2013: Back to the Future

Today’s technology is evolving faster than ever and society is becoming more mobile and connected. In turn, the new digital landscape has created a more socially isolated world in which many of us interact more on a computer than we do face-to-face. However, we are naturally social beings so it is no surprise that we are now seeing demand for a more authentic form of communication. We are more and more rejecting artificial, top-down advertising and are turning to platforms that allow us to connect with a community of peers. In a sense, we are going back to the future: we are reviving and evolving our basic social instincts within an increasingly digital world that brands must adapt to.

According to a 2012 Nielsen report, 92% of consumers around the world trust earned media (ie. peer recommendations). Only 47% trust traditional advertising. Additionally, 32% of online consumers trust a stranger over a brand. So what’s a brand to do? Consumers want brands that are human, brands who are transparent, idealistic, empathetic, trustworthy, and flexible. Consumers don’t need advertisers telling us where to shop and why their brand is better than the rest. Consumers can simply do it the old fashioned way, through word of mouth communication with their friends. However, this network has been expanded. We now have the ability, through services such as Yelp, to read reviews from a community of our cohorts.

Consumers have the power to share their bad experiences too, making it harder for companies to ignore the social sphere. Finally, brands are beginning to understand the importance of being on social platforms. A brand on Facebook can’t just be satisfied with “Likes.” Brands have to advance their image on these platforms to have progressively more human characteristics. Social media is powerful because it provides a platform to engage consumers the way they are engineered to engage and it provides this opportunity on a scale like never before.

Social platforms are also a great way to build trust. There’s an innate desire to associate with others who share your ideals. Consequently, people are increasingly expecting companies to be socially responsible and charitable. It’s no surprise then that some of the most popular campaigns in recent years have been those that focus on ordinary people and everyday life. Brands also have success when they make fun of themselves and approach consumers in a humorous way. In both cases the brand becomes more relatable because they become more “real”. Humans are always seeking authenticity; it’s a part of how we relate to others and find where we fit into the world. Brands have success when they tap into this desire. Here are some examples of campaigns that have adapted this approach to brand/consumer communication:


–          Dove “Real Beauty”


–          Nike “Find Your Greatness”


–          Google Chrome “The Web is What You Make of It”


Brands such as these are evolving. They are tapping into an innate desire to connect in a digital world with some semblance of humanity. This world however, is evolving faster than most companies (or scholars) can keep up with. In 1995, Newsweek Magazine (something you will no longer see on the shelves) featured a story entitled, “The Internet? Bah!” about how “cyberspace” will never live up to the hype (pretty interesting, you can read here). Yet social media can no longer be ignored or discredited as a powerful means of marketing. It’s setting records daily (Twitter reached new levels with 31 million election related tweets on Election Day alone!) and making old forms of transmitting information seem obsolete. Brands need to pick up the pace to align themselves with the digital movement while maintaining their ground in longstanding human needs and desires. In leveraging social media this way, brands can cultivate meaningful relationships with consumers built upon a real emotional connection to drive brand loyalty and affinity.

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