Brand Interactions Are the Future

But Are Interaction Designers Part of Your Agency?

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David Armano David Armano
Ever wonder how on Earth Google went from a technology company to one of the world's most recognizable and successful brands? Was it the whimsical brightly colored logo? How about the ads? Wait, Google really doesn't advertise all that much -- do they?

Brand Google was built on a lot of different things. If brand 1.0 was Coke, built on a solid foundation of marketing, then brand 2.0 is more like Google, built on an ecosystem of experience and natural word of mouth referrals. But the one thing I want to call out is something I like to refer to as "micro-interactions."

Micro-interactions are the everyday exchanges that we have with a product, brand and service. Each one, in and of itself, seems insignificant. But combined they define how we feel about a product, brand or service at a gut emotional level. In the case of Google, each time it helps us find what we are looking for, view a map, send an e-mail or connect with a friend, it deposits a positive impression in our memory banks. Kevin Roberts expresses a similar sentiment in his book "Lovemarks":

"Lovemarks transcend brands. They deliver beyond your expectations of great performance. Like great brands, they sit on top of high levels of respect -- but there the similarities end.

Lovemarks reach your heart as well as your mind, creating an intimate, emotional connection that you just can't live without. Ever."

All You Need Is Love?
Sounds all syrupy sweet and romantic right? Who wouldn't want to have a "lovemark brand?" And who wouldn't want to work with one? Only there's a bit of trouble in paradise here. Back to the example of Google, and maybe even more appropriately the whole host of 2.0 web applications that are shifting consumer behavior, there is a core discipline that is fueling this movement: interaction designers.

Call them information architects, experience designers or Jack or Jane -- they are the design geeks who love to sweat the details. They care about "micro-interactions" and toil away at the building blocks of what actually results in a "lovemark" in the end. We love to use applications that help us do things like plan vacations, find old friends and share our passions with the world. The ad industry has made a big mistake in the past by thinking technology was for geeks. Technology, in fact, is a love affair.

Agency 2.0, Interaction Design and Renaissance People
Back to interaction designers. Here's a concept worth thinking about: many of them don't want to work for your ad agency. How do I know this? Because I talk to them daily. The most common response I get is, "Why would I want to work on a constant stream of microsites and promotions?" Interaction designers thrive on long-term project engagements. They yearn to sink their teeth into complex problems, wrapping their heads around how they can help solve them.

An agency environment that churns out digital program after program is less appealing -- especially when there are opportunities to go work with a start-up, a non-agency or even, perhaps, the future Googles of the world. In an industry built off of the copywriter-art director dynamic duo, it's time to think about talent in terms of "Renaissance people." Many interaction designers fit this bill.

Get Serious About the Intersection of Design + Technology
So what's an agency to do? Case studies such as Nike +, Domino's Pizza configurator and Harley-Davidson's trip planner point to a future where interaction design plays a significant role.

Speaking at Interaction '08 recently, I referenced some of these examples and our work on the "My Vegas" social utility to highlight the opportunities to move brands beyond typical marketing campaigns into more of a "micro-interaction" model. We can actually create models of engagement that are sustainable over time. This is where the opportunities lie and we have to get serious about it if we want to attract the talent I'm describing.

Some agencies are seeing the writing on the wall. Crispin, for example, sponsored the conference for interaction designers. A recruiting opportunity? Perhaps. But one thing is for sure -- moving a brand forward will be measured by the interactions a person has with it and technology plus design will play a critical role. That's brand 2.0 in an interactive world.
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