For the past 70 years, business branding has been largely guided by principles developed in the 1950s and 1960s, when there were only three television networks, messaging through advertising was easy to control, and information flowed from a few “trusted” news sources to millions of people. This one-to-many model of information flow has been upended since the advent of the Internet and social media. Now, information flows in millions of different directions at once – to, from, and by people all over the globe – in an all-to-all free-for-all for eyeballs and market share. Some of the well-established rules of branding still apply in this new, hyper-connected environment, but building and differentiating a brand is harder than ever.
 
In the coming year, this global technological connectedness will reach an unprecedented level. The old rules don’t apply in this world. New rules must be developed.
 
Here are a few to start with:

Be Worthy of Your Customer’s Trust

At its core, effective branding is about a consistent connection between a company, its products, and its promise to customers. No matter what physical product or service you sell, your true product is trust. On the Internet, trust in a brand can be destroyed in an instant. The good news for serious brands is that, because the Internet is so full of scams, half-truths and outright lies, people will continue to look to brands as a trusted resource. Earn their trust, then work every day, as hard as you can, to keep it.

The good news for serious brands is that, because the Internet is so full of scams, half-truths, and outright lies, people will continue to look to brands as a trusted resource.

Don’t Just Avoid Evil – Do Good

Google’s infamous tag line “Don’t be evil” is not the same thing as “Do good,”and the latter is a much better motto to follow. Young people, particularly Millennials and the generation after them (Digital Natives), like their consumption to reflect their values. More often than not, they make buying decisions based on what certain brands stand for, whether it’s environmental friendliness (Prius), fair-wage pay (Costco), LGBT equality (Kellogg), or sustainable energy (3M). Spin will only get you so far, however. At some point, it has to be backed up by honest, well-intentioned action. The world is full of cheaters and liars; don’t be one of them.

Fewer Memes, More Me

Because messaging can no longer be controlled by the messenger, brands have had to figure out how to get customers themselves to spread the word. One of the most effective ways to do this is through a “meme” that grabs people’s imagination and goes viral, such as the Ice Bucket Challenge. Modern marketers spend a great deal of time trying to figure out how to create successful memes. Some work, but most don’t because memes are supposed to be spontaneous and unpredictable.
 
So-called meme-marketing is still in its infancy, but it is already giving way to a more me-oriented form of messaging – the sort of super-targeted, hyper-personalized messaging that is becoming possible with the convergence of Big Data, artificial intelligence and ubiquitous mobile and personal devices of all kinds. There will always be a place on the Internet for absurd humor, but Big Data allows companies to understand and connect with each individual customer in ever more intimate ways. In turn, each of those customers has unprecedented control over the messages they receive. Memes may work for a long time to come, but more “me” is what people really want. Learn how to give it to them.

Memes may work for a long time to come, but more ‘me’ is what people really want.

Comfort the Afflicted

The speed of technological and cultural change that people are experiencing today isn’t just mind-boggling, it’s disorienting and, for some people, quite scary. The world they used to know is disappearing and the world that is replacing it isn’t always reassuring. Time-tested brands can often serve as psychological anchors in turbulent times. People are creatures of habit and they seek out comfort, particularly when they are uncomfortable. Brands that can provide that comfort (Campbell’s, L.L. Bean) or serve as signposts to a better future (Charles Schwab, Apple) will continue to attract loyal customers even as the retail marketplace continues to fragment and choices multiply. Sometimes, the tried and true is the only thing people will try.

Time-tested brands can often serve as psychological anchors in turbulent times.

Share, Don’t Sell

All social media platforms in existence today rely upon one basic principle: people like to share. Brands, too, can benefit from sharing, but many are still too focused on selling. Sharing, for brands, means connecting customers with information, ideas and resources that can help customers improve their lives. The “selling” is done by associating the brand with related networks of information that may or may not have much to do with the brand’s products. The term of art for this approach is “curated content,” but it’s really about offering help to people in ways that don’t feel like direct sales pitches...because they aren’t. They’re just useful pieces of information that you gave them, with no strings attached. And for that, they will remember you, all the way into 2016.

Brands, too, can benefit from sharing, but many are still too focused on selling

Five Revolutions That Will Shape the Future of Marketing

The market is full of trendy terms – Big Data, the Internet of Things, Digital Natives, Globalization, Social Media, etc. – that attempt to describe the complex technological and social changes that the world is currently experiencing. However, there is a danger in reducing complex social dynamics down to a few catchy buzzwords – trendy terms can act as intellectual shortcuts that fool people into thinking they understand these ideas when they really don’t.
 
Yes, everyone knows change is coming, and everyone can see it happening around them. But in the next 20 years, so much change is going to happen so quickly that large portions of the populace are going to have a difficult time keeping up.
 
