There is a common outlook in the business world that, contrary to what marketers may suggest, brands do not naturally occupy a notable position in the lives of their consumer audience.
As Ogilvy’s Rory Sutherland neatly summarises, "Brands with very few exceptions have a natural place either at the periphery of people’s lives or occupying the network spaces between people".
Over recent years, bolstered by a small but potent pool of success stories, an opposing school of thought has emerged, theorising that brands have an opportunity to successfully function outside their immediate sphere of influence – the mere provision of goods and services.
Increasingly brands are finding that the route to emotional connections is forged through purpose. Not a business purpose, but a human one – a role within society, without which they will be forced to operate on the very outskirts of consumer consciousness.
They will be relevant only in certain circumstances and only in an economic context of supply and demand, rarely where the "warm fuzzy feeling" is observed.
The new role for brandsThe ever growing prevalence of mobile activity is bringing a welcome relief to consumer "dead" time. In response, owned media and editorialised content have become an immense opportunity, providing a chance for brands to duly operate well outside of this influence. Therein, many brands find their periphery purpose slap bang in the middle of their audience's lives.
As the native advertising buzzword prevails and brands become ever more adept at creating content which complements rather than drives the sale, content becomes an incredibly lucrative component of the marketing mix.
While print remains important, pushing this content onto the web and personal devices is further strengthening the retailers’ relationship with the brand.
Do people care where content comes from as long as it’s entertaining? The answer is, of course, probably not.
This is not to say they are unable to turn it to a commercial advantage. Some of the cleverest publishing brands are, especially through web and mobile, adept at shortening the space between editorial and product.
The YouTube biopic of a rap band becomes a showcase of buyable apparel, accessible on a single click. The feature on the perfect dinner party also manifests as a list of ingredients or must-have dining room furniture.
Shifting demands on the agency
With the media losing its foothold and a more direct value exchange in play, the notion of interrupting a consumer’s media consumption with a brand message – the value book process – is no longer relevant. Instead of spending their money to nestle alongside an activity, to settle for a distraction, the smartest brands are making themselves the main event.
Even within the traditional media, native advertising puts brands right in the centre of the page. As Andrew Sullivan at The Times glumly notes: "Sponsored content is fast surpassing traditional advertising models and will soon be the main revenue source for much of online journalism…We are all copywriters now."
The ability to map the customer journey is even further out of grasp. People aren’t where they used to be. Their behaviour is unpredictable. Thus, as the need for a media strategy erodes, so displaces it a new requirement to understand the wants and needs of customers – a model to develop relevant content, an obligation to comprehend and shape behaviour rather than react to and acquiesce it.
A new agency is born – media agnostic and customer journey first. It marries media with content, which is driven by experience planning and placed through automated marketing technology platforms. Integration going forwards means integration of different technologies, integration of multiple sources of data and integration of planning capabilities, where media planning is no longer separated.
Ultimately, by circumventing a crude brand message or sales objective, by not making assumptions about customers based on outdated segmentation models, and by refocusing businesses to produce content that enhances – not interrupts – people’s lives, brands are evolving for the better.
Supplied with the best insight, brands have a huge opportunity to invite people to interact and engage on an egalitarian trading floor, to consume experiences rather than products and to work together on building a healthier market. An invitation which, on the whole, they keenly accept.
Tim Hipperson is chief executive of communications consultancy Morph