Overcoming AI: Rethinking the Value Components of Your Brand

By Russ Sharer
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The world is being changed by Artificial Intelligence (AI). Every blog, app, influencer, or media pundit is rabidly proclaiming that the world as we knew it is over, because AI has changed or will change everything. (OK, some even proclaim it will end the world, but that’s for a different story for a different place.)

What are marketers to do to continue to build a brand? If your Intellectual Property (IP) becomes a commodity processed by glowing chips housed in large, energy- hungry data centers, how will your company continue to differentiate, grow and thrive?

The answer is experience.

Let me explain. I have an old, rarely used wheelbarrow in my backyard. The only thing I can predict about its use is that, when I do need it, the tire will be flat. After telling myself for more than a decade I needed to do something about that tire, I finally decided to take action. A few months ago I went online, checked out several sites, including reviews, and bought a solid rubber tire.

The description, dimensions, and examples (likely algorithmically suggested) were all telling me this was a simple installation. The tire duly arrived, and I started the install. That’s where my wheelbarrow, the new tire and my experience clashed. Rather than being a simple “plug and play” replacement, it didn’t fit. I could return the wheel, or I could use experience. I moved the mounting brackets by drilling new holes for the mounting bolts. Hard? Not in the least. Automatic? Nope.

What does a wheelbarrow have to do with AI?

The value of the solution lay not in the IP of the wheel design, which had been proposed to me, but in knowing how to make the application work in the real world.

All of which leads me to my point about your brand and its value components.

If you’re like most businesses, your brand is made up of many components: the uniqueness of your product, service, content or IP; the experience your customers have had interacting with you; the sharpness of the messaging; and how all of these components come together. Call that last piece, experience.

Right now, the world seems to be hard at work devaluing your IP. A few examples: the latest lawsuit against Apple is aimed at its integrated ecosystem, most newspapers are on life support as technology has replaced their tried and true distribution systems, governments are struggling to contain apps like TikTok, the music industry is reinventing itself because the “album” is defined very differently now than 20 years ago, and industry standards are limiting options for differentiation as industries as diverse as bearings, power supplies or electric motors are all being asked to have vendor interoperability.

Add to that a 2020 Gartner survey that says 30 percent of buyers do not want to talk to a human before making a decision, preferring instead to trust review sites and word-of-mouth for making purchases of up to $500,000 in value. For buyers under 40, the percentage of “let me select the right product from the internet rather than talk to anyone” is over 50 percent. Demographically, this is just the beginning.

Now along comes AI. Today, these buyers will have at least visited your website before a decision. What happens when they build a ChatGPT prompt to recommend the top or even the best choice for the purchase?

A few months ago, I spoke to a person who had operated a sole proprietorship for sales training and consulting for many years. His view was that, with AI, his content was in danger of becoming commoditized. He realized that it was his knowledge and expertise at implementing and inducting ideas into client sales teams were his key to survival.

So, ask yourself this question: when people think of your brand, what do you suppose comes to mind? Are there elements that can be easily copied, or do they think of your company’s added value – the knowledge and ability to apply the product, service, content, or IP to solve problems in ways they might not yet be aware of?

A few years ago, I worked for a broadband equipment provider, helping small telcos implement video over IP services. We had a competitor who had been working for six months to demonstrate its capabilities. Finally losing patience, the General Manager called and asked if our guys were “smart enough to make it work.” We said yes, shipped the equipment, and we showed up Tuesday morning at their office.

Over lunch that day the GM asked us for our “first estimate” for getting the equipment to work. He was expecting our answer to be one of many moving “commit dates.” Our sales engineer looked at him and said calmly: “It’s working now. You can see it when we go back to the office.”

Yes, we had a great product, but our ability to install the equipment and get it to work impressed the GM so much that he became one of our greatest references for years.

As you think about your brand, what will happen if your product, service, IP, or content becomes commoditized? Can you build a value case for your company with your people and what they know how to do for your customers? Is there a way to monetize what they know and what they do? And if so, how do you plan to reward and compensate them for their contribution to the value your company provides?

I predict this is how most companies will survive in a world driven by AI. Models can give you a lot of information, but most of your customer’s cases will usually be slightly different.

Will you become known for just making it, or making it work?

Russ Sharer is a business leader with over 40 years of experience in B2B sales and marketing, Russ Sharer serves as founder and principal of Sharer & Associates, a professional consultancy working with Executives, Sales and Marketing leaders. He combines his work experience with a lifelong commitment to learning and strong communication skills to help individuals and team maximize their outcomes.

 His career includes three successful start-ups in networking and communications, as well as Executive positions at The Brooks Group, Ericsson, Xircom and Rockwell International. He has worked extensively in North America, Europe, and Asia. Russ has also been involved with eight successful M&A efforts.  He is co-author of Agile and Resilient: Sales Leadership for the New Normal.