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We are at the beginning of the defining revolution of our time: The Fourth Industrial Revolution, also known as Industry 4.0, was first marked in 2015 by a team of scientists in Germany.
Whether you know the terminology or not, the effects of Industry 4.0 are all around us—artificial intelligence, Internet of Things, cloud computing, self-driving cars. This revolution is distinguished by its velocity, scale and autonomy. It’s also marked by its relative absence of physicality. We can’t see and feel the machinations of Industry 4.0 like previous industrial revolutions—factories and steam engines and giant computers—we can only see and feel their effects.
This lack of the tangible has had its own effect on consumers. The ethereal context of these innovations by their very nature creates a formidable trust issue. The machinations cannot be seen, while the ramifications appear at a lightning-fast pace.
As a collective, we must consider how Industry 4.0 will bring prosperity to people, places and environments, and we must avoid the pitfalls of previous industrial revolutions. This means holding companies accountable and defending transparency, sustainability and well-being in their work.
But just as consumers seek to empower themselves in the midst of enormous social, economic and infrastructural change, so do brands have the opportunity to seize the need for integrity and showcase their commitment to a better future with their audience. Brands have the power to become global actors, keeping our industrial revolution grounded in long-term and responsible value and helping us meet the challenges and opportunities of Industry 4.0 on human terms.
How to start? First, purpose-driven branding is a direct response to the fears and anxieties of Industry 4.0. These branding moments answer touchstone questions: “Who is truly benefiting from our work,” and “How did we make the world better than we found it?” It has been well documented that brands demonstrating their higher purpose receive greater consumer trust, loyalty and advocacy. Defining and amplifying one’s purpose will be critical to a brand’s success in connecting with its audience.
There are several key areas of focus for brands beginning to create their own purpose-driven branding. These areas have the greatest opportunity for positive impact by Industry 4.0 and are also the points that will continue to be the most pressing for consumers in the coming decades. Each informs purpose-driven branding and offers opportunities for clarity, communication and understanding.
The wars for data transparency, or lack thereof, are currently playing out across the globe with varying outcomes. But one thing is certain—there is ignorance and confusion about how one’s data is used and how many algorithms are influencing their everyday life. Without information, consumers feel out of control of how their data is leveraged, seeding mistrust and even complete avoidance of entire products.
Continued clarity from brands can help rebuild the trust that has eroded and even invite consumers to contribute their data for the benefit of a more personalized experience and more powerful products and services. This practice creates a data exchange marked by integrity as well as more informed consumers and citizens who have a proper footing in a quickly evolving world.
Environmental sustainability is notoriously an afterthought of any industrial revolution. Industry 4.0 is the opportunity to get it right.
Indeed, more so than avoiding further environmental damage, Industry 4.0 should give us hope that we can engineer ourselves out of a looming environmental disaster. We have unparalleled abilities to collect, collate and share data—and to turn that data into action. Brands that commit to achieving unprecedented markers of sustainability, or that give their efforts towards reversing the damages of global warming, will be aligning themselves with humanity’s greatest present need.
Reminding ourselves what makes us human, and what supports our well-being, is core to maintaining humanity in a rapidly changing environment. Showing impact and care in Industry 4.0 will include addressing issues such as wealth inequities, access to quality healthcare and education. Companies have the opportunity to commit to these various causes, supporting them with resources, awareness and action.
This begins within a company’s own walls. Very few companies today have been willing to adopt corporate structures that do away with the expansive wealth disparity between the most junior roles and the C-suite. As Industry 4.0 threatens to only exacerbate the current inequities deeply embedded in our society, we can combat them by shifting our perception of what it means for a company to be “successful.” To stay grounded in the rapid changes to come, success should equal greater prosperity and well-being for all stakeholders—from the employees, to the consumers, to future generations.
The time is now
We know this for certain: Just like its predecessors, Industry 4.0 will significantly affect how we live, work and connect. What we do not yet know is if brands will rise to the challenge of upholding humanity over industry, well-being over profit, what is right over what is easy. This is not simply a matter of vague ethics or public goodwill; the choices we make today may very well determine our future existence.