Facebook may be the company that has most tipped its hand with a vision of how sensor-enabled ubiquitous computing can transform the consumer experience. Regarding the company’s recent acquisition of Oculus VR, Mark Zuckerberg posted:
“After games, we’re going to make Oculus a platform for many other experiences. Imagine enjoying a court side seat at a game, studying in a classroom of students and teachers all over the world or consulting with a doctor face-to-face — just by putting on goggles in your home. This is really a new communication platform. By feeling truly present, you can share unbounded spaces and experiences with the people in your life. Imagine sharing not just moments with your friends online, but entire experiences and adventures.”9
What Zuckerberg is talking about and what Google and Apple seem to be alluding to is a shift in what technology is. Technology has typically been thought of as an enabler, a tool to connect us with information, other people and computational power beyond our individual capabilities.
With ubiquitous computing, technology transcends enablement to also become the very environment in which we perceive the world, interact with others, entertain ourselves and get things done.
However, before the emerging environment of internetworked sensors reshape the consumer experience, key issues must be addressed. First among these are concerns about privacy and security. Also problematic is the unfathomable ocean of information that will be at every individual’s fingertips. Connected individuals will need to be able to exert some control to protect their privacy and security, by limiting or preventing access from snoopers and hackers, as well as their sanity, by limiting the flow of information they experience.
From a marketing perspective, the environment of connected and sensor-enhanced consumers creates exciting new possibilities — and challenges. When technology becomes the environment itself, brands will be able to target personalized, context-relevant messages to people based on predictive analytics and individual preferences. In this new world, individuals will be able to exert even more control than at present over which brands they interact with and the degree of interaction they allow. The marketing paradigm that emerges will have new rules, with consumer-brand relationships becoming far more bidirectional than today. When this happens, we believe brand intimacy will become the essential knowledge that brands will need to navigate the new complexities.
Grounded in psychology and neuroscience, brand intimacy describes the dynamic process of how people form relationships with brands and specifically how those relationships evolve from casual encounters to become progressively intimate. In the ultimate stages of the relationship — sharing, bonding and fusing — brand use or ownership is experienced by an individual as a vital form of self-expression or self-definition. At this point, the individual’s relationship with a brand has gone beyond transactional, beyond trust and beyond loyalty. Our proprietary research has shown that brand-intimate relationships are fairly rare today, although some companies are much better than others at creating them.
Understanding the intricacies and mechanisms of brand intimacy will help businesses better focus their resources to earn a meaningful place in the perceptual/experiential networks individuals maintain, whether manually selected or as part of a package of applications and services orchestrated by a context aggregator.
This understanding will also help businesses avoid or respond to relationship pratfalls that might otherwise lead to consumer indifference and expulsion from an individual’s sensor net. In effect, brand intimacy is the currency of the forthcoming consciousness and experience-expanding world in which consumers can control privacy, security and information flow. Brand intimacy will enable businesses to purposefully engage customers in ways that are emotionally compelling on an individual basis, that create deeper, more personally fulfilling bonds. Ultimately, understanding better how brand relationships work will help businesses get invited in, stay in and build enduring and mutually beneficial relationships with people.
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