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How brands become prophets – the rise of social prediction

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A view from Chris Pearce...

Charcoal, a substance once restricted to barbecues and gas mask filters, has become major food trend and is popping up in everything from chewing gum to black ice cream. A few years ago, it would have taken a major leap of imagination to predict that Mr Whippy would go through a goth phase, but now data and AI puts the future at our fingertips.

At Cannes this week, Pepsi revealed how it keeps ahead of social trends like these to inform all aspects of its business, from driving sales and launching new products to the types of companies it acquires. Pepsi uses AI and data gleaned from what people are sharing and talking about online to differentiate long-lasting trends from fads and get insight on what consumers are going to want six months from now - before those consumers know themselves.

Brands also operate in this way to help them hack into culture. Burger King told Cannes how it uses social data to spot conversations and act on them using trendsmap.com, a tool that visualises what’s trending on Twitter in realtime. In this way, it saw that in the US people were talking a lot about the Federal Communications Commission’s decision to repeal net neutrality rules (which require internet providers to give equal access to all web content) but that they were confused as to what the implications of the repeal were. They decided to use a Whopper to explain the concept of net neutrality and they set up and filmed an inspired little stunt in a branch of Burger King where customers were made to wait ridiculous amounts of time to get their burger or pay high prices to get it quickly.

As well as hacking, reflecting and leading culture, social trend spotting allows brands to be infinitely more valuable to consumers. Mozilla and Firefox were able to pre-empt the recent backlash against Facebook through social listening and, in so doing, help ease people’s fears about the access Facebook has to their data. They saw consumer sentiment around the platform was shifting months before the Cambridge Analytica revelations, so that, when the scandal broke, they already had a strategy in place to act on it and launched a tool which makes it difficult for Facebook to track your browsing activities called Facebook Container Extension.

But, as powerful as data and AI is, this tech is not enough on its own to inform strategy decisions or solve every problem. Data’s power rests on the creative ideas that it can spark. And it is this alchemy of data and creative thinking that can turn brands into prophets, making us better able to make the most of whatever else may become the new black.

By Chris Pearce, CEO at TMW Unlimited

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