwise). Fine. But as the noise goes up digitally (increasingly everyone has a loud opinion), will it perversely create closer “real life” ties as a “safe” refuge from the melee?

And if brands are currently scrambling to take advantage of the current channels/technologies and create relationships with customers, instead of pushing messages (a paradigm shift that very few have managed to successfully understand yet), how will they deal with this change?

Some say “branding” will be more important than ever, and in the short term perhaps they are right. But there is a whole generation of people who will not have brand relationship as we did for the first part of their life, and are developing their own “digital communities” from the beginning, growing up swimming in a sea of constant, instant communication. How will they find and become loyal to brands if the communities are formed – and distrustful of “outsiders” – from the start?

For that matter, how will be be exposed to alternate ideas & philosophies, something critical to maturity and intellectual growth?

I was thinking about this a while back, because of services like Pandora. So neat, really, to just start it with a few artists/songs you like, and then (theoretically) never have to hear another song you don’t like. Personalization at it’s best.

The problem with that is, there are whole genres of music I’ve never even heard of, and end up liking when someone makes me aware of them. How is this going to happen if from the beginning of my life I’ve had it only served up “my way”? How will I know what “my way” is? Particularly if I only interact with groups (virtual and otherwise) I already know, and “trust”.  

A lot to ponder.

Just a thought.

Update 11/16/10: Ted Koppel wrote an article for the Washington Post today titled “Olbermann, O’Reilly and the death of real news” where he discusses the lack of “trusted authority” in a fragmented, 24 hour media world. Here’s my favorite quote:

Broadcast news has been outflanked and will soon be overtaken by scores of other media options. The need for clear, objective reporting in a world of rising religious fundamentalism, economic interdependence and global ecological problems is probably greater than it has ever been. But we are no longer a national audience receiving news from a handful of trusted gatekeepers; we’re now a million or more clusters of consumers, harvesting information from like-minded providers.

I love it when famous people agree with me 😉

Virtual me

A few years ago I met with a company that was in start up phase, with a cool vision: they were developing body scanning software (not new) BUT – and this is the cool part – they were taking it a step further by planning on installing kiosks in malls which were tied to the apparel inventory in the store at that mall.

So you could be scanned, tell it you were looking for a red dress, and it would give you the list of options: “At Macy’s Liz Claiborne has a red dress in your size. At Bloomingdale’s, Tahari”.

Note: as any women can tell you, sizing is a “rough estimate” not an absolute – so you can be one size with one brand, and a different one with another. The body scanning software eliminated this fuzziness – it correlated your actual measurements with individual brand measurements and then checked inventory there to ensure you didn’t have to waste a lot of time searching and trying on things that didn’t fit. It would send you to the right place/brand/size without all the hassle.

Aside from the fact that some don’t find shopping a hassle and it’s a very utilitarian approach to searching and finding, this is clearly genius. But I’d like to see it taken a few steps further.

The body scanning /real time inventory integration should be combined with avatars and virtual world technology. Not in Second Life, although that can be a real hoot (hey, I know, I’m a geek) – but the ability to scan, build an avatar that actually does resemble you (not the idealized 20 year ago in my wildest fantasy version), with correct dimensions, and then – and this is the next steps – have it try on apparel that actually is based on real manufacturers styles and sizes. You could *immediately* actually see if that dress fits, how it looks in 3D, and whether it’s flattering.

This would be a huge cost reduction for what is a practice barely improved since the advent of the Sears catalog back in 1888. Currently catalog or Internet sales are a fuzzy science – a teeny picture (maybe, a shot from the back too), that’s no where close to your size/body shape. I don’t even bother, but when I have, I order two sizes and return the one that doesn’t fit – or return them both in disgust.

These returns cost both the retailers and the manufacturers a huge amount of money and hassle. It keeps inventory management a guessing game for the manufacturers, who have to take back inventory that doesn’t sell in the retail channel and also share – if not own – any sales price reductions that the retailers implement. So, if something comes back, it either goes to the sales rack or gets returned to the manufacturer. For the retailers it’s more about hassle and the costs associated with logistics.  

With body scanned avatars – and accurate sizing reflected in a virtual garment – the number of returns would be greatly reduced, because you would *know* it fit, and that it looked good. It’s such a win-win-win solution for everyone involved (consumer, retailer, manufacturer) that I don’t understand why I’ve not seen any movement towards developing this.

I’m not sure I really want to see what I look like in 3D, which I’m sure is a concern for many (I like my delusions as much as anyone….). But the amount of hassle and guessing it would eliminate would be a powerful incentive to try it.

And then when customized apparel manufacturing starts to go mainstream – it will be a necessity. Straight from scan to cutting table, so to speak, even if a laser is doing the cutting. But this disintermediates the retailers to a large extent, so has less incentive to be implemented.

I’m disappointed that in truth, I’ve been thinking about this for at least 5-6 years and as yet, it seems the industry is sticking with the old.

The good news is that my delusions are for now, still safe.

Pugnacious twats: Anger issues in an interactive world

I’ve had a few unsavory run-ins (and yes, that’s the right word) with people on other people’s Facebook discussions lately. You know, the kind when you’re innocuously commenting on someone’s post and then “bam!” someone who feels the need to aggressively disagree shows up. The kind of interaction that frankly just leaves a bad taste in your mouth.

Typically these run-ins are followed by a private message from the original poster, who’s connected to both of you (and is now in the middle) explaining that while this person is indeed resembling nothing more than a total argumentative a-hole on Facebook, in person they’re wonderful and kind while butterflies and rainbows just stream forth from every orifice of their bodies (ok maybe I exaggerate a bit there…).

Why am I mentioning all this on a blog dedicated to technology you ask? Well it’s also a blog about how people interact with technology, and I am interested in the barriers that technology is lowering – and in this case, it’s interesting to me that all those social norms that exist between real interactions seemingly have little hold once the interaction is through a screen. Why it’s acceptable to be an absolute aggressive jerk to a complete stranger – even though there’s a mutual connection in between.

I know there are the subjects that your mother always taught should be avoided in polite company: I believe it was politics, sex and religion – so Facebook conversations definitely fail on that rule. We’re discussing (arguing about?) subjects that typically you would have never have had with strangers, and probably not with friends either.

But at the same time, there’s not a lot of discussion happening. It seems that somehow it’s become even more important to “put your stake in the ground” about your beliefs/opinions, and then defend them vehemently, as opposed to listening.

Which is where I have an issue with the people who tend towards the “pugnacious”. All this anger they clearly have now has an outlet, where they can exhibit it with complete anonymity or fear of retribution. I (or anyone) have been depersonalized. The barriers to civility are eliminated, allowing for basic personality flaws to be magnified.

And I think that inevitably this elimination of social behavioral norms will spill over into real life: once you’ve gotten used to being able to be aggressive virtually, it’s easier to be it in person.

So while I love technology and how it’s changing our lives, I fear for something that seems to be disappearing: basic courtesy.