Guardians of Citizenship Intro The year is 1999 and despite the imminent millennium celebrations the world is also

bracing itself for a potential digital dystopia, Y2K fever is upon us. But as people everywhere grow increasingly fearful of a computational conspiracy and the spread of the great millennial cold, a burgeoning network of interconnected computers are busying together, fortifying the foundations for a more utopian peoples’ revolution. “We shape our tools and afterwards our tools shape us” Marshall McLuhan observed and it’s hard to find a more fitting example of his supposition than the unprecedented growth of the internet. A self-perpetuating, organically charged phenomena that within the relative blink of an eye has rewired the very fabric of our collective and individual consciousness. This paper examines the new state of consciousness, looking at the new paradigm of consumerism, the implications for brands and a vision of the future. Ultimately identifying a clear road map for brands and agencies to survive in the brave new world. All hail the consumer At the turn of the 21st century the modern economy’s traditional systems of exchange, consumption and communication shifted irrevocably. And, as we ease our way out of its first decade it can be argued that this shift has fallen markedly in favour of ‘the people.’ The democratisation of technology and the widespread penetration of broadband internet have combined to create a connected and empowered consumer, the like never seen before…the consumer has indeed “never had it so good.” Consumers everywhere are flexing their muscles and taking advantage of their newly empowered status. We’re seeing individuals coalesce around shared passions and causes online to create communities that can more effectively achieve their desired ambitions. Digital publishing tools such as blogs and vlogs are turning everyday consumers into global actors overnight, helping to elevate and channel personal opinion or creative expression into the public domain. Masses of knowledge and information, once the preserve of the few, is being speedily placed into consumers’ hands as quickly as it is created. And finally, consumers are tearing down the walls between what it means to be a producer and consumer, it’s never been easier for consumers to create, vend and trade with each other around the world. A Brand in Limbo The ‘white heat of technology’ has indeed brought with it a brighter dawn for the individual, but it has also managed to unsettle a long-running balance of power between the consumer and the brand producer. Today, while the landscape remains unchanged the consumer engagement rulebook has been thrown out and replaced by a new more pluralistic set of conventions. Even a commodity as precious as the brand finds its place somewhat in the balance, uncertain of its role within this new paradigm.

For many years big brands have opted to repeatedly brandish a banner emblazoned with a single-minded message in an effort to sway consumer behaviour. However, questions are increasingly being raised about the tried and tested method. Umair Haque of the Harvard Business School believes this kind of branding only made sense for the economics of an industrial era when “interaction was expensive – so information about the expected benefits of consumption had to be squeezed into slogans, characters, and logos, which were then compressed into thirty-second TV ads and radio spots.” The vast majority of brands and marketers still believe the traditional model is the most efficient means to engage, grow loyalty and revenue. However, the traditional model may well be broken and in fact attempts to apply this formula may actually do more to harm than propel the brand of today. While I concede brands have not quite lost their place as the dominant symbols of production and consumption, evidence is emerging to suggest a brand’s equity, value and leverage in the world is slowly being eroded. James Surowiecki in his article ‘the decline of brands’ notes: “a study by retailindustry tracking firm NPD Group found that nearly half of those who described themselves as highly loyal to a brand were no longer loyal a year later…another remarkable study found that just 4 percent of consumers would be willing to stick with a brand if its competitors offered better value for the same price.” Symbols and the Self If this is true then it’s quite a reversal of fortunes for traditional brands and their traditional methods. Not long ago a brand’s indefatigable pressence in peoples’ lives helped forge a enduring place in the consumer’s psyche as a symbol of trust and assurance. The successful brand had become, and still is, a valuable heuristic for consumers in an array of complex purchase cycles; its presence helping to construct a ‘justifying narrative’ for the consumer’s continued purchase. The brand had also become a tool for the consumer’s need to create a positive identity, both internally: “this brand reassures myself I care for my children”, and externally: “this brand tells my peers I’m serious about skateboarding.” Brands will no doubt continue to act as important symbols of assurance and identity but an individual’s reliance on brands for these purposes looks almost certain to fade as consumers transfer their focus to activities and behaviours that better fulfil these need states. Connected consumers today still seek out ‘justifying narratives’ but they construct them very differently. To begin with people’s access to vast seas of information (which includes information on a product’s performance and reliability) are taking the place of the trusted emblem, mnemonic or end-line. While the communities that assemble and spread the word about a great new product are taking the place of words on a press ad or spoken words in a TV spot. Again, Umair Haque agrees: “In fact, when interaction is cheap, the very economic rationale for orthodox brands actually begins to implode: information about expected costs and benefits doesn’t have to be compressed into logos, slogans, ad-spots or column-inches – instead, consumers can debate and discuss expected costs and benefits in incredibly rich detail.” What’s more the individual’s new found freedom to create and express a personal identity online,