And it won’t just be individuals. Underestimating the speed and impact of these changes will be the downfall of many businesses large and small in the coming years. In a world of constant disruption and uncertainty, however, marketers who truly understand the key forces behind these changes will be in a better position to adapt and survive. Looking ahead, there are several horizon-level revolutions that everyone in marketing should be aware of because they are about to be felt with a force that is difficult to overstate.

In the next 20 years, so much change is going to happen so quickly that large portions of the populace are going to have a difficult time keeping up.

Revolution #1: The End of the Information Age

Many people think we are still in the Information Age, but the truth is that we are leaving the Information Age behind and entering a new stage of human development fueled by global inter-connectedness and rapidly improving technologies of all kinds. The exponential growth and convergence of so many new technologies – combined with a growing population of tech- and media-savvy consumers – will usher in a revolutionary era of social change the likes of which humanity has never seen before. Ever. In the future, companies will need to find ways to protect themselves from the inevitable disruptions that such changes will bring while simultaneously recognizing the advantages and opportunities.

Revolution #2: The Shift From Institutional to Individual

One of the biggest power shifts of the 20th century was the shift from institutional power to individual power, and that isn’t going to stop. The Internet empowered individuals to communicate with anyone in the world, and now populations armed with nothing but cell phones are bringing down entire governments. Furthermore, institutions in all areas of life – education, healthcare, religion, media, business – are being forced to change simply because people now have more ability than ever to organize, mobilize, innovate, disrupt and demand.
 
Brands, too, have gone from being purely institutional inventions to personal expressions of almost every kind. For businesses, continuing empowerment of individual customers means that the dynamics of the business/customer relationship are evolving. Customers will continue to demand more transparency, integrity and responsiveness from those they choose to do business with...and businesses will have little choice but to comply. Smart businesses will initiate the inevitable rather than wait to be pushed.

Revolution #3: Artificial Intelligence Becomes Less...Artificial

Creativity and imagination are often thought of as the one realm that computers can never conquer because the inner workings of the mind are what make humans unique. But it is already possible to control a computer with our thoughts alone, and commercials for IBM’s Watson computer are now touting its ability to generate new ideas using data to spark creative inspiration, helping chefs develop original new recipes, for instance.

 As artificial intelligence continues to evolve and improve – powered by the combination of Big Data, the Internet of Things, and always-connected devices tied to people’s location and activities (e.g., the Apple Watch) – it will begin to behave more and more like a giant alternative brain, one that rivals and surpasses humans in many ways. Machines already do most jobs that involve repetitive motion. When machines start replacing people who use their imagination for a living – writers, designers, architects, engineers, teachers, etc. – they won’t just be taking better jobs, they’ll be challenging what it means to be human.

This shift will create a great deal of psychological stress for people with actual brains, generating a massive need for goods and services that will help them adjust to this strange new reality. Brands that can help people ride the wave of change to a brighter future, or help people to cope and adapt, will be in high demand...as will brands that affirm human values and identity.

Revolution #4: Rise of the Digital Natives

Much has been written about the impact of Millennials (those born between 1981 and 1997) on the workforce, but the next wave of workers and consumers entering the workforce will be the Digital Natives (those born after 1997). Digital Natives are the first generation in human history to be born into the world of hyper-connected information overload. However, since they’ve been connected since birth, Digital Natives do not experience the flood of information hurling at them as anything more than just “the way things are” and, for them, the way things always have been.
 
At the moment, Millennials are assuming positions of power in all walks of life and their impact on marketing – in the use of viral memes, infotainment, social media, spheres of influence, cross-platform content, etc. – has been profound. But when Digital Natives start adding their ideas and influence into the mix, the pace of change will accelerate even faster. This acceleration will feel to older generations like constant chaos and disruption, but to Digital Natives it will simply be business as usual – the way things ought to be.

Revolution #5: From Selling to Sharing

Since Millennials and Digital Natives have been aggressively marketed to their entire lives, they are also extremely savvy about the media they consume. Direct, blatant pitches don’t work on them. They hate being sold to and commercials are just the things you fast-forward through to get back to the program. Also, since they are wary of institutions, they are much more likely to trust the opinion of a friend than anyone else, hence the rise of social media as a powerful marketing tool.
 
In the future, selling is going to be less about persuasion and more about participation. Brands that position themselves as a trusted “friend” have a much better chance of succeeding in this environment. That’s not a new idea; the key is truly being worthy of the customer’s trust. For example, Whole Foods knows that its customers care about the ecological, political and social impact of the food they consume. To help make that information more readily available to its customers, the company is investing in IT infrastructure to support its vision of total product transparency, a move it hopes will inspire the sort of trust and loyalty all companies are looking for in the 21st
century.  

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