Drew’s view – The end of choice

I was with Michele Ferrero, the visionary creator of billion dollar brands like Kinder and Nutella in a meeting several years ago. He had invited “il canadese” as he liked to call me to a review of brands and new products. I sat with him and the company directors at a table surrounded by dozens of managers on their feet in silence. The meeting lasted about five hours. At the end of it he paused and said, «I hope you are all thinking about how we are going to sell our products when we don’t have the shelves anymore».

It was an awkward moment. I looked around and saw mostly blank expressions and nervous smiles. It was amazing. Here was an 86 year old man looking at the future far beyond what most of us had considered. But then few have understood branding better than he did. As I write this, Amazon has just announced the launch of what they call the “Dash Smart Shelf”. It incorporates a scale that weighs supplies placed on it and automatically reorders items that are running low, at a 15% discount. 

It’s one of the first examples of “A-commerce” in which retail tasks are managed automatically through AI. In the near future this technology will increasingly replace the need for people to search for the best product, find the best price or worry about reordering. Anyone involved in marketing should be asking themselves how their brand is going to stand out and get chosen when AI has replaced humans in the purchasing process. Many brands still view the internet world as just another media channel, entrusting their online presence to digital agencies. Instead, it should become a central part of their long term strategic development. Increasingly it is there that brands will either flourish or die unnoticed and overlooked. 

Brands thrive and grow through competition. It stimulates innovation which in turn drives progress. The successful ones are those with a clear sense of purpose focused on improving the lives of their consumers. It all starts with a deep understanding of their needs to uncover new opportunities to fulfil them. But it’s not a level playing field anymore. Amazon, Google and Facebook are all above competition. They are unreachable, untouchable monopolies of influence. All of us, brand owners and consumers alike should be thinking about what quality of life the future will hold when just a few companies dominate the market, guide our choices and control so much of our daily lives.


Drew Smith è CEO di Smith Lumen, società di consulenza di design pluripremiata che ha lavorato per oltre 350 marchi in tutto il mondo