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This Week in Business and Brands: Culture & Currency, Saving (A.I.’s) Face, and More

Growing Pains: The Bane of Chains

There might be some trouble brewing for the biggest name in coffee. The ubiquity of Starbucks has now reached satirical proportions – with an average of 4 stores within a mile of one another, it’s no wonder café cannibalism is causing capital concerns. At least that’s one analyst’s conjecture – but according to the brand’s spokespeople, profits are still percolating and there’s no need for negativity. New stores keep opening – bringing the total to more than 25,000 worldwide – but won’t they take business from their neighboring predecessors? And can the brand keep a “premium” appeal if anyone and everyone can find it? Time will tell whether these are simply cynical sneers or justified java jabs…

Bots & Branding: Face-ing the Future of A.I.

From Alexa to Watson, there’s now no shortage of intelligent non-beings at your service. And as more and more companies embrace artificial assistance, it looks like those digital deputies are taking on another role: brand ambassador. So it’s no wonder there’s a push from the disembodied voice (hey Siri) to the fully-formed figure (like IPsoft’s anthropomorphic Amelia), bringing a human touch (and face) to customer service, virtual assistance, and automated advice. But those brandbots need more than just a pretty face – with “personality training” from poets and playwrights, they’re learning to speak “on brand” with either sympathy (Alexa) and sassy (Siri), hoping to foster stronger bonds with their organic customers. In an age when the biggest A.I. stars are appearing on TV to rep their brand, it’s never been more important to make sure these fresh faces learn far beyond the facts and figures.

Talking Tactics, Tête-à-Tête: Marketing & Meditation

Feeling like you need to rediscover your branding center? Take a deep breath in…and contemplate a few tips from the founder of MNDFL, New York City’s meditation studio that’s building buzz on the practice of nothing at all:

  • On keeping communication clear: “We make sure that all of the techniques are offered in clear language that people can relate to. ‘Shamatha’ may not mean much, but if you say, ‘Oh, it’s a breath class,’ that feels more accessible. We need to clearly articulate so that people can opt into what’s most relevant to them.”
  • On branding the unbrandable: “People walk in with all sorts of preconceived notions, judgments and/or preferences of what they think they are going to experience. So we always caution people to be patient and give themselves space to let the practice do its magic.”
  • On corporate consciousness: “We have a bustling corporate program where every day of the week we are sending teachers out to different companies ranging from financial firms to small start ups. We live in a highly connected and often stressful world, so I’m glad that companies are giving meditation a chance.”

Future of Finance: Culture as Currency

By now, the entire banking world has heard plenty of warnings: if old brands don’t start delighting in the digital, they’ll be left in the dust. But despite the clear track to defending against disruption, it seems the biggest hurdle comes from curmudgeonly culture. A recent McKinsey survey of financial firms’ attempts at digital transformation shows that small struggles with infrastructure, funding, or data rank far below the frustration of behavioral adaptation. So how can these institutions help their people further embrace their tech-savvy side? First, start at the top, ensuring every executive exemplifies excellent digital perspectives and supports seeking new opportunities. Next, scratch the silos, fostering cross-functional teams that are empowered to execute the new digital strategy. Finally, relax about the risks, as real innovation waits for no man, and the commercially cautious might soon find themselves bankrupt of breakthroughs…

Strategic Stunts: Junk Food Goes Gourmet

That’s all for this week! We’ll leave you with the latest fun-fueled foray from Frito-Lay, turning Cheetos into classy cuisine…