2016 was a tumultuous (in fact, uncomfortable) year on the global political scene if you’re of a liberal and expansive persuasion. An hour in front of the inimitable Charlie Brooker’s annual Wipe over Christmas did little to dispel that assertion.
At the risk of over-simplifying, much of the trouble was down to an ambient tide of retrenchment in the face of unfettered globalisation - countries that were once embracers of internationalism, now turning their gaze inward.
Few apart from the machines (a portent of things to come perhaps) predicted Trump and Brexit, which were a rude awakening for many.
The echo chamber
In the case of Brexit, the irony was palpable. Londoners the loudest to proclaim our open-armed and outward-looking sensibilities, yet oblivious even to the sentiment of our fellow countrymen and women.
This (rightly) led to much discussion of the now famed ‘echo chamber’: a phenomenon that sees us reinforcing our own beliefs by engaging only with opinions and ideas from inside our closed systems of communication. (Brands take heed given the growing trend for greater in-housing).
Aspiring, high-growth businesses are setting-out to emulate the new players, those making waves on a global scale by unshackling themselves from fear, convention and predictability
But regardless of your views on Brexit and Trump, there’s one thing these historic events will undoubtedly impact in the years to come. No longer should we expect dynamic and progressive governments and societies to look to us for guidance, leadership and inspiration.
These backward steps and shifts towards a protectionist agenda will change how the UK and US are viewed on the global stage, perhaps forever – undermining the enlightened political, social and economic order for which we have previously stood.
Aspiring countries in their ascendency will now hunt wider than ever for examples of societal creativity and inventiveness, in the growing knowledge that the establishment is no longer the place to look for the model of the future.
Emulation the name of the game
Canada is held-up as a shining beacon of benign immigration policy. Portugal is lauded a leading light in the move to renewable energy. Colombia was named The Economist’s ‘country of 2016’ for choosing reconciliation in the face of over 50 years of conflict.
But this is all relevant to marketers, how? Well it’s being echoed in the world of brands too.
No longer are aspiring, high-growth businesses defaulting to marketing stalwarts like Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, IBM and others for inspiration and direction.
Instead they’re excitedly setting-out to emulate the new players, those making waves on a global scale by unshackling themselves from fear, convention and predictability. Those taking confident strides forward, full of pluck, attitude and self-belief; not stuttering, introspective steps backward.
Airbnb, Tesla, BrewDog, Spotify, Lego, PayPal and many more now pique the interest of marketers aiming to build and sustain modern brands that consumers effuse about.
But it’s not always easy to uncover the stories behind these brands, that’s for sure. Case studies are deeper and more complex, requiring greater commitment to research (how Spotify triumphed through global partnership with Uber for example).
And it’s here that the crux of the challenge lies for marketers in the years ahead.
Our findings at Creativebrief in 2016 noted the emergence of a very real paradox facing brands and their marketing leadership.
Due to the ceaseless pace of change, chief marketing officers now resoundingly point to a greater imperative for their brands to be evermore outward-looking; to ensure they learn from the successes of others and are poised to capitalise on climatic market trends.
Simultaneously they lament their teams being leaner than ever and struggling to commit time to this growing requirement to look beyond their own universe.
But whilst we all have sympathy, make no mistake: 2017 will be the year that failing in this regard will leave brands pitifully behind and out of touch.
So let’s not follow the global political landscape and succumb to introversion in the face of adversity. The need is more pronounced than ever to break the cycles of our own ‘echo chambers’ and look outside for creative stimulus.
After all, if looking back on the state of the world in 2016 leaves you feeling anything like me (and Charlie Brooker it seems) – we could all do with some bloody external inspiration right now…
Charlie Carpenter is managing director of Creativebrief