As we move more and more into virtual worlds and the very notion of self is changing, brands must prepare for the time when personal brands will displace corporate brands, predicts futurist Tracy Follows.
“It could be the end of the corporate brand and a new era of the personal brand,” says futurist Tracy Follows.
Speaking at the Festival of Marketing: Fast Forward today (June 9), Follose talked about how the changing nature of identity for both consumers and companies could mean big changes in how they interact.
Follose, co-founder and CEO of Futuremade, said digital technology allows us to change our identities in innovative and exciting ways.
“We no longer think of the concept of identity only in our consciousness, in our mind, or in our corporeality, in our body. To those two dimensions has been added a third dimension, ‘my technology,’ she said.
Simply put, our media has become not just technological, it has become biological. It’s really very personal.
“Our idea of self has also changed radically, Fallows argues: the ‘self’ has become much more intangible, potentially much more fictional, and definitely much more emotional.”
Quoting designer Damara Ingles, Fallows says that the trend, which began with Generation Z consumers who are comfortable with the parallel realities of the physical body and the virtual personality, is spreading to more and more people as their biometric data is recorded. This is the kind of information that brands covet.
Tracking online behavior and, by extension, behavioral targeting of advertising is now becoming biometric targeting.
“This will fundamentally change our online and digital marketing experience,” Fellows said, adding that advertising will become increasingly personalized.
“Simply put, our media hasn’t just become technological, it’s become biological. It’s really very personal.”
There has been a noticeable increase in the number of consumers who have entered virtual worlds, often for gaming purposes and to explore new virtual spaces during the lock-in. This allows participants to try out different personas, using multiple avatars, before returning to their own reality.
Escape from the expectations of an image in the real world is one of the attractions. By age 13, Fallows says, children typically see about 1,300 of their images online — usually posted by their parents.
“Their parents actually gave them an identity before they could create one themselves,” she noted.
Modern, fluid and complex identities will increasingly include avatars, Fallows predicted. She noted that people are getting used to trying on different versions of themselves virtually and carrying them into the real world.
In fact, she can imagine situations where we might encounter not only people we know in avatar form, but also alternative versions of our own selves, such as former avatars. We could even create an entire closet of avatars to attend virtual meetings for us, potentially allowing us to be in several places at once.
This could be the end of the corporate brand and the new era of the personal brand.
This kind of development raises the question of whether it means developing a bifurcated identity or an expanded one. Increasingly, it’s seen as an extension, a way in which we evolve to exist in new places,” Fallows says.
She cited virtual authority figures who have fans and followers as examples of the intersection of real and virtual worlds, and that there is now a trend in Japan toward interdimensional “marriages” with digital assistants. According to Fallows, there have been 37,000 such marriages.
She argues that these changes are reducing the barriers between people and their environment, as well as between themselves: “There’s less separateness. It’s starting to be perceived much more emotionally.”
She hopes that because users will not feel the need to assert their identities, these virtual spaces will be much less toxic than some of today’s social media. As the individual self becomes more intangible, fictional and emotional rather than physical, factual and rational, brands are changing, too.
“Brands were intangible things, not physical, not factual, not rational,” Follows says. “I believe that as we, as individuals, become more personal and creative, brands will also become more personal. And I speculate that this could be the end of the corporate brand and the new era of the personal brand. I believe it is.”