In preparation for a series of roundtable discussions I’ll be leading with Sasha Grujicic at the Banff World Media Festival in June, I’ve been giving considerable thought to the near-term future of brands, and the economics associated with them.
certainly fair to say that brands have taken on a far more vulnerable
position with consumers given the adoption of social technologies and forms of activism
that put consumer groups more in control over their choices and
purchases. It’s probably even more timely to concede that branding as a
discipline is far less about marketing, and far more about actually
building markets. Not only do leading brands own their media
ecosystems, but they are building new products and services as
extensions of their constituent businesses and business units.
the notion of what a brand really is nowadays, perhaps it's best to
first contextualize a significant shift in how companies operate, how
they build consumer relationships, and how value is co-created and
monetized more altruistically. This shift is a direct result of how money is exchanged,
how debt and credit are moved around or leveraged, and reflective of
the unique ways those constructs are being disintermediated by
alternative currencies, crowdfunding, virtual credits and the like.
Put another way, corporations have more cash on the books than banks and governments, when you consider that they have real assets along with their own credit systems. The shift they represent is one in which they can create the most change, and many of them are, as we'll see in a moment.
The business models of today and tomorrow will constantly change.
agents who recognize this shift are of course poised to survive and thrive in a
heavily commodified marketing industry, one still mostly reliant on bulk
media buys and creative services that have a hard time justifying
bottom line value within the current landscape. Saneel Radia has co-founded
Finch15 to capitalize on the needs of brands who seek guidance and partnership with new, emergent business models. The folks at Invention.ist
have boldly put a stake in the ground in prototyping product ideas
rather than simply launching slick campaigns. Others like Kirshenbaum Bond Senecal + Partners and Rockfish
have established venture arms that allow them to make key investments
in emerging technologies. There are a host of other agencies, like Given,
that are committed to changing the brand paradigm to one in which
values are developed organically rather than through the superficial
attempts found in a lot of the art and copy we see in the streets and on
These new models are far from perfect, but that is not the point. The point
is to embrace experimentation, and to constantly adapt these models such
that innovation can become a profit center in various ways.
Another point to consider is that products and services are far from perfect in their own right, and are naturally under intense scrutiny. This means that brands must evolve beyond open dialogues and actually change the function and substance of those products and services. To be more pedantic about it, if a soft drink can kill you or a clothing brand is killing its factory workers (intentionally or not), then we have a significant problem on our hands. Coke's escalating troubles with obesity are a classic example of how communications can't solve complex, real world issues.
Designing systems to take on complex problems.
I liken all of this to a single equivalent: We are moving away from a campaign optimization space, and straight towards one that has us building emergent systems.
of a system as one that has a bunch of interrelated and interchangeable
parts. That system may contain traditional branding elements and ad
campaigns and social media content and PR stunts and all that, but more
importantly, it is comprised of tools and platforms and utilities that
allow people and companies to connect, learn and transact more meaningfully. Further,
these dynamics call for communications to be multi-dimensional, such
that push messaging is being replaced by emerging disciplines like participatory storytelling,
data journalism and other forms of ‘new media’ which break through the
boundaries imposed by traditional media gatekeepers. Therefore, a system
is much more than the sum of its parts -- it is at once a means to educate, inform, entertain, prospect and experiment in ‘perpetual beta’.
For those corporate stakeholders who are fearful, consider this: Systems are not only sustainable, but they are scalable. In other words, there’s real money at stake.