Welcome to The New Economy of Optimism

We’ve felt it for a while – disruption is everywhere, and every single condition and dynamic that traditional marketing companies had been able to count on to protect their dominance over the past several decades has been upended. Moreover, we are people who also have messy, three-dimensional, and often stress-filled lives. Every single circumstance that a traditional, past-way of living I had been able to count on to protect my behavior, has been upended. Untidy, chaotic, muddled and disordered.

I’ve never felt it more than I feel it today.

The following piece contains some reflections on The Interactive Advertising Bureau’s latest study, “The Rise of the 21st Century Brand Economy”, which was released earlier this year at their Annual Leadership Meeting.

Colleen DeCourcy, Chief Creative Officer at Wieden + Kennedy was asked to address IAB attendees on “How to Build a 21st Century Brand” and provide the agency perspective in response to this research. Her perspective, “Welcome to Optimism: Brand Building in a Post-Advertising World” is summarized in the post below.

It’s brilliant, read on.

Disruptive innovation is one of the most misunderstood concepts in modern business. It’s rooted in just one thing: more people having access to tools that used to be available only to people with lots of money or skill. The printing press put the monks out of business, the camera put portrait painters out of business, iPhones took cameras out of business, and Instagram took Kodak out of business. And there’s Uber.

Progress is direct access to the means of getting to an end. A shortening of the distance from A to B. Each step, friction taken out of the process. This one thing is the biggest thing we need to remind ourselves of every day.

Chance The Rapper didn’t need a record label. In fact, records didn’t need a record store, and music didn’t need records. Chance was just “taking the friction out of the process.”

Hollywood looked at digital disruption and cried “Please defend us! This will kill creativity.” But it didn’t.

Serialized content had a creative renaissance. The removal of friction through the audio and video content delivered over the Internet (OTT, Netflix subscription, etc.), and use of data actually intensified Hollywood’s creative output. It’s also quite possible that a weakened studio system will bring an end to the power dynamic that is at the root of sexual harassment. Maybe.

It’s hard to let go of something that has worked, that you like and that you’ve built a massive amount of infrastructure around. Not unlike Hollywood or, even big advertising or research and insights infrastructures are all victims of the same logic.

Bigger buildings for more people with more departments and more workflow to handle the global scale of a rush of product that creates endless exponential growth for the stock market. Turns out it that was wrong.

More delivery, less friction.

That’s the challenge we all have in front of us.

So, to recap the situation:

  • Changes at the top. It’s almost a completely different shape of market. We moved from a market of things to a market of systems.
  • Changes at the bottom. Size is no longer your friend. It’s hampering reinvention to match the shape of the market, and competition is coming from everywhere.

This unprecedented access to the means of production has accelerated and created The New Economy.

Look, great insights and advertising can still drastically change the fortunes of a brand, New Economy or old. But, there’s no role for mediocre work anymore. Where advertising and insight hasn’t gone data-driven and friction-less, the job has gotten harder.

The upside however, can be huge.

What we have learned is that to build anything on top of what we have now is a fool’s errand. A lot of the current infrastructure of marketing amounts to friction. If Direct to Consumer (D2C) companies have taught us anything, it is this:

  • Any move that isn’t in the direction of nimbleness, emotional intelligence, transparency and collaboration, is building in the wrong direction.

There is no way to un-see this once you’ve seen it. Fear is the enemy of innovation (action).

It appears that brand building for a more-than-a-five-year horizon may be a luxury brief, and even for New Economy companies, a direct model is not a guarantee of long-term success.

Loyalty is hard to find. Many of these D2C companies have gone through their own white-knuckle days. The Glossiers and the Outdoor Voices, and the Warby Parkers are not just internet companies that figured out supply chain and targeting.

They are ideas. They also live offline. They create content. They make meaningful gestures. They capture their audience. The biggest difference is they do it without massive infrastructure. The implications for marketers are seismic. We used to invest in advertising and brand-building to raise awareness and drive sales in physical stores.

Now we don’t.

Rising to the expectations of New Economy clients put bruises on every shin in our respective businesses, and then some. Some of us have started to move forward, forging relationships with direct and digital brands, companies that are setting the pace for business going forward: Airbnb, Lyft, Instagram, Spotify, Harry’s, SmileDirectClub.

At the same time, we need to work with and help companies who are doing the hard work of evolving for the new realities of business, and marketing, and winning.

This is the New Economy core stack – it rounds out the move from mass target audience reach to individual precision on a mass scale. So easy to say (and write) but hard to actually do.

It puts direct-to-consumer brands into shared culture where memories live, and values are appreciated, and here, data is a form of empathy. It’s how we find truth in a non-monolithic culture.

There is still a zeitgeist that 21st century marketing is about humanity. People are more interested, and willing to play with brands than they ever have been. They also expect more from brands than they ever did.

The brands that are audience-centric - human centric – that are focused on creating value for people, that combine tech with human insight and empathy, and that look at their people as more than consumers – they are the ones we will mark in history as the 21st Century Brands.

Optimism lives there. But they will also use “the work” to do something bigger. Work that creates conversation and lives in the real world not the marketing world. Brands that are ideas have so much more permission to engage.

Everything and anything a brand can do to work with consumers in their world will thrive. There really are no limits. Media doesn’t dictate the terms. Culture does.

Old process, new process. So, let’s talk about ride-sharing. It matters how you get there.

A Silicon Valley D2C company doesn’t really need insights (or an agency who gets that)…until it has a competitor. One of the first things ride-share companies needed to do was create a connection to their most important constituency — their drivers.

Companies like Lyft and Uber don’t own their biggest assets: the regular people who bring their passion, their resources and their commitment to the table.

The creation of a community that works in concert with the brand gives the whole endeavor a larger purpose in society that matters, and at the same time as we move to a market of automated and friction-less transactions, we hasten our search for some confirmation of our own humanity, and is something we can carry forward into a scary and quickly arriving, automated, post-work world.

Think of how astonishingly earth-shattering that last thought is. A post-work world. The Fourth Industrial revolution is upon us. Work, a thing we know and frame our existence with, will change in this century for most of us.

Wondering why you see so much social consciousness creeping into advertising? The data is telling marketers that the world is looking for confirmation of “who we are.”

In better and worse times advertising has been that role in our lives. With automation taking people out of the work-force and a massive explosion of personal identity politics underway, the world might just need brands right now.


MaxCo Advisors

October, 2018