This will never happen
Last month, I had the honor of being named to Brand Innovators 40 under 40 (Midwest) alongside some fantastic digital "thought" and "do" leaders. As part of our selection, we were asked "to look ahead and identify top trends – things that will influence the market and impact the quest to connect to the ever-elusive consumer." I highly recommend taking a look at all the Brand Innovators' proposed trends as I found the insights illuminating in that they are at once unique yet thematically similar, even across the years that Brand Innovators has been tracking. For this particular post, however, I’ll be speaking only about my submission.
My Brand Innovators 40 under 40 trends:
Persistent economic bifurcation. Call it the dumbbell effect or the hourglass effect; whatever you call it, it’s here to stay and it is disrupting CPG brands’ strategy. Which leads to…
A bifurcated shelf. On the one hand, store brands are just brands; they continue to erase Points of Difference and earn their shelf presence, advocacy, and brand loyalty with high quality value. The “Private Label” or “Cheaper Store Brand” monikers no longer apply. And on the other hand, premium niche brands (the upper end of the scale) start from a focused loyal base and are specifically designed to cater to their tight segments. In both cases, traditional marketing/branding approaches focused on the middle seem outdated. Which demands…
Dispersed brand marketing and the disintermediation (longest word, I win!) of the traditional agency-advertiser model which was built to sell goods to the middle. Which should result in…
Scaled, efficient content everywhere developed by everyone for everyone (i.e. individualization and customization on a massive scale). A fluid environment where brands facilitate (not dictate) relationship building and communications among potential shoppers and brand advocates. An open environment where User Generated Content (UGC) and Crowdsourced Content become dominant vehicles of transparent and authentic communication.
As I shared the predictions and rationale and had subsequent conversations on the merits - or lack thereof in some cases - of my specific points, I was struck by how easily I could get head nods on points one and two but leery frowns on points three and four. A particular conversation that comes to mind was one where I was discussing the need to disintermediate the current agency-advertiser model due to 1) the imbalance of working vs. non-working costs, 2) the lack of meaningful/measurable targeted brand data (beyond impressions or GRPs/TRPs), and 3) the prioritization of “tent-pole” campaigns vs. persistent agile content marketing. Mindful of the barriers of my proposed disintermediation, the response was an incredulous “good luck” with a strong inference of “it will never happen.”
I’m arguing that it will, it has to. The business/economic world is replete with examples of seemingly non-disruptable, deeply entrenched, and embattled with high fixed cost industries that were, of course, disrupted (music, print, phone, cable, taxi cabs readily come to mind); so why not the agency-advertiser model?
Consumer attention spans are fleeting (and getting flightier); advertisements are being ignored; CPG brand budgets - even the “big dogs” that big agencies typically anchor their contracts to - are tighter and being scrutinized for every penny (nevermind every dollar); retailers are prioritizing store brands and mimicking traditional brands’ go-to-market strategies; mobile, mobile, mobile…this is what is happening now. So while I’m not arguing for the outright dismantling of the traditional AOR model (yet), we need an evolution now (or an accelerated timeline at the very least) to meet the demands of a changed landscape for brand managers. I, for one, don’t want my brand(s) to fade away into the world of obsolescence.
Next: How to accelerate the timeline.