The Growing Power of AI in Formulating Brand Strategies
By Liza Nebel, President, COO, and co-founder of BlueOcean
Traditional brand consultancies like McKinsey and Interbr+and, and stalwart analyst groups such as Gartner and Forrester, have long served as bellwethers for companies jockeying for position in hotly contested industries.
These firms’ myriad reports, recommendations and annual rankings can and do move markets, and their respective services come with commensurately expensive fees.
That’s the basic model, a Faustian bargain of sorts, and for decades there’s been no viable threat to this costly mode of what can only be called brand incrementalism.
This is simply “how it’s always been done,” with very little in the way of progress or advancements.
But there’s a looming problem confronting these legacy consultancies and analyst groups, one that threatens the very underpinnings of their business models: the rapid digitization of global business requires faster, more fluid insights into market movements than they can provide.
Brands don’t have the luxury of waiting weeks or months for answers when they need to move at the speed of business in 2021. An annual report or a months-long brand audit is decidedly unhelpful for companies who need to make critical business decisions now for the coming year.
AI and the elevated brand strategy
Against this backdrop, a new approach to brand-building is beginning to take hold: the use of sophisticated artificial intelligence tools to instantly inform brands about what to do today and tomorrow without waiting for an army of consultants or analyst groups to meet businesses where they are.
Using AI, brands can achieve greater agility and know exactly how to respond to shifting market conditions in real-time.
And that changes everything. It democratizes data for everyone, and serves as a shot across the bow of legacy approaches to brand building.
AI-based brand management systems rapidly assess a company’s entire brand. Understanding that brand health directly correlates to consumer sentiment, AI helps measure and report on drivers such as audience engagement, looking at content including ads, blogs, website content/traffic, news, social media metrics, online forums, and reviews.
These new tools help companies become informed on actionable changes for go-to-market strategies, even if that sometimes means recommending NOT going to market. For example, AI can quickly help brands understand whether to pause launching a new product due to market saturation.
How should marketing executives and brand planners be thinking about market data moving forward? First, it’s important to realize that timely access to data is a difference-maker and key to any successful strategy. But access to data is only half the story: brands need to understand how to make that information actionable immediately.
AI will fundamentally change the rules of the traditional brand game, with its ability to ingest massive amounts of information and turn it into something immediately usable.
For instance, brand owners can now immediately see new growth areas, track momentum and category shifts as they happen, and predict where their competitors will move next.
Compare that to how many brands currently operate without real-time data provided by AI: they operate on gut feelings or instinct. That’s not hyperbole. When you’re pressed for time and need to move quickly, you need to act based on your best guesses.
And that’s simply no longer tenable. So, here’s the question every brand in this position needs to ask: why is making brand decisions based on instinct acceptable when it’s responsible for so much company value?
The answer is that before rapid AI-based decision-making, there was no alternative to “winging it” on important brand resource allocations. But that excuse is being taken off the table as brands move toward sophisticated AI models that arm them with immediately actionable insights.
None of this is to say that legacy consultancies and analyst groups will vanish because of the advent of AI-based brand building. To the contrary, it’s likely these groups will be forced to develop proprietary AI-based tools of their own or acquire them in the marketplace.
Gartner, for example, isn’t a shrinking violet when it comes to understanding the broad impact and opportunities with AI. In fact, in a recent report, Gartner notes that only 17% of marketing leaders are using AI and machine learning broadly, even as 84% of respondents agree that these technologies dramatically improve the ability to deliver real-time, highly personalized experiences.
The writing is on the wall. It’s not a question of whether brands will harness the incredible power of advanced AI to build brands and carve out market share – it’s a matter of how quickly they’ll adopt these technologies.
One thing is for certain. Brand-building-as-usual is anything but that in 2021. The COVID-19 pandemic further accelerated digital transformation, and brands are taking giant strides toward seizing control of their own destinies. AI will play a pivotal role in that process, helping companies plot their courses more efficiently and accurately without the costly procedural delays of the past.