Some months ago, the New York Times published a piece by health economist Austin Frakt evaluating whether health mobile apps were an apt substitute for medical advice from an actual physician or nurse. The upshot: on balance, apps still have a long way to go and you will get more accurate counsel from an actual human health care professional.
That got me thinking—and worrying, quite frankly: could we brand strategists be replaced by apps someday?
I quickly Googled the phrase “brand strategy apps.” (Even doctors I’ve interviewed say they sometimes Google for answers to medical questions.) Phew. No actual apps came up, only entries for how to brand mobile apps or how to include apps in your brand strategy.
So it looks like my brand strategist colleagues and I won’t be replaced by software. Not yet, anyway.
And that is as it should be, in my admittedly biased opinion. It reminds me of an old joke I read years ago in Boys’ Life:
A man was standing in a very long line at the post office with his package when he noticed the elderly woman standing in front of him. She was holding nothing and was resting on her cane, looking tired. He asked what she was in line for. “Oh, I’m buying stamps,” the woman said.
“Why, ma’am, don’t you know you can buy stamps from that machine over there? You don’t have to stand here all this time,” the man said.
The old woman smiled. “Oh, I know. But the machine won’t ask me how my arthritis is doing.”
I like to think branding is still a human endeavor—by humans, for humans. Just as the physician is trained to observe the unspoken in a patient, from fingernail appearance to affect, a good brand strategist looks beyond market data, voice-of-customer interviews, analyst reports and features and benefits. He also applies his cumulative knowledge of an industry, his recollections of everyone in that industry he’s met along the way, the trends he’s noted over the long term as well as this week’s headlines, and his intimacy with the soul of his client’s company. She also applies her natural and continual curiosity for both art and science, language and literature, social tensions and the order of the cosmos.
It’s not something easily gotten in a swipe, a tweet, a share or a download. A good brand strategist is a walking, talking terabyte of data and a super processor of analysis and imagination. Invite his or her counsel, and it’s as if you have just clicked on an incredibly mobile app that is constantly updated, automatically.