How can brands survive in an algorithmic era?
A view from Emil Bielski

How can brands survive in an algorithmic era?

With consumer choices increasingly influenced by algorithms, brands have to embrace not free the robots, writes Maxus' Bielski.

How we decide what to buy, what to watch and what to do has been changed irrevocably by algorithms. Prompted by a tap on our smartphones or sometimes completely unbeknown to us, these data-driven helpers not only narrow down the choices we are presented with, but increasingly make them for us. Their impact on human behaviour and by proxy on advertising has the potential to be unprecedented.

There is justified trepidation, according to the Maxus Change Survey Report – only 24% of business leaders feel personally prepared for the current pace of change. The primary challenge they face is that their brands risk having their relationship with consumers being disintermediated by these unseen and little understood pieces of code.

If Alexa or Google Home predicts your weekly shopping needs, is a behavioural algorithm fulfilling the same function as a brand – helping make choices, but simply doing it better?

Algorithms will continue to thrive because they remove a mental load from people – helping streamline the thirty-five thousand daily decisions that the average adult needs to make. This frees people to focus their time on what matters to them. Brands that clumsily interrupt this relief will not be welcomed.

Algorithms will continue to thrive because they remove a mental load from people – helping streamline the thirty-five thousand daily decisions that the average adult needs to make.

To understand how brands should behave in this new world, we need to look at three elements that work in harmony to power these algorithms. I have labelled these the three "Is" of Intelligence, Interaction and Integration. 

Intelligence: The tools we use have moved from being providers of information to deliverers of intelligence. In many cases, the power of choice no longer rests with the consumer but with the algorithm. One benefit is that an algorithm can absorb far more information about a brand or product and its benefits than the average disinterested consumer.

A skill set akin to technical SEO will soon be needed for all facets of advertising – every consumer interaction, both on and offline will need to be tagged and optimised. This will enable people’s algorithmic assistants to note and make sense of the products advertised and their reactions to using them. We have B2C and B2B specialists, soon we will need B2Algorithm departments.

Interaction: We have moved from keyboards through to touchscreens and now utilise near limitless modes of data capture and input. Altimeters, heart rate monitors, gyroscopes and emotion trackers mean connections to our devices is nigh on symbiotic.

How brands interact with their customers will need to change in equal measure. If opportunities to engage with consumers will decrease pre-acquisition, then brands will need to focus increasingly on the post purchase.

The packaging, experience of ownership and customer service will become ever more important. One misstep and a brand can be algorithmically blocked from all future consideration, one great experience and they are likely to have a customer for life. This will see future marketing budgets shift dramatically away from pre-branding to post-re-enforcement.

Integration: The power of these algorithmic assistants is truly realised when they talk to each other. Unprompted your calendar will be in constant communication with Google Maps, your email program and news feeds, all simply to ensure you leave at the right time and take the most efficient form of transport.

This is the height of the bar of modern consumer expectations. Soon we will see further integration with wearables and bio-tracking technology, enabling the best advertising of the future to even pre-empt conscious needs.

The more integrated brands can be, the greater load they will remove from people and the more success they are likely to find. In this respect, media agencies are uniquely positioned to help brands forge these wider connections, but only if they start breaking down their own internal silos. To keep ahead of these changes, we at Maxus have fully integrated the strategy, technology, effectiveness and data offerings under the stewardship of our CSO Alex Steer.

For brands to survive in this new era, our industry will need to embrace the intelligence of the algorithms, think differently about customer touchpoints and relentlessly prioritise integration. Yet, these strategies should never come at the expense of creativity, because the brands that truly thrive will continue to harness the joy of discovery, an experience that algorithms will never replace.

Emil Bielski is head of business development at Maxus.