Business opinion: Intellectual branding in the age of artificial intelligence

Intellectual branding in the age of AI

The theme for this year’s International Day for Universal Access to Information (IDUAI): Artificial Intelligence, e-Governance and Access to Information, commemorated on September 28 annually as provided for by the United Nations provoked critical thinking among us as we planned for this week’s edition. Sure, there is more to this intellectual capacitation. Wherein the intellectual brands are not only the individual, but define both the societal and industrial existence of today and the future. The key question is, how do you manage intellectual branding in the age of advances in artificial intelligence? As we have to co-exist (machines and humans) in this paradigm, the intellectual gravity of our indigenous business has to be sharp in defining the harmony with machines towards dominating the markets. However, for us to understand the interest this brought to our attention, it’s because brand management has gone through an evolution starting with the brand in the age of identity; the age of brand value; the age of brand as a customer experience and now the likelihood of intellectual branding in the age of AI.

This age of intellectual branding and AI, stimulates persons, society and the business to equally consider the knowledge economy as part of the mainstream economy and do so with a strong appreciation of the role of science and network brought by the Internet of Things (IoT). Giving birth to AI, machine learning and big data. This requires the generation of our current entrepreneurs to move from a mere investment in AI as a bandwagon but those with capabilities that are compatible with our realities in Zimbabwe, southern Africa, and the broader African context which the current technologies have not been well developed to serve. Simply put, how do you teach machines to understand indigenous knowledge and practices so that we shape an AI that is responsive to our localised human challenges? Remember it is communication that pivots the evolution of humanity. Worse off, there has always been a phobia of scientific subjects by most of our learners. We should then be careful and match our AI with what most of our entrepreneurs understand, otherwise they are knocked out of the game through semantics and technicalities.

This intellectual capital, required today, as we attempt to shape the next phase of innovations and solutions to the human challenges faced in the continent, should be deliberately branded and protected through the intellectual protection and patent system under the United Nations. This is because the innovations by our local universities, the intelligentsia, the academics and the broader society are part of the brand architecture that will position our businesses as the enterprises of the future. That is the reason why almost every scientific school in our Higher and Tertiary Institutions is reconfiguring toward this benchmark.

A young Electrical Engineer from Zambia, Weluzani Band has developed a glove that converts sign language to audio, which enhances the capacity for people living with disabilities to better communicate, specially designed for this critical constituency to access banking facilities with ease. This is part of branding the services and business solutions which better positions our companies to compete better than those that use AI which is not inclusive of these marginalised communities and groups. Hence, branding in the age of AI is a key conversation that also pushes back the colonial boundaries. Where the voice for the minority entrepreneurs from Africa should contribute in talking global business and be branded as proudly Africa/Zimbabwe. It’s a departure point from importing technology that comes from the global north and replicating it in our realities wherein, it’s blind to the indigenous knowledge and practices. It simply entails that our local entrepreneurs would have practically entered the conversation on de-coloniality and the need for the African communities to develop, riding on their intellectual capabilities, clearly defined and protected from global cannibalism. Hence when we brand based on intellectual capital in the age of AI, we are investing heavily in our capacity to think, improving the current body of technology to better serve our target markets and clearly position our services based on these unique capacities.

We are still in the age of customer experience though we are fast moving towards the complex era that has been provoked by the theme of the IDUAI for this year. This is an era that is highly powered by technological developments that are aimed at delivering an experience of a lifetime to customers. Because of these phenomenal technological changes, customers have an incredible voice in brand building and exerting pressure on the quality of experience that the brand should deliver. There is a need for the business to clearly understand the four key dimensions of business if they are to create an experience that surpasses competition namely: the behaviour of its people, the product, the environment be it brick and mortar or the virtual space or distribution channels and its communications.

Creating an experience also requires that the company should:

l Be very good at innovation

l Invest in deep market engagement (rooting the business in the market needs)

l Position the brand experience as a differentiator through living a unique promise (where our indigenous language in the intervention of AI lead the way)

It is critical to remember that while we are in the age of customer experience, brand management has come far, through an evolution that defines our history. Before we got into the current phrase, we were in the age of value, which started predominantly around the late 1980s. This is the era in which brands became business assets, which generated value for their owners and appeared in the companies’ balance sheets. In this era, it shifted from being viewed as a marketing function and became a center of business strategy. It was realized that a brand had both short and long-term advantages in that the brand drove choice (the role of the brand), which increased revenue. It also commanded a premium, which stimulated profits (financial performance). Ultimately, it secured customer loyalty (brand strength) that reduced risk and guaranteed sustainable existence (brand value).

But before the age of value, we were in the first stage, the age of identity— “marking” brands. This was done to make it easy for the owners to identify their brands from the rest. This was mainly the era around the 70s and 80s, which was aimed at setting the product apart from the competing offerings.

As the process of brand management evolves, it is imperative to keep on asking which phrase are we likely to enter next? It’s highly likely that we are headed for the age of brand personalization, and building an ecosystem around it. We have lost many local brands due to failure to understand the evolving nature of brand management. Do you still remember Zimbabwe’s own Jazen Chain stores? It rose in the era of identity and folded without evolving to the next levels. In the 21st century/4th Industrial Revolution (4IR), marketers should appreciate the strategic nature of brand management as an enabler of intellectual capital that is used for innovations through the application of localised Artificial Intelligence as the differentiation of the whole business as a strategic driver in unlocking new solutions to the customers and addressing key challenges facing society, the country and the continent at large.

Dr Farai Chigora is a businessman and academic. He is the Head of business science at the Africa University’s College of Business, Peace, Leadership and Governance. His doctoral research focused on Business Administration (destination marketing and branding major, Ukzn, SA). He can be contacted for feedback at [email protected], WhatsApp mobile: +263772886871.

 Dr. Tabani Moyo is a Doctor in business administration (Research focus on new media and corporate reputation management, UKZN),  chartered marketer, fellow CIM, communications and reputation management expert based in Harare. He can be contacted at [email protected]  @TabaniMoyo (Twitter)

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