Tech Is Expanding Human Capability But What’s It Mean For Brands?

Tech Is Expanding Human Capability But What’s It Mean For Brands?

The Account Planning Group’s Hamilton Jones, chief digital officer, and Sophie Price, chief strategy officer, UM Australia, offer a planners perspective on SxSW.

Hayley Warwick
Posted by Hayley Warwick

This year ‘usefulness to humanity’ was a core theme at SXSW. The festival celebrated and awarded utility based ideas that have the potential to transform the very fabric of our society.

From Project Daniel, the 3D printed prosthetics project that allowed a boy in a war torn area to get a perfectly fitted prosthetic so he could feed himself for the first time in his 12 years. Or Vocal ID, a tool that helps people who are speech impaired to have their own unique voice by blending their own sounds with those of another person so they don’t have to sound like a machine when using speech assisted technology. Through to Edgehome, a one off setup ‘smarthome’ system that sits in your switches, lights and power points to give you universal reporting and remote control of your home to drive energy savings.

The Internet of Things (IoT)- a world of connected and intelligent devices that bring convenience and new functionality to our world – promises to not only enhance our lives through the connected home, automated car and wearable devices, but to help solve the global problems through improvements in farming, clean water and smart cities.

The list goes on and it shows that tech (now and in the future) will solve very real human problems in simple, day to day ways.

The opportunity for purpose driven brands is to think about the utility that they can bring to consumers lives – to better them – to relieve some of the pain points. Brands need to start by identifying the problem (the human need) and then design the experience in which technology can help solve it. And in taking on this greater role, brands have the potential to become the connective tissue between new technologies and people.

Using data to improve people’s lives

As connected devices and tech innovations continue to grow in application, so too are the individual data footprints we all leave behind. Yet with this new level of data comes widespread concern. There were over 40 sessions at SXSW with privacy in the title; everything from ‘WiFi privacy’ to ‘You’re not as safe as you think’.

There’s a need to be responsible with how we use the information. Like the tech itself, we need to use the data to add value to lives, not simply to track their lives. We need to think about the data from a human perspective. If there’s value to be added to their life by responding to the data, then the brand will have more permission to play.

For example, Adidas7 discussed how footballs and shoes have the potential to track and record motion and movement. GE showed us how its data and analytics could engineer the perfect output from a pit BBQ. Health related sessions highlighted the benefits of data capabilities for Apple’s research kit, discussing how it will have direct impacts on improving health outcomes in a range of fields.

Mississippi Uni’s Michael Thompson talked about a beacon product (Unacast) they use to reward loyalty, on return to the stadium, a fan that has visited several pizza restaurants in the last month could receive a personal food coupon for pizza at a game.

Virtual reality will help us experience life in new ways

Virtual Reality (VR) was a hot topic again this year. Whilst no longer new, we have witnessed how the VR technology is broadening; both in its ability and function as well as the areas of content that is being explored.

From a functional point of view there were examples of new tech with body tracking ability (alongside the current use of head tracking) which provide improved ‘haptic’ feedback (devices that vibrate and respond to ‘virtual’ stimulus ) – which all in all drive a deeper immersion in these created worlds.

The content examples are moving past film and gaming. North Face discussed using it to bolster the in-store experience by taking people to the kinds of destinations where you’d use North Face products. A company from the Netherlands (TripleIT) is helping soccer teams like AJAX train by improving their soccer game with virtual matches and scenarios that can give a previously unseen perspective.

Whilst the more powerful headsets aren’t due to launch this year (with the exception of HTC’s), brands are starting to test ideas and look at ways to explore what’s possible. People who use this tech describe the experience as something unique in life – so when the devices go mainstream it will have an immediate impact.

Technology is changing human capability and therefore the potential role of brands in peoples lives. As planners our role is evolving to being more of an experience architect; building a connected systems for brands that helps to better peoples lives.