Welcome to the new year. It's a time to say "whew, we made it through last year" and "this year, I resolve to be better." What does 2012 hold in store for marketers and brands? I say it's a year for reality checks. A year when the smoke clears, the mirrors shatter and the emperor is called out on his nudity. In short, it's a year where you'll have to come to terms with the truth behind your brand and either embrace it or change it.
Society is still digesting two major revolutions from the past few years. I'm not talking about the Arab Spring, but rather about the mobile revolution and the social revolution. Sure, there will be more great advances over the next 12 months, but consumers and businesses will spend most of that time becoming more comfortable with the new paradigms of pervasive access and constant social validation. This is the stage where buzzwords and n00bs give way to regular, efficient use. That means that consumers will be less distracted by new bells and whistles and will be able to pay more attention to what's really going on around them.
Bob Garfield and Doug Levy recently published an extensive piece on the "dawn of the relationship era" over on AdAge. The pair are preparing to release a book about the "human element' in marketing. They talk about how the era of "selling" is coming to an end, to be replaced by an era where the primary function of marketing is to create trusted, sustainable relationships with customers.
I believe that success (or failure) for any brand in this new age comes down to three key areas:
1. The Product - What is it and what does it do for the consumer? The social and mobile revolutions shine a floodlight into the dark corners where bad products used to hide. In 2012, you'd better be offering something with real value that people can recognize.
2. The Production - How do you make it and bring it to the customer? Sourcing, labor, carbon footprint, pollution, support for local economies. All of these factors play into a modern consumer's ability to feel good about enjoying a good product. In 2012, the ends don't justify the means.
3. The Communication - How do you speak, listen & interact with the customer? This is what Bob and Doug are talking about in terms of building and sustaining relationships. In 2012, you need quality and you need remarkable consistency. One bad interaction can easily tarnish the reputation built by 100 good interactions.
These three factors are the truth behind your brand. They cannot be painted over with creative copywriting and massive media budgets. In the new year, you have to be prepared to take a good hard look at them and deal with them, rather than try to spin them away.
(Are you worried that everyone on the inside has been drinking the Kool-Aid for too long? If you want a fresh set of expert eyes to help see through to the truth of your brand, contact me.)