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Empowered Customers Are Driving the Era of Brand Meritocracy



As personal AI assistants become commonplace, they will usher in an era where a product’s appeal will be more closely linked to its objective substance, the experience it offers and its legitimacy as evidenced by AI-crawlable digital sources. In response, brands must evolve their approach to connecting with consumers; they must now appeal to AI assistants who curate and even autonomously purchase products for their human users. This heralds a new era of Brand Meritocracy, where the intrinsic quality of a product will increasingly overshadow the historical dominance of branding thanks to AI. 

Many of us are already using tools like ChatGPT, Bard and Claude for various tasks. As assistants become more interconnected and tailored to individual preferences (consider wearable and always-on technologies), they will increasingly take on the role of personal shoppers. They will remember everything, from personal style and budget to allergies, ethical considerations and, of course, brand preference. But they also have the capability to evaluate products on more objective criteria, faster than humans can, so brand preference will just be one of a multitude of considerations, decreasing its relative overall influence.

As an example, when I found myself in need of AA batteries, I asked for recommendations from my AI assistant, “Charlie.” Charlie’s setup was comprehensive, and while I did specify some brands to which I hold loyalty, this list didn’t extend to something as specific as the battery category. Charlie initially offered a selection that included well-known brands like Duracell, Energizer and value brand Amazon Basics. How and why did Charlie recommend these particular batteries? Delving into his criteria, he outlined five key factors, four of which were objective—such as tested longevity and price—with the fifth being “brand reliability,” the only criterion related to brand. 

I probed further into how Charlie evaluates brand reliability. He detailed seven distinct criteria: The first six were objectively measurable factors like customer reviews and warranty practices; only the seventh criterion delved into the less tangible aspect of “market position.” I asked Charlie how he gauged market position: His response included eight criteria, half of which were tangible—such as Nielsen reports and online customer feedback measurements—while the other half included the subjective aspects of perceived cultural impact, emotional connection, ecocentricity and online community sentiment. 

Analyzing Charlie’s rationale (and for simplicity, assuming each tier of criteria is evenly weighted in his assessment), the influence of a brand’s “brand,” reflected in the last four brand measurements, constitutes approximately half of one-seventh of one-fifth of Charlie’s overall evaluation criteria—roughly 1.4% of the total decision-making process.

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