What follows are excerpts from the essay I wrote on defining the Future of Brands as part of the IPA Excellence Diploma. The essay discusses three areas which play a critical role in building a successful brand:

i.   Brand Communities
ii.  Brand Owners
iii. Brand Communicators

This piece is to discuss current state of brand communities (the people served by brands) and what methods / techniques we can apply to engage them in order to create successful, stronger brands moving forward.

Brand Communities (People):

Whenever new technology is introduced, it changes the way a society operates. For example, industrial technology changed the agriculture society and similarly the information technologies are changing the models of industrial society. The evolution of technologies doesn’t just change the way people connect and earn but it also evolves their way of thinking and behaviours.

One of the biggest changes introduced by the information age technologies is to take the creation of information from the hands of few to everyone. No wonder why we create same amount of information every 48 hours that we created from the dawn of civilisation until 2003. To put it in numbers that is 5 exabytes of data created every 48 hours. Google itself admits that 35% of the information created using world wide webs is wasted, as their is not enough capacity to store it. And this is just the beginning.

The birth of a publishing society:

So, what it really means for us as marketers and advertising professionals. It means that the community we used to inform has evolved from being consumers of the information to the creators and consumers of information. We have become a publishing society from a consumer only society. And the line between old and new is getting thinner with each passing day.

The battle of control and data abundance:

As marketers and advertising professionals we have always controlled every piece of information related to our brand communities or at least tried to. However, when people are creating huge amounts of information (data), the biggest concern raised in the advertising and marketing worlds is how to control all this data (one way or another). This is hilarious, as it clearly shows that we don’t want to change and certainly don’t want to let go of our ‘Control’ mind-set. Let’s be honest, there’s no way on God’s earth that we can control all the information / data created by the communities. It’s just impossible; otherwise, Google would not be letting go of 35% of the information created by people of the world. We just have to admit that it’s a different society we live in today and frankly we don’t need to control all the information either. However, it certainly doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t make ourselves better through understanding all this user generated data. We must build skills to make use of relevant information. Information that is insightful and help us create better solutions for the communities we serve as brand owners and brand communicators. 

What it means for our industry:

It is not the data / information that is causing the trouble, but our inability to ask the right questions or have the right mindset to understand this new user generated data. In moving forward, we first have to let go of our control mindset and secondly, we have to ask ourselves what we really need to know and what we don’t. The problem today is not that we have a filter failure to capture all the user generated information, but that we are not asking the right questions. The moment we ask the right questions and seek relevant information things become a lot simpler.

Advertising with the people NOT to the people:

For decades we (brand communicators) have performed the role of a middleman between the brands and their communities. And it worked very well (Fig 2).

We are used to telling people, however, if we want to craft a prosperous future for the brands we serve then we have to let go of the ‘telling’ mindset. Today, people just don't want to listen to what a brand has to say but also want to be part of how a brand communicates itself. And if we work with them in communicating a brand then they start using their information creation ability in our favour.

Some brands are already doing it successfully. Consider the example of Decode Jay-z with Bing and American ROM where BING and ROM utilised the support of their communities to create remarkable communication stories.



So, I ask what is really more impactful, an ad agency advertising a brand to the people or advertising it with the people Fig 3 (i.e. giving people the ability to participate in the communications process and create it with the brand)?