The Digital Automation of Brand Suicide

During the Pandemic, the marketplace witnessed some digital brands come to life and online sales hit their peak.

The highest level of digital retail sales as a percentage of total sales in the U.S. took place in second quarter of 2020 posting at just over 16%.

Since that point in time, digital retail sales have dropped to just over 14%.

Some of the digital brands are fading fast like Doordash, Grubhub and UberEats … as home lock-downs are now history in the U.S.

Who would have ever thought 2–3 years ago that Amazon would be laying people off. Course who would have ever thought 2–3 years ago that Amazon buyers would be paying the cost to secure a package next day.

A couple of friends told me that there would never be a need for conference rooms again.

Several other friends went so far out to state that business office buildings would remain empty post-Pandemic because no one would ever have to leave their homes and commute to work.

As many of readers know I hang out a lot in coffee houses.

Still not sure if its the caffeine that stimulates dialogues or the sub-conscious reacting to memories of the family kitchen table where kids got to catch up with their parents on their adventures of the day.

I can go to most any coffee house, secure a cup of coffee and sit back in a chair and absorb the dialogues around me.

I have not facilitated a conventional focus group for more than 20 years now.

People will share some of their deepest thoughts, perspectives and opinions in a coffee house.

A catalyst for this Blog Post took place in a an Indy coffee house chain a couple of weeks ago.

The cafe has a relatively standard member rewards program where customers historically carried a card and when they got their daily brew, the person behind the counter stamped it or initialed it.

Upon receiving the 10th stamp, the next coffee was on the house.

Not only was the program High Touch, but the experience was a personal bonding one between the cafe team and the customer.

When I visited one of their locations and handed my card that was within 3 more coffees from a freebie, I was informed that the “chain management” — exact words used by the counter staff person taking the order — had decided to go digital and “the system” now tracked the credit card transactions and rewarded a rebate upon the 10th purchased.

Of course, to participate in the reward program, I had to provide the cafe with my Email address. I had also lost the seven stamps on the card I carried in my wallet.

I stood in amazement.

I posted a blog about how Starbucks has transitioned from the Third Place to nothing more than a Fast Food Drive Thru.

About a year ago, I showcased the brand Truist that emerged from the merger of SunTrust with United Carolina Bank and their multi-million dollar campaign declaring that Truist represents the unique brand experience of the bank that cares.

That caring bank is now advertising an App that allows up to $100 of bounced checks as its latest example of caring personal service.

Retailers like Target and grocery chains like Publix are combating the shortage of labor with self-check out lanes.

I am amazed how the Ph.D. economists continue to ponder what has lead to the current economic times and just what might be the next phase as the economy evolves.

I learned about Yin and Yang from a Tibetan monk. He did not have an MBA degree. But he should have because Yin and Yang is a fundamental driver of economics.

The Pandemic delivered a house-bound lifestyle that attempted to adapt and yes… the web and digital provided a platform for exchange that could function in a mask-contained culture.

The home became a fort and families sought out ways to enforce it with everything from kitchen appliances to new large-screen TVs to outdoor furniture to gas grills.

Retailers went running and stocked up on home electronics and house & home goods along with casual clothing that could be worn at night in bed or at the kitchen table that served as the remote office desk durning the day.

And as the Pandemic faded to no longer be a Pandemic, retailers had merchandise they could not move off the floors.

There’s a labor shortage in American right now that the Millennials created as they aged out of their late teens and early 20s and the GenXers enhanced by not birthing many babies.

Just as the consumer marketplace was locked down in the home, many brands are committing a form of suicide as they move digital because of a lack of staff to personally deliver the brand experience… in which the personal connection point is the foundation of the brand experience.

What I observe in coffee houses is that brands promoted in the conversations nearly always involve people interacting with other people… not websites nor Apps.

In one of those conversations I observed recently, a young Millennial female was taking all about the great pre-school program she enrolled her Alpha Gen son where there are no computers and only high touch games and interaction with real people.

Later in the conversation, the guy she was meeting with asked her what she did for a living and she replied, “digital mining.”

Sometimes it takes a Millennial a while longer to realize that a BGO — Blinding Glimpse of the Obvious — is banging on the door.

The Automation of Brand Suicide is the title of this Blog post.

Brands that automate and take the human element out of their experience deliverables will not survive.

Not only will consumer connection points fade away, but competition crafted around High Touch will plow over the digital brands.

The new advertising campaign for Zillow features people interacting with others in homes. There is not a single laptop or iPhone in the ads.

An Amazon campaign I caught on Magnolia Network the other evening not only lacked any visuals of a laptop and iPhone, it did not feature a delivery truck nor delivery person.

Publix is adding more self-check out lanes… Whole Foods is ditching them… and Trade Joe’s doesn’t have any.

There is another Indy coffee house chain here in the college town I live in now called Biddy & Beau’s. Not only is there no drive thru and no digital brand loyalty program, but when you are handed your cup of coffee, the cup is signed by the person behind the counter who made it.

Biddy & Beau’s is a coffee house in which the whole team running it manages a physical or mental challenge and is combatting it through the work they do.

If you are contemplating a new program to digitally automate your product offering and brand experience, you need to left click on those files and trash them as soon as you can.

AND … if you want to learn more about how this translates to brand opportunity, call me at 404.245.9378 and lets meet up at an Indy coffee house to engage in some real person conversation!

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Mark Kooyman

CEO & Discovery Chief at EXPERIENCE Insight Group, Inc. In the business to discover and craft brand experiences that humans seek out and engage in.