XXI Century Brands: The new explorers | M&M Global

XXI Century Brands: The new explorers

Brands are the new explorers, trying to discover new lands and opportunities, writes Yannis Zachos, head of strategy at Havas Media International.

yannis zachos
Yannis Zachos, head of strategy, Havas Media International

The 12 October is also known as Columbus Day, which is the official day to commemorate Christopher Columbus landing in the New World.

A little known fact though is that he wasn’t the first one to step foot there. Documents from the Fifteenth century indicate that fishermen from Bristol, Basque country and France had discovered the rich fishing grounds of Newfoundland in Canada years before him. However, whereas fishermen were keen to protect their secret, explorers wanted the whole world to know.

Today’s media landscape is continuously redrawn, perhaps in ways similar to those times when explorers pushed the boundaries of the known world, constantly reshaping its cartography. In both cases, the presence of a strong vision has been the driving element of change.

Yet, today, it is a lack of vision that tantalises brands and pushes them in the pursuit of generic buzzwords such as “innovation”.

Obsessing about innovation

Preoccupation with novelty is an ongoing theme in marketing, but obsessing about innovation can too often be a distraction.

The most common type of innovation that dominates discussion is linked to technology solutions. Technology might often be credited for driving consumer change but not all new technologies are successful, and far fewer are being adopted en mass by consumers. The danger of putting technology at the driving seat is that we might be taking risks we do not fully understand.

“We must recognise it is primarily the change in infrastructure that creates the new marketing challenge”

As advertising practitioners, though, we have a very good understanding of trends, culture and, ultimately, people. In the last century, power brands were established by deploying consumer psychology tactics that have greatly affected consumer choice. Through broadcast channels, brands not only managed to contribute to the making of new trends, but even to shape popular culture.

Today, some argue, the old recipes are no longer effective due to the empowered consumer who is more savvy, sophisticated and in control. Whilst this change in consumer behaviour is undeniable, we must also recognise it is primarily the change in infrastructure that creates the new marketing challenge.

Unchanged needs

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs pyramid that describes human motivations (published in 1943) is still unchanged today, and so is the vast range of human emotions. Media infrastructure, on the other hand, has shifted dramatically both from a distribution perspective as well as a business model. New media companies are being built on direct subscription revenue, moving away from the traditional ad sales models.

A new generation of consumers is growing up (whilst the older one is waking up) in ad-free media spaces, with very little tolerance for ad break interruptions. This generation is native to a digital service economy with a mission to eliminate distractions, remove all barriers and make transactions seamless, ultimately leading to automation.

Some even argue that advertising will become a tax for the poor. Those who can pay for subscription will skip it. If they can’t afford real money they will have to pay in the currency of attention – ie by watching an ad. Avoiding this dystopian future and finding ways for brands to be part of the emerging ecosystem has to be the real focus for marketers and their agencies.

Having gone past the age of interruption, and coming out into the age of engagement, we need to invent the new model. Contrary to the past, the new model will have various iterations. In the world of customisable, and personalised advertising, it’s inevitable to also have customisable brand models. There will be no ‘one size fits all’ solution.

Entertainment brands might pick new platforms like VR to offer high quality content experiences. Retailers could master the art of native, great ads that don’t look like ads. And FMCG brands might be forced to turn their back to consumers and start marketing to their virtual assistants (bots), which could end up be the owners of the weekly shopping.

In this complex world, it’s interesting to think of brands as the new explorers who are trying to discover new lands and opportunities. Some will get there with big fanfare, like Columbus; others, in more modest ways, like the adventurous fishermen. And others will get lost altogether along the way. But those who make it in the end will share a strong vision and a clear focus.

Yannis Zachos

Head of strategy, Havas Media International

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