to join communities where their interests are not only shared and appreciated but actively revered, will usurp any brand as a badge or decree of attitude. So the picture looks rather bleak, consumers are increasingly becoming less reliant on, and open to, traditional brands on all fronts; could this be the beginning of the end for brands. Or could it be a rebirth? A Brand Renaissance This period of enlightenment is just that, a period of light in which both consumers and producers can flourish. The days of brands disrupting, shouting and repeating their messages off the back of a fixed single-minded proposition may well be coming to an end, but brands still have a huge potential role to play in people’s lives. The modern brand must behave and feel very different to succeed; to begin with it will lead a far more collaborative life as it becomes defined as much by what consumers contribute and how they participate as they consume; it will be much less centrifugal as the brand starts to disperse disparate activities and components out towards the edge of its brand sphere - where a more fragmented approach can create more personal micro-relationships e.g. Twitter. One Mr. A Lafley, CEO and Chairman of P&G agrees about this future “consumers are beginning in a very real sense to own our brands and participate in their creation…we need to begin to learn to let go.” So the balance of power may well have has shifted but the power rapidly streaming into the consumer space is not being taken from the hands of big brands; it’s in fact nascent power (the big brands are just doing a damn good job at losing their power at the same time) and it’s here brands will need to focus their attentions, driving innovation and creativity to ensure their continued survival. William Gibson the science fiction author said “the future’s here, it’s just not evenly distributed yet,” and a closer look at the distribution of this ‘nascent power’ reveals just that - not all individuals are created equal. The reality of the situation is that power remains unrealised by the majority. Some individuals are more conscious and able than others to take full advantage of the growing power potential, while others remain unaware of the potential to enrich their own lives. It’s this insight that provides a promising platform for brand’s future – as a kind of liberator and enabler for the individual. Brands will find success by ‘showing the way’, harnessing their elevated position at the vanguard of research, development, and technology to help people realise their power potential. As Bill Gates says “as we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others” Brand Utility Some brands have already started to build their success this way. Google, the world’s biggest brand, is quite unique in that it invests no money into traditional advertising. It’s a brand by another name with no end-line, no identity or singleminded proposition. It has an ethos, a point of view and ambition but its identity has not been crafted and moulded at the nucleus of the brand, instead it’s been created through a daily value exchange with its users at the multiple points of interaction. It offers services that people need and it continues, almost

relentlessly, to develop these services; finding new ways to improve and add value to people’s lives. Google helps millions of individuals every day to realise their power potential. Nike and Apple are also fast becoming known for their unorthodox and utility based approach to branding, Nike Plus being one of their most famous and innovative brand assets. Obviously not all brands are equipped to construct such grand experiences and services but that should not preclude all brands from adapting to a similar philosophy. Even traditional advertising can fit the ambitions of utility based marketing; the Gorilla ad for example is achingly valuable to individuals who passed it on as a form of social currency or acted upon it by creating their own parodies. Above all else, the ad provided a priceless piece of entertainment and enriched lives at the point of interaction. Value has many guises and entertainment can be at its heart. At the 2007 Venice Media conference Esther Lee (ex Chief Creative Officer at Coke) gave one of the talks of the conference in which she referred to marketers having two businesses to run “the revenue business and the citizenship business.” By citizenship she refers to the business of encouraging participation, engagement and action, the brand as a provocation for action that will effect all those around it. For some of the big brands this dual approach must fast become a part of their business model otherwise their role in the individual’s life will diminish along with their revenue. A few brands understand the importance of their ‘citizenship business’, we’ve already mentioned Nike and Apple, but P&G have also shifted their approach. The Dove ‘Evolution’ and ‘Real Women’ campaign was a great example of a value based and consumer centric campaign - a provocation that triggered a wider, some might say necessary, debate on the damaging effects of women’s portrayal in the mass media. It’s the ability of brands to create assets that optimise the brand’s value proposition and convert the relevant individual’s power potential that will ultimately decide each brand’s fate. A New Breed of Agency If big agencies, like big brands, hope to ensure their continued livelihood they too need to transform. They must make one marked shift and that’s from being ‘Guardians of the Brand’ to ‘Guardians of Citizenship’, becoming more flexible and agile around, not the brand’s needs, but the consumers’ needs. Instead of just showing people how the product can improve their lives, they should go out their and identify new tools to improve a consumer’s life. But this does not mean agencies now have ‘carte blanche’ to take their brands into any territory they see fit to meet the needs of the consumer. To deviate from a brand’s credible territory, market or valuable fan base would be to lose authenticity. These new brand components or tools must be born directly from the brand’s essence, turning it into something tangible that people can touch and feel; the resulting value exchange will help create a lasting and loyal relationship between the brand and the consumer.

