new steps for Brand Utility

by luis miranda

In recent years, the concept of “brand utility” has been a trending topic and a new addition to the ever-growing list of marketing buzzwords. Generally, mobile apps have been the common format to bring the value of brand utility to life.

Some brands and digital services have been successful in bringing relevant value to people’s lives, earning a spot on the first two pages of their mobile home screen, the digital incarnation of the classic “top of mind.” But, the market of “brand utility” is generic, with thousands of brands delivering the same value and types of experiences.

The need for differentiation and relevancy forces brand apps to be constantly updating their user experience, design, and features.  They live in “beta mode,” so to speak. This quest for differentiation sparks new ways for where and how to create utility.

1- CO-UTILITY #collaboration

Personally, I really believe in the power of collaboration and open culture to continue making brands matter in people’s lives. Nowadays, opening your API’s, being ready to be remixed, and collaborating with your consumers and developers is key for the future of brands.

I’m sure you will be familiar with the idea of “mashup apps,” maybe thanks to Google, who released its Google maps API in June 2005. HousingMaps was the first example of this digital experience (Google + “something else”) and it combined the GoogleMaps API with Craigslist.

Screen Shot 2013-05-18 at 5.52.32 PM.png

Spontaneous developers and native digital brands/services have dominated the “mash-up utility” territory.

The concept of CO-utility is not new, we all know Nike Plus as the perfect example of it. 

But in a world where non-digital native brands are increasingly connected to information systems, have digital apps, and are developing more connected products, I would like to see these brands open up to collaboration and co-design with new experiences that create value, like partnerships for utility or CO-utility. 

A great example is brought by Hellman's in partnership with the supermarket chain St Marche. 

2 – MICRO UTILITY #visibleautomation

Digital businesses and services are familiar with programmable web.  Ecommerce has been offering small visible automated functionalities that create value: alerts, auto-payments, auto-renewals, etc.  I call these micro apps of pure functionality because they have no experiential component.

But I think visible automation will become more and more important beyond ecommerce. An example I noticed was the Dropboxautomator via Dropbox. It allowed you to connect your Evernote, Facebook, Flickr, and other web services/apps to Dropbox, drag and drop files into a predefined folder within Dropbox, and automatically convert and sync to your web service/app.

The latest and greatest step in this “micro-level utility” is happening thanks to IFTTT. It allows anyone without programming knowledge to create a personalized micro value mash-up or use one of those already created. It’s the democratization of the mash-up in which people can reprogram brand/services/products to create personalized micro-value. is a great tool that helps you automate tasks with your favorite apps from across the web- putting the internet to work for you in a simple, easy, and accessible way. You won’t need to know code, although the benefit of knowing a programming language is the exercise of its essence: logic. I guess it makes sense then, that IFTTT means: IF THIS THEN THAT. 

This is not just a great tool for people and digital services, but it is also a new territory for brands to facilitate micro utility that will drive more interaction.

Screen Shot 2013-05-18 at 7.05.47 PM.png

The rise of metaproducts  is taking this micro utility from digital to physical, like the following example of Phillips with ESPN.

Screen Shot 2013-05-18 at 10.37.21 AM.png

Sometimes automation can jump from the micro level to the driver of something much bigger, like Wallaby

Service Design at the core.

I’m sure we will see more brands opening their APIs, making the most of automation, and creating connected products that will help businesses to build their ecosystems of value.

In this context, Service Design is a must approach for brand utility and it’s moving fast- from digital services to physical services where Interusability (ux across multiple levels) will play a more important role across the digital and physical world.

No matter if brand utility comes from big ideas or small ones, are experiential or functional, or are based on new or current behaviors, all will share a positive impact on our lives (aka real value).

One very recent example of all of this comes from Sky Brazil. Their new service, #skyrec, may appear to be a gimmick, but it allows recording your favorite TV programs without interrupting your twitter experience. This simple integrated process has potential for real relevancy for target groups along with potential for providing Sky Brazil with an innovative image. This could have been reduced to an IFTTT recipe, as was discussed earlier: IF I tweet about a TV program, THEN my Sky box at home will record it for me. #easypeasy