What Is The GPS Brain And What Does It Mean For Your Brand?

A GPS in every car and every pocket is leading us to think and to make decisions differently than we have in the past. The impact for businesses and brands is profound.

Julia Frankenstein, a psychologist at the University of Freiburg’s Center for Cognitive Science, says that the danger of GPS is that “we are not forced to remember or process the information — as it is permanently ‘at hand,’ we need not think or decide for ourselves.” (via New York Times Book review)

Inspired by Greg Milner’s Pinpoint: How GPS Is Changing Technology, Culture and Our Minds, I’ve been thinking more and more about this “GPS brain” where everything is permanently at hand. How can brands steer clear (so to speak) of this moment-by-moment brain?

Consider the difference between driving via GPS and driving with a map.

With a GPS, all context is gone. Perspective is reduced to a small screen. Street names come and go with the next turn. There is no anticipation, no interpretation, no need to remember. With a street address and a zip code, the rest is irrelevant. All so easy. And all so insidious.

I think of all the miles I’ve covered on the open road guided by little more than a AAA map that refused to be folded the same way twice. Or maybe I sprung for the Hagstrom map book, navigating the wacky grid system along the way. Despite their sometimes maddening analog nature, these relics of yesteryear succeeded in providing a very tangible sense of where I was, where I was going - and exactly how I was to get there. I had context. Route 33 or I-80 or US-1 earned spots in my consciousness. Once I made the drive, I could probably do it a second time without a map. Today, if a GPS gets me there I kind of have no idea where I am.

These challenges extend well beyond navigation systems, of course. From shopping to travel to information, consumers have become accustomed to a host of viable options served up at precisely the time of need. Planning and context are simply less necessary in many of the decisions we make. The reliance on technology may be altering the structure of our brains, as the quote above suggests – and it is most certainly altering the nature of how we make purchasing decisions.

For businesses at the receiving end of these purchase decisions, reliance on mapping software or SEO strength or hashtag popularity offers a rather tenuous foundation on which to build a brand.

How can your brand overcome the challenges of the GPS brain?

Focus on the experience and the relationships that you create.
The experience a brand delivers across the lifecycle of every interaction will set it apart time and time again. And great experiences will drive lasting relationships - providing context and meaning, and offering your customers triggers to think about your brand when their mind turns to the category of your business and their relevant goals or challenges.

Your brand is your ticket to avoid the GPS brain, to circumvent the trend towards latching onto a solution simply because it is served up at the decision point. Identify that core promise you make to your customers – and then make sure your company delivers (or over-delivers) with every experience. Extend relationships by creating opportunities to add value to your customers’ lives with things like thought leadership, forums and events, meaningful content, relevant sponsorships, etc.

The GPS brain is here to stay. We will not be seeing a renaissance of foldout maps anytime soon. And more and more decisions are becoming automated everyday. The risk of commoditization and transactional behaviors will only increase.

So, how will you put your brand to work so you can continue to own a place in your customer’s mind?




Jonathan Paisner