But this transformation isn’t going to happen over night. To get there we must first replace the old world architecture that sits at the heart of agencies with a revolutionary new model. Out with the ‘3 guys in a room’ approach to brand building, out with the Onions, Keys and Bulls-eyes, out with the rigid columns and blocks of empty words and promises about a brand’s proposition, meaning, and personality. We need to replace this with a living, evolving and open ‘Brand Ecosystem’ An ecosystem that is firmly born of and inspired by a brand’s heart and soul, its essence and purpose for the future. Constructing a Brand Ecosystem A great analogy for this brand ecosystem is a patch-work quilt, while it may not sound like a compelling analogy it accurately depicts the necessary fabric of the modern brand we’ve just articulated. A patch-work quilt is made up of many different panels, different materials, different designs and of course different contributors. As fragmented as it sounds the finished quilt, while conveying many different messages, ultimately conveys one single and powerful essence. If agencies are to survive and help brands serve the citizenship business they must first help clients to shape their brand in this vision. It may well be possible today to bring this Brand Ecosystem to life, creating a valuable tool or API for our clients. The Brand Ecosystem may well look like the NewsMap application in fig 1. According to its creators “Newsmap is an application that visually reflects the constantly changing landscape of the ‘Google News’ aggregator. A treemap visualization algorithm helps display the enormous amount of information gathered by the aggregator. Newsmap's provides a tool to divide information into quickly recognizable bands which, demonstrate visually the relationships between data and the unseen patterns in news media.” fig 1

Each panel on NewsMap represents a story, the size of which directly correlating to importance of the story, the colour to the subject matter and the position to the thematic relationship between the different stories e.g. ‘Crunch EU referendum vote looms’ sits next to ‘Man Utd 1-0 Lyon.’ All panels are constantly updated as the news changes and interest shifts. Now imagine if the same model was used to express the assets and tools within Nike’s brand ecosystem. Panels would represent products (latest line of trainer), initiatives (Nike Plus), experiences (Run London) and entertainment (Nike films) along with, for the first time, brand assets created by workers (blogs), affiliates (sports stars) and consumers (mash-ups). A panel’s size would be directly related to the real time buzz surrounding that asset or component (measured by realtime participation, activity and chatter). All the panels would be grouped together around themes and coloured to represent the positive or negative feeling they convey and the subsequent value they are providing to individuals. Together the panels would express brand as a fluid and organic ecosystem, one that is continually morphing as the various assets shift in popularity and significance. The Brand Ecosystem has several important implications and clear advantages over the traditional brand architecture. Agencies will now be able to monitor the health of the brand at any point in time and at any part in the ecosystem, measuring the effectiveness of its constitute parts (old or new assets). Agencies will be able to help clients react faster than ever before to assets if they begin to have a negative impact in the ecosystem (by creating new assets to offset the negative impact or by working with the negative assets to understand and improve the situation) or bolster and amplify certain assets if they become popular. By uniting very separate traditional tasks into one place - planning, measurement, development and creation, brands can spot opportunities among all parts of the Ecosystem (from individuals to communities, through to workers and brand assets) and help manage the brand’s future. Above all else the Brand Ecosystem does one important thing and that is remove the traditional shackles of invention, allowing the agency, client and brand to live and act more freely, to adapt faster, to be more inventive and to create assets and content that ultimately serve the people in this brave new world – to become true Guardians of Citizenship.

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful