As we enter the final year of the decade we want you to understand what is at stake for brands. Not by making predictions, but by analyzing the recent history and evolution of brands, and realizing that cyclical human behavior is at the center of what is next. People are still the reason for brand success. How you treat them, how you help them succeed, how they trust you in a world awash with data and privacy issues. These all matter greatly. In fact what we see in our preliminary forecasting is even more human-focused in a world awash in technological solutionism. Here’s what you should be thinking about now as we enter 2020.
1. The Majority Of Online Reviews Are Not Real: In the past, many brands were quick to note how they gained an edge by using online “ratings” to hack their way to the top. But lately it has come as no surprise that the “wisdom of crowds” and their reviews of your product make little sense if most of those reviews can no longer be trusted. With a deep mistrust of reviews, prospective customers retreated back to a smaller circle of influence that contains their closest friends, family and allies. As a result, brands should be be careful not to overemphasize their digital footprint, but rather put the effort into earning the five stars. We’ll see authentic five star brands win this decade.
2. Brands Thrive In The Physical World: The past decade has been filled with terrible advice. Brand marketing is not important, advertising is dead, retail is dead. The latter of these three statements is truly one that is so far off in its thinking that it catches many by surprise how brands like Away luggage, Travelocity and Netflix are all in the physical space now even though they are digital brands! We know that brands can’t scale if they aren’t in the living ecosystems of humans. And thus, where you play in the physical space is more important than ever as the physical space allows for true discovery and interaction unlike the crowded digital world where one can only be discovered through lots of paid ads, engagements and interactions that don’t tell the full human story about what your brand is, how it thinks, feels, smells, tastes and looks like. Only physical and analog can accomplish this which is why it isn’t dead but simply remixed for the world where everything is two degrees away from being a status update on social media.
3. Brand Marketing Matters More Than Ever: The past decade many brands over-indexed on performance. I mean, if everything you were trying to measure and show ROI on matters, then of course long tail activities like brand marketing were thrown into the dust bin. But in 2019 brand marketing struck back. First, several big brands admitted that performance marketing ruined their brands, second, good insights were released noting overemphasizing on strictly performance is junk science. The best of brand marketing still infuses performance marketing into the mix. In fact, Les Binet and Peter Fields noted that the top performing brands put about 60 percent of their budgets into brand marketing and 40 percent into performance. A hybrid to say the least. It’s important to note this as some big brands that faltered the last several years had more of a 10 percent brand to 90 percent performance mix. You can’t get new customers if those new customers don’t know you and they won’t know you if all that you’re doing is hyper targeted, personalized messaging. Brands matter when people can speak to others about them and the social validation occurs when many people have seen the brand. This only happens when brands actually commit to brand marketing.
4. Brands Will Open Storefronts Without Amazon: How is this possible? Well, these digital advertising behemoths are simply middle players looking to take your money for helping to connect people to you. But nobody says you have to play by those rules. In fact, what if you launched a brand today with mass Out of Home advertising? Think I’m crazy? That’s what DTC brands do on a daily basis. And they use both brand and performance to track the effectiveness of that out of home marketing. Many might say this is nuts, and that they can only get scale from using these big digital monopolies, but such thinking misses the point. Brands aren’t built by digital, they are exposed on digital by people who have heard about the brand in a variety of ways and have taken action to discover the said brand using platforms like search or social. But what about selling goods? How can a brand do this without Amazon? Hmmm, maybe we should ask this iconic brand. What’s even more important is in a world where digital is so big, overrun, but monopolized by three players, it takes us back to trend #2 on our list, where your brand is physically helps it a lot. The physical experience IS now the marketing. And thus, can help brands who have paid a lot of money the past decade in digital to put that budget toward customer experience, service and success where it most counts in a world where intimate word of mouth will matter more than the fake diatribes found in trend #1. And remember a few years ago when people and said brands needed to behave like publishers? Publishers have the most control when they can go direct to their audience. The same can be said with brands. Brands need to be their own storefronts because when you own the store, you can be more personal. And the best way to do this is through first party data, not through Amazon or other walled gardens.
5. People Will Pay More For Brands With A Human Side: The mighty algorithm. We won’t see them ever die but they could mean less in a digital world where many understand how they work and that nothing of interest can be found from them. If you’re like me you may complain that going to Blockbuster back in the day was a terrible experience because even after three hours you still had no clue what to watch. The algorithm was the humans working in the store. Terrible? Not when you think we’ve replaced those humans on many platforms like Netflix, Hulu or Disney+ In music Spotify, Apple and Amazon have done similar. Search, for example, tells us what we want to know, but can’t help if we don’t already know what we want. Far from disappearing, human curation and sensibilities have a new value in the age of algorithms. Yes, the more we have the more we need automation. But we also increasingly want informed and idiosyncratic selections. The world still needs human curators and concierges to guide us. This is why brands matter. They are these curators and concierges. In a world where automation has overtaken what we see, hear, sense and smell, it’s important to get back to finding things on the edge using human Sherpas. We relish the messy reality of another’s taste and a trusted personal connection. We don’t just want correlations – we want a why, a narrative, which machines can’t provide. Even if we define curation as selecting and arranging, this won’t be left solely to algorithms. Unlike so many sectors experiencing technological disruption, from self-driving cars to automated accountancy, the cultural sphere will always value human choice, the unique perspective. And this is why human choice brands have the most value to add in the upcoming year.
If we take a look back at our list and add up trends number 1 through 4 we reach 5 as a natural progression of what awaits us in 2020. It all makes perfect sense. People need brands who they know are backed with human intent more than ever in a world awash with a lack of trust, digital fakery, automated spam, monopolies and gamified hype.
Contributed to Branding Strategy Insider by: Geoffrey Colon, Head of Brand Studio, Microsoft, author of Disruptive Marketing and Host of Disruptive FM sponsored by Branding Strategy Insider.
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