October 14, 2010
Soon enough, agencies won’t build brands anymore. People will do.
Back some months ago, one of my interns asked me how I envisioned the future of brands in this technology driven society in which we live. Trying to look clever – or at least like I had a remote idea of what I was about to say – I suddenly started to think on how the concept of what a brand has changed during past years.
My answer ended up being simpler [and more predictable] than what I initially expected…
The future of brands is social.
I thought… In order to successfully build a relevant community of evangelists, brands will have to fully empathize with the values of participatory culture as well to understand the impact that technology has -- and will continue to have -- over its development.
Quite a non-brainier, no?
But let’s be frank. We might be living in the midst of a ‘technology-inspired social revolution’ but the truth is that inherently, the world has always been social. “We are anthropologically programmed to share” as Clay Shirky stated at SXSW early this year; technology is just amplifying the process.
Now, while technology might not be making the world social [for the record, I did not say ‘more social’], it has certainly contributed to shift the paradigm that dictates what a brand is and how it behaves. And, in that sense, it has also helped to redefine some of the key elements that rule the existing brand-building model.
For starter, the traditional hierarchy is falling apart. During the past decades, there has been a shift from ‘institutional’ to ‘individual’ power that has led to the emergence of a new breed of mindful consumers; people who [fortunately] recognize that brands need them more than they need brands [ouch]. Hence, a brand that wants to be relevant to this self-aware individual needs to - first - get out of its self-centered-narcissist bubble and – then - learn how to exist within his/her culture. Obviously, this demands identifying the skills, the methods, the habit and the technologies necessary for acting and participating within that given arena. The end goal is to build contextual relevance around their habitat and move from a ‘seen’ brand to a ‘shared’ one.
Then we have the agencies, which - like any other ecosystem of its kind - are constructed around a hierarchical blueprint where tight sense of control and predictable risk become the holding pillars of its actions. But their world also falls apart once they realize that, nowadays, helping their brands to build deeper [social] relationships implies that they also need to give up their most precious treasure: control.
And here lies the dilemma.
See, no organization [agency or client] is willing to commit on buying transformational ideas without some sort of guarantee; they feel like they need to control both the process as well as the outcome. And I guess we all can understand this behavior since, historically, the industry itself have mistakenly established that giving up control equals uncertainty in terms of ROI – which, ultimately, explains their obsessive behavior. Fortunately, now we count with loads of examples out there that prove us why this approach is not longer right and that also reveal that in order to ‘socialize a brand’ giving up control – more than just a choice -- is a rule.
Yes, things could potentially go wrong so all this implies some level of readiness to deal with disaster. But when it comes to greatness, that’s part of the idea, no? Expertise only leads to the same old patterns so we have to trust on experimentation if we want to play on the realm of true transformation. The reality that any company needs to embrace is that screwing up is part of the process towards building great [social] brands; Brands that talk to people and that people would want to talk to. Brands that people care about.
I’m not a psychic -- or anything of that sort -- but my best guess about the future is that building brands will require ideas that are rooted on the inherent social nature of the people they talk to. Therefore, our goal must be to find ways to help these brands either become the conversation, or at least be part of it. Perhaps the challenge requires a redefinition of the way we embrace social from a holistic standpoint [some agencies are successfully experimenting with this already]; I really haven’t quite figured that one out yet but one thing I know for sure: I expect a future where agencies no longer build brands. People do.
[Thankfully perhaps] there isn’t really a model for success out there. There are a myriad of them. The idea is to continue collaborating, experimenting and prototyping to evolve them.