Could technology drive a bespoke brand experience? I touched on this notion during my talk at Future of Web Design, but didn’t have the time to explore it further. There seems to be a shift towards very specific personalisation when it comes to our experience of many products and services. Spotify playlists, iGoogle, Ensembli, etc. all provide a framework for us to experience and consume things hand-picked by ourselves. It's something we’re getting very used to. Indeed, there was a lot of grumbling when Twitter introduced its new ‘retweet’ feature, as people were all-of-a-sudden seeing comments in their news feed from users they hadn’t specifically chosen to view. So how could a brand possibly support this continued drive towards personalisation, while retaining some semblance of identity itself?

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="580" caption="Your M&S isn't really 'yours'. It's still 'theirs'."]Your M&S isnt really yours. Its still theirs.[/caption]


Consistently inconsistent

Just because a brand is a unique entity does not mean it can’t shift its personality to suit whomever it may be addressing. We all have distinct personalities, but we all alter our behaviour depending on to whom we are talking. Personally, I talk and act slightly differently depending on whether I'm with friends, business clients, or my children. Despite my changing behaviour, all these people recognise me as ‘Dean’. By the same token, I always know I’m ‘me’. Could a brand do this?

Of course, many brands have employed differing voices to communicate with different sections of their audience, but it’s still a relatively blanket approach, based on a combination of research and best guesses. Yet no research, however specific, could hope to facilitate communication on an individual level. Technology could facilitate this.


What technology?

There is a project that's been developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology called Personas which aggregates your online activity, to create a visual represenation of your time on the Web. You are presented with a graph, which categorises the subjects you have spent time being involved with. It’s an interesting little project, but it got me thinking: could we not also track and analyse the language people use online?


Twitter, Facebook, blogs, forums, comments… regular web users have a huge wealth of thoughts and opinions in the public domain. If we had the technology, we could see what people think on myriad subjects, and what language they use to express themselves. Could a brand not harness this information and use it to deliver the ultimate personalised experience, one which not only provides the content, products and services a customer is interested in, but delivers it in a voice specific to them?

While it can take years for an audience to develop a sense of trust in a brand, why can’t a brand harness a voice each customer already trusts – their own?


How could it work?

Let's look at as a possible case study. For years, Amazon has utilised a customer’s browsing and purchasing habits, as well as those of others, to deliver a powerful recommendation service – one which continues to impress me. However, look and feel of the site aside, there’s no real personality to accompany this, and it feels something of a missed opportunity.

What if Amazon could not only access a customer’s activity on its own site, but that person’s entire online activity? It would have a much deeper understanding of someone’s likes, dislikes, motivations, not to mention the kind of language they use. If a user was comfortable with colloquialisms, text speak, longer words, even bad language, Amazon could recognise this and alter its voice to suit, while still providing the level of service people associate with the brand.

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="580" caption="Examples of how Amazon could shift its personality"]Examples of how Amazon could shift its personality[/caption]


Everyone would have a unique experience of, and relationship with Amazon, and Amazon’s brand would be strengthened by this. Yet through its other brand touchpoints (service, visual communication, etc.) it would assert a distinct brand personality. As with myself and how people see me, everyone would have a distinct view of Amazon, yet it would still be instantly and consistently recognised.


Technology driving brand development

This kind of ultra-personalised experience would only be possible with emerging technology, that not only recognises and matches words, data and so on, but can also understand meaning, context and subtlety. This is what is so interesting and exciting right now. Technology isn’t just offering new touchpoints for customer contact. It is allowing brands to do things they've never done before. Those brands which can recognise and exploit such possibilities stand to make massive progress in the coming years.

Leave a comment


  • Monica Tailor | January 25, 2010 at 10:47 am

    Hi Dean

    Great post, and an interesting idea. I suspect we’ll be sometime away from the ultra-personalisation based on your online activity mostly due to concerns over privacy. People don’t like to think that their online activity is being tracked. Your post made me think of Phorm and the storm that blew up around behavioural ad targeting last year … could this type of content targeting be thought of in the same way. Perhaps.

  • admin | January 27, 2010 at 10:54 am

    Oh absolutely, Monica. Privacy would be a massive issue, and users would definitely need to ‘opt in’ to such a service. There’s a really interesting TEDx talk from 2007 about the possibilities of the next 5000 days of the web, and he also admits that for the fascinating things he predicts to come about, people would need to forsake some degree of privacy. I’m not saying that’s necessarily a good thing, but there will be some people who care about it more than others – just look at the stuff people post on facebook!

    You can watch the TEDx talk here –