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The Story Of Brands Is About To Change

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(From Forbes, November 26, 2012)

Stories are nothing new. They have been the cornerstone of human connection since the dawn of civilization, painted on cave walls for all to see. Good advertising has always told stories about brands, but now the business model itself is becoming the brand story.

The most significant change of the last 10 years is the emergence of consumers as the most powerful force in marketing. Last year, over half of brand communications was peer-to-peer, through earned media rather than paid media.

This is a revolution. It’s the first time in history that people, rather than governments, or religious institutions, or companies, control the media. It means a dramatic shift in the context in which brands will connect with consumers in the near future.

Consumers will have the power to change the enterprise business model. They are demanding and will continue to demand more transparency and unimpeded access to information, such as the safety of ingredients, or the labor practices in a company’s factories. Only a few brands are fully transparent now, and most fight any perceived intrusion into their domain. The challenge is now for marketers to have less firewalls and more open conversations with consumers.

Marketers need to look at a different kind of skill-set from their agencies, not just better stories or content, but agencies that will be able to help redesign the business model itself. That will require all sorts of different talent – technologists, business strategists, analytics experts, HR specialists, etc. It will also require fluency in what will become the two most dominant media, mobile and social. If the agencies don’t learn to master the shifting needs of their clients and innovate, they will lose even more business to management consultants.

Communications with consumers is evolving. Brands are starting to depend less on traditional “storytelling”, as the business model itself becomes the advertising, the way it is with the likes of Zappos, Starbucks, and Amazon.

Marketing will become redefined in other ways too. The need to transform the business model will lead CMOs to break internal walls and collaborate closely with the chief information officer and the chief technology officer as data becomes the most important resource. Companies and brands are sitting on mountains of data, most of it underused. The trick to optimizing consumer engagement will be the slicing and dicing of the data and it’s application in the marketplace in a way that will create a relevant, customized experience.

The enterprise business model itself is how stories will be told, how brands will connect, and those designing the brand experience are the storytellers of tomorrow.


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