I Am My Own Brand

Published at OnIslam.net

Often when writing about science and technology, matters of faith tend to take a backseat. But with the sayings of Prophet Muhammad more than 1400 years ago relating to deliverables from science and technology developments today, the correlation, at least to me, is striking.

Prophet Muhammad, blessings and peace be upon him, once said that a time will come when a rock will say that someone is hiding behind it. A rock, an inanimate object, first recognizing a presence then sharing knowledge of that presence to another? No doubt for many generations that prophetic saying was understood to imply a miracle. But it need not be.

Communicating with Everything

What is being described could be referring to “the Internet of things”, where inanimate objects are given the ability to recognize certain things, to collect data, to share data, to respond to data, and to fulfill actions. This concept has not only gained momentum, but interest in this has grown manifold, so much so that the European Union is offering 39 million Euros in grants to promote the concept of “the internet of things” in 2009.

Future visions for the internet of things vary, but some might include, for example, controlling your microwave or toaster from your mobile phone. So you are on your way home, you instruct your fridge to ‘deliver’ a meal to your microwave by sending an SMS to your microwave 10 minutes before you arrive home so the food is warm and ready for your arrival. Generation 2 of this technology could include a GPS application which recognizes that you are driving on a road 10 minutes away from your home, and that it should tell your microwave to start cooking your meal. But because all this is easier said than done, different organizations including the EU are allocating money to help understand the deeper meaning of internet of things and to see how a technology eco-system could be pushed through innovation and deliver results.

Rather than the product being defined as a brand, you will become the individual, unique brand that consumes a product.

The current technology eco-system begins with technology standards (e.g. SMS) that sit on platforms (e.g. HTML) that drive applications (e.g. Facebook) that are driven on devices (e.g. G1 Android) that are relayed by the network (e.g. GSM). As this eco-system shifts from a limited controlled environment to one which is more inclusive, newer innovations become apparent. And besides controlling microwaves and driving cars, such innovations may involve a transformation in marketing and advertising.While marketing and advertising, and the delivery of goods and services, began by addressing the mass population all at once, later, profiles were developed as means to identify target groups within those masses. Today, innovators are using social interaction and networks to make their sales. Tomorrow, you, the individual, enabled by networking technology, will own and control your interaction in your digital marketplace. Rather than the product being defined as a brand, you will become the individual, unique brand that consumes a product.

Let me explain how.

Until recently, mobile operators controlled innovation in both device technology and services. They decided which applications should run on your mobile phone, and how you could use them to communicate with others over their networks. With the internet now becoming widely available on mobile networks, the market is starting to change. A desire for more open and inclusive mobile platforms (such as Apple’s App Store for the iPhone, or Google’s Android Market for Android-powered mobile phones) are enabling the next generation of application to reach the end consumer; and now that we have had a taste of this, we expect much more.

But in a world where information is king, too much or mismanaged information creates problems. Perhaps the most obvious example of that is spam.

Abuse in the Digital Landscape

Originally intended to reach as many people as possible with product advertisements, spam e-mail has become a load on the entire system both technically and economically. The cost of lost productivity as a result of spam e-mail is in excess of $50 billion and the global cost of IT to deal with spam rose from $20.5 billion in 2003 to $197 billion by end 2007. This while keeping in mind that for every 12.5 million junk e-mail messages only one positive response is generated. Not a very good way to manage our resources.So when two US internet service providers shut down the junk e-mail company McColo, 70% of the world’s spam e-mail stopped Given that 90% of e-mail today is spam that was a significant development. (BBC)

The further we move into a digital age, the more we as individuals crave an improved user experience. And given that 85% of spam e-mail is identified as advertising, this change should include more relevant advertising into the digital world.

Today, in the physical world, if I need a replacement car tire I will go to a garage. If the man at the garage tries to sell me a slice of pizza, most likely I will decline for had I wanted to eat, I would have gone to a dining venue. Since I have expressed my interest in tires the question becomes which tire is better for me, and this is where the sales pitch comes to play, one brand being promoted over another brand, different brands for different situations, and so on.

Similarly, commerce-orientated success in the mobile digital world will not be based on excessive advertising, nor on my specific social network or who I choose to interact with – for as an individual with many interests, my pattern of interaction will vary. Rather, success will be based on the ability for the user to receive information based on his/her individual needs as they define them on their devices. This is the importance of ‘me’.

The Value of Being Individual

Today there are no rocks or stones that I can speak or interact with. Very soon, however, there might very well be: science and technology will see to this.

Today more than 6.5 billion people live on this planet. Each and every one of us has needs. Continuing the tire example, a simple Internet search lists 17 garages beginning with the letter A in my town of 350,000. Each garage stocks different brands of tires, many of which fulfill the same function. The individual is given a choice to chose which tire, which brand they want, where each brand is marketed to address, for example, a particular lifestyle. The experience is not personal; it is general.Given the current and future growth in volume and choice, consider reversing this model where instead of choosing the brand, which is a product advertised to me, I become the brand. By making my preferences and my choices known to the products, the right products will be able to find me.

My faith teaches me that I, as an individual, am responsible for my own thoughts and actions, and that I will not be held accountable for the thoughts and actions of others. This is my unique user experience in this life. Similarly, in the digital realm, I seek a unique user experience where I can engage with who I want, on my terms, in my space. The current mobile eco-system, with its subsequent approach to marketing, is not built on an individual basis for an individual experience; it is too broad, too encompassing.

Today there are no rocks or stones that I can speak or interact with. Very soon, however, there might very well be: science and technology will see to this. And when this happens, we, the users, will also demand our own unique identities, insisting on controlling our engagement with the digital world with a more personalized, more individual, user experience. I am individual: I am my own brand.

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