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Feature Innovation is Good, Feature Innovation with Brand Personality is Better

Posted by: Dominik von Jan on Thursday, July 25 2013 05:47 PM
Google Glass Presentation

I had the pleasure of participating on a panel about The Three C’s of Mobile Success at VentureBeat’s recent Mobile Beat conference. Moderator Erik Loehfelm from Universal Mind, Forrester analyst Sarah Rotman Epps, Trulia’s Consumer Products VP Lee Clancy and I had a very interesting discussion around what makes mobile marketing activities work: Customers, Content and Context.

Since a lot of the conference revolved around mobile innovation, wearables and the utility and marketing opportunities that go along with them – from medical condition monitoring intelligent skin adhesives to productivity enhancing, James Bond-like super watches – we took a short detour into the device world of tomorrow. Having done a lot of industry research in the field, Sarah Rotman Epps drew an inspiring picture of the new app opportunities that Google Glass open up, and what that means for utility-based marketing as opposed to advertising.

Near field communications (NFC) will have a whole new playing field in the still fairly geek-y looking eyewear, beaming personalized offers, shopping cart reminders or product information into your field of vision when you pass a retail brand you interacted with in the past. Speak of relevant content and relevant context.

The question of “are customers permitting such targeted and somewhat personal sphere-invading communications” didn’t take long to be raised. The consensus was that as long as personalized information and services provide a true value add and increase convenience, consumers are embracing them. Think Amazon’s “Customers who bought this item also bought” section that pulls product recommendations based on users’ browsing behavior as the least intrusive example, automatically saved travel preferences in mobile apps like Delta Airline’s Fly Delta, or the more aggressive retargeting of web users with banner ads from brands whose websites they visited in the past few days.

Where things got especially interesting from a brand perspective was when we started to talk customer experience in these new customer touchpoints. There was a lot of conversation about brilliant new business models and feature innovations, for example the last-minute-hotel-rooms-at-a-great-price service Hotel Tonight, newcomer IDrive’s platform-agnostic online backup service or Trulia’s foray into the Google Glass app world with a service to find houses for sale - right where you are. And that is a good thing, because it pushes thinking and inspires the next great business innovation.

Where the conversation was only starting to emerge, though, was in the brand expression through these innovations. Truly strong engagement and loyalty is created when people connect with a brand on an emotional level, when they get to know and appreciate the character of the brand in addition to its innovative utility. That is what makes a brand like MINI Cooper so strong and its customers so happy, or what makes ordering business cards from print service moo.com a surprisingly pleasant process.

That is where the opportunity for long-term customer loyalty comes in: The innovative feature itself will be copied by the competition at some point, but the brand personality can’t be. That’s why I am convinced we will see and hear a lot more conversation in the future about how to innovate and build personality. A good sign of that was Dave Mathew’s (CEO & Founder of mobile connectivity platform NewAer) call out “We need more whimsy in mobile apps!”

I couldn’t agree more.

Dominik von Jan is Senior Director, Digital at Interbrand New York.

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