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Kareem Yusuf, Vice President, Development, IBM Software Group

Kareem Yusuf, Vice President, Development, IBM Software Group

By Kareem Yusuf

How do we re-examine brand images in a world of digital interactions?

We have certainly reexamined social interactions in the digital age. Emoticons and abbreviated languages such as “LOL” have altered how we communicate and interact with each other.

But as individuals, consumers, clients and employees, we continue to want more from our brands. As brand stewards, public relations professionals, marketers and Chief Experience Officers, we are focused on what it takes to make the right experience count for our brand’s image.SP Ted a tIBM logo

I learned the value of this when I left the University of Leeds and entered a Steel Fabrication plant in Bolton, England. There I learned the fabricators’ language. I grasped their point of view and translated it into one that would resonate with our structural designers. Ultimately, I got to create a decision support system made to provide designers with feedback as they drafted their designs about how fabricators would react and why.

I did this by understanding our designers and learning how to properly interact with them.

Today, I am a leader of a large software development organization, and at the recent TED@IBM event, held in conjunction with the TED Institute, I focused on two crucial questions I often ask myself as a technologist: What can we do to enable a better understanding of who we are engaging with, and how can we use this understanding to improve our abilities to engage?

With the latest technologies, we as brand stewards can learn a lot about our clients. We can use analytics to gain insights into key behavioral data, as clients travel through mobile apps and websites. Location analytics allow us to understand how long a person has stood in front of a store display, and even the path they take between certain stores and departments. We pull all of this interaction data together from across diverse channels. And as they continue to discover, research and use a particular service or good, this becomes an ongoing experience of learning about our customers.

However, despite this data-grabbing technology, we still don’t understand the true state of the customer at the time of their interaction with the brand. We lack the emotional context of their experience. So, how can we gain more context to better enable us to set the best brand image possible?

Looking ahead, physiological and interaction data may be able to help us set the tone we want for our brands. Imagine using a mobile app to book a car service. As you touch the phone, this app can read your physiological data. Is your blood sugar running low? The physiological data can record this, provide this information to the car service, and the driver can turn up with a healthy snack to satisfy your needs.

By taking advantage of this biometric data, we can gain a deeper understanding of our customers, so we can have more valuable engagements with them. Ultimately, we can deliver a better and more personalized service.

This personalization will define the future of engagement.

For brands of all shapes and sizes, the only way to differentiate from the competition will be striking the proper level of intimacy with your target audience, and then delivering just the right personalized experience.

Still, it is not enough to just leverage analytics to recognize past behavior. We need to remember that personalization needs to be relevant, but also in context, or in other words, in real time. And by real time, I’m not suggesting “in less than 20 minutes,” but rather contacting our customers the moment they engage with a brand.

It probably isn’t a good idea to congratulate me on my airline seat upgrade for a flight that was just cancelled.

This type of inferring comes from cognitive computing systems, which learn causal relationships and improves its decision making over time by learning through experience. Sounds quite human, doesn’t it?

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