Sustaining brand authenticity & human connection in a competitive global digital economy

Article written by Matthew Boyd, Brand Strategist & Founder of JDM Ikigai

The explosion of mainstream access to AI technology has transformed the way one can sufficiently perform their work. By integrating this versatile technology into our daily routines, anyone can enhance the efficiency and convenience of their tasks. However, many facets of AI usage have raised discussions on the ethical dilemma of the technology that is drastically changing the way industries operate.

Regardless of their product or service, companies with successful brands are discovering and enjoying the benefits of integrating AI programmes into their operations to output even better results for their sales and profits. In fact, a technological ‘cold war’ between competitors has emerged over who can leverage AI as optimally as possible.

Seth Fuchs offers a strategically unique view into the technical arm of sales & marketing in the world today

Nonetheless, the ethical dilemma around AI usage is augmented by the challenges that companies regularly experience in trying to maintain brand authenticity in an environment where consumers are becoming more frequently disengaged from brands that use traditional advertising.

Without retaining an element of human connection between brand and consumer in a global digital economy becoming increasingly governed by AI automation, companies may experience tapered loyalty from customers who fluidly move from one brand to the next. Balance is very much key to success here.

Fundamentally, brand success is built on ensuring every action by a company ignites a desired feeling within its target market. Without it, there is no human connection. This can be accomplished by several actions, that offer a degree of transparency and honesty. Showcasing your company’s team can reaffirm the human connection of your brand by featuring employees, their expertise, knowledge and background in your marketing materials. This can be supplemented by behind-the-scenes content that provides a glimpse into the enormous effort that goes into the company’s product or service. 

Personal customer interaction also remains a principal approach to maintaining brand authenticity. Customers feel disillusioned when engaging website chatbots as opposed to customer call centres that incorporate an active conversation with another human. However, AI analytical programmes can assist companies in measuring peak call times, unresolved queries, or common complaints to identify bottlenecks or weaknesses in the actual product or customer interaction. 

I recently spent some time discussing these trends with a former colleague, Seth Fuchs, who balances his time as the Director of iXperience in Cape Town while fulfilling his role as Founder and CEO of Empollo. He agrees that an individualised customer experience is crucial to maintaining a level of authenticity for brands today, especially in a world that is rapidly moving towards all that AI has to offer.

Seth, who I regard as an individual who has a strategically unique view of the technical arm of sales and marketing, articulated that maintaining brand authenticity is possible with a hybrid approach, in which new technologies are leveraged to help a brand build trust and credibility in its unique offering. 

“Yes, it’s possible to build a community around your product or service through user-generated content or influencer marketing. This can work particularly well if it is commissioned by a well-known personality with a large following on social media. Or, you could partner with a brand champion – ideally a famous individual who consistently creates content that promotes your brand. This helps build a personal connection with your audience, as the brand champion becomes a relatable spokesperson for your product. Serena Williams’ long-standing partnership with Nike offers an ideal case in point. That being said, why limit your ability to build trust and authenticity when new technologies can in fact maximise the impact of the story you’re trying to tell?” he says. 

Seth Fuchs

Ultimately, Seth believes that brands should refrain from being overwhelmed by the concept of new tech, and instead leverage it to their advantage.

For example, at Empollo, Seth runs high-budget advertising campaigns for various companies and multinational organisations based all around the world. He uses analytical AI technologies to look at live market data in different regions to determine how to adjust the media for each campaign to appeal to a localised market while simultaneously maximising the performance of each individual campaign. With this hyper-individualised approach, consumers begin to feel a more personalised connection to the brand that is engaging with them.

He concludes our insightful conversation by adding that “a brand’s level of authenticity and its attempt to build trust in the consumer can be scaled to new heights with AI.” 

We can understand this approach in real-life terms by bringing it right back to a familiar South African example, where the stress test of balancing brand authenticity with AI integration can be viewed through the Shoprite case study. The Shoprite Ltd parent company boasts a range of entities tailored for different economic markets and cultures, allowing the company to retain customers across the country. 

Shoprite’s Usave focuses solely on basic goods like tinned food at the lowest prices possible, with its stores strategically placed near the doorstops of lower-income communities. On the other hand, Checkers stores offer fresh produce like fruits and vegetables and include deli and butchery kiosks with price tags more suited to middle-income households. This tailored approach creates a feeling among consumers that they are being catered for and subconsciously encourages them to remain loyal to the brand – and it’s a strategy one can train AI to assist you with, much like Seth alluded to in our chat.

A company such as Shoprite could, in fact, enhance its brand and profit margins with deeper AI integration. Using the data from their Checkers loyalty card programmes, AI analytics can crunch all customer data timeously and provide them with the latest trends of general purchase behaviour and make decisions on which products to discount, reprice quickly, or restock. 

On top of this, AI programmes could assist Shoprite in appealing to different cultures by promptly translating various marketing materials into the home language of the target consumer for a specific area. This could become a powerfully competitive tool in a country with 11 official languages. For example, once Shoprite has created marketing material for their Checkers stores, AI programmes can then translate that content into Afrikaans for use in targeted advertising on social media in towns across the Cape Winelands, where Afrikaans is a dominant language for middle- to affluent markets that would typically shop at their local Checkers. 

So, what have we learned? While AI should never be regarded as a substitute for human connection, it can help you build authenticity with a data-driven approach to individualising content for different consumers, at scale. For brands to remain profitable, a hybrid integration offers the most desirable path for continued and long-term success in today’s highly competitive global digital economy.

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