Posted by: kwbrand | November 19, 2007

Technology and the Soul

My first job out of college was for a management consulting company that specialized in serving the high tech industry. My primary job responsibility was to research, write and publish executive book reviews and small books on management topics such as team-building, change management, leadership and conflict.

Since the principals of the company were often on the road with clients, I was given a great deal of autonomy. Once, when left without direction on which topic to research next, I started a file I called “Technology and the Soul.” I was intrigued by the interplay between humans and technology. I wanted to know: Had technology changed the way humans related to one another, to themselves? Had our high-tech tools changed who we are as organic and spiritual entities? What happens if the tool ceases to be a tool that serves its master and becomes a being all its own?

The contents of the file never made it into a publication. I’m not sure I even told my boss (sorry Bob) that I’d launched my little research project. However, there was one graph I discovered that I’ll never forget. The message of the graph was simple: over time, technology has shot up (envision a red line ascending in a 45 degree angle from left to right) while humans have not evolved at the same rate (now envision a shaky blue line straggling along the horizontal axis of the graph as the powerful red line soars above).

Whatever else the graph may have been intended to convey, it was clear to me that despite all our fancy technological advances, people are still basically people with the same needs, capacities, values and tendencies as their forbears. We still need to connect, to feel included and valued. In short, our basic human need for relationship remains even as we’re bombarded with an increasing array of technology-facilitated pleas for our attention, our absorption and our loyalty. So the question for marketers is this: Where does technology fit into a responsible brand marketing process?

Here are my thoughts on that question: Technology can occupy a useful place in brand marketing only if…

  • Only if it can get our attention. Getting our attention has become more difficult. Our human brains are like executive assistants. They field calls all day long and only let the really important ones through. The heavier the call load, the more selective they have to be. Brain-based learning expert Eric Jensen advises educators that brains are more likely to pay attention to an incoming call for attention if a) they’ve been primed to expect the call and; b) the call is in someway different from all the others.
  • Only if, after you’ve gotten our attention, the technology provides something of substance to keep it. If you make a strange noise right by my head, I’ll look up. I have to; it’s a novel stimulus. However, immediately after the initial investigation, the brain’s executive assistant asks the question: what’s the purpose of your call? Herein is the real challenge for technology and marketing. The technology has to move past the attention-getting stage and actively facilitate the relational human stuff or the stimulus will be too easily dismissed as just another—ultimately meaningless—bell or whistle.

Going back to my graph, envision the red technology line reaching down to hug the blue line.

And this brings us back to the human factor. I believe branding is fundamentally a process of relationship development. While technology has given us loads of new ways to contact people, I wonder whether it has substantively improved the quality in the way we connect with them. Therefore, my advice to brand managers is to investigate all of your communication options, but ask of them: Are human relationships strengthened? Do people feel less lonely? More accepted? More involved? More valued? More important? More understood? Ennobled? Inspired?

Anything less is annoyance at worst and entertainment at best and solid, committed relationships are seldom built on entertainment value alone.

Kyndra Wilson, KW Brand Translation


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