Don't fall into the trap of 'tokenistic tech'
A view from Gracie Page

Don't fall into the trap of 'tokenistic tech'

Technology is revolutionising brand/consumer interactions. Now, all we have to do is learn to use it properly.

What do chicken nuggets have to do with technology? If you’re Carter Wilkerson of Reno, Nevada, the answer is plenty. He’s now carrying a special card in his wallet that entitles him to the crispy bites every day for a year on the house. Now, that’s a wallet you wouldn’t want to lose.

Twitter blew up when Wilkerson asked Wendy’s how many retweets he’d need for the US fast-food chain to dole out a year’s worth of free chicken nuggets. Its response: 18 million. The record at the time, a star-studded Oscars selfie from Ellen DeGeneres, had peaked at 3.2 million.

Forty-eight hours later, he’d already broken the million barrier, with retweets from Google, Apple and Amazon, among others. Wendy’s Twitter following went up by 375% because millions learned that the brand actually connects with its customers. Plus, Wendy’s went on to make a donation of $100,000 (£77,000) to the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption on Wilkerson’s behalf.

Although this may appear as little more than savvy social media management and does not rely on the types of horizon technologies my innovation peers and I get extra excited about, Wendy’s consistently connects with its consumers in a way that makes the platform a conduit for its quirky voice to shine, a means to its own unique end.

We’ve all heard that tech is the cause of, and solution to, all of adland’s problems. But I think it’s way bigger than that.

Tech is revolutionising brand/consumer interactions forever. And that changes not just advertising, but the world. Now, all we have to do is learn to use it properly.

I believe that if we can combine creativity and technology to go beyond one simple interaction, we can create valuable, emotionally driven connections that last.

The world’s most valuable brand, Apple, has already begun. Apple has turned its shops into community "town halls" and launched the extensive Today at Apple programme that offers everyone – even Android users – free training on everything from coding to music mixing and fine art illustration. By facilitating tangible emotional benefits through tech, Apple is changing what it means for people to spend time with a consumer-goods brand.

Tide’s incredible Alexa skill is always on hand to help you when you spill red wine on the carpet and is an incredible use of tech that only a cleaning-product company could own with authority. And these kinds of user-centric, technology-enabled initiatives need not be limited to big names. Anyone can do it.

True connection occurs by building repeatable brand moments such as transactions, visits or messages that sit within a wider brand experience, speaking to what the brand stands for and how this aligns with the customer’s values.

By rejecting what I like to call "tokenistic tech" (at the time of writing, the latest example comes courtesy of M&M’s, which has unveiled yet another Snapchat Lens that plasters logos on me) to build deep brand experiences that happen to be facilitated by digital technologies, your brand is telling the world it puts customers first.

We all know tokenistic tech (another shopping-centre virtual-reality activation, anyone?) provides, at best, a fleeting moment of distraction for users before they return to their busy lives. So the first step to building seamlessly connected, useful companions for the modern consumer is to design user-centric experiences.

Technology genuinely built with the user front of mind (let’s call it "connected tech") will provide lasting benefits to consumers and, by extension, commercial success for the brand.

There are three simple steps to making sure you are on the right track when designing using technology as a means, not an end:

1  Always ensure the user sits at the heart of the experience, not the brand

2  Make sure you’re serving the customer’s needs more than those of the brand

3  Build brand moments that are easily repeatable and scalable

Connected brands only become part of a consumer’s life fabric if brand moments occur easily and often. Repeatability is one of Amazon’s key design metrics for successful Alexa skills for a reason.

So let’s say no to tokenistic tech and start building experiences that make people want to spend time with your brand, even when they have no reason to.

Are you user-centric or brand-centric? Here's a checklist to help you:

Does what you are working on help the user get shit done?

 Does it help the user feel something?

 Does it help the user appear a certain way?

 Does it entertain or delight the user?

 Does it help the user self-actualise?

 Does what you are creating make folks work to engage with it?

 Does it make the brand look cool but leave the user confused?

 Does it provide little lasting benefit to the user beyond the interaction moment?

 Does it shoehorn the brand into zeitgeist technology even if the brand has no credibility to converse in that way?

Gracie Page is innovation lead at VMLY&R London