Branding Is Over. Move On.

Friends on The Stoop - Labor Day 1983 80s

"Word of mouth is the primary factor behind 20-50% of all purchasing decisions." - MIncite, McKinsey/Nielsen

Not long ago I realized once and for all that branding, as a profession and as a goal, was completely finished.

I was in a meeting and someone asked:

"Are you sure that information (content other than theirs) belongs with our information?"

A pause.

And then, "Because our information is not propaganda."
In the olden days the "P-word" would never have been used. But now everything that isn't straight data is suspect.

The willingness to be so critical of corporate communication, and the bluntness with which we confront it, is directly linked to the rise of social media.

Social media has become so important that it is no longer an "accessory" to communication. It is in fact dominant over that portion of mind-space previously reserved for advertising and marketing.

Real social media - regular people talking to each other without corporate interference (see the Cluetrain Manifesto) - is so much more powerful than ads that ads now turn people off.

Even on the hub of social media, Facebook, it's not clear that advertising has much value - in my view precisely because it is professional-communication-speak. Accordingly, marketers question value of the company itself as a vehicle for influencing people to buy things through advertising:
According to one marketer who works for an auto company: “The question with Facebook and many of the social media sites is, What are we getting for our dollars? If a consumer sees my ad, [does that] ultimately lead to a new vehicle sale?” - Bloomberg BusinessWeek, May 3, 2012
The reality is that the "prosumer," or "proactive consumer," is here to stay and they are not content with the stuff Madison Avenue churns out for them.

My former boss at Young & Rubicam, Marian Salzman, popularized this term for marketers, though it was first coined by Alvin Toffler in 1980.  (Actually Toffler was building on the work of McLuhan and Nevitt, whose book Take Today predicted that "with electric technology, the consumer would become a producer." - via Wikipedia.)

In her view the prosumer is the person you need to reach with a product - not the entire world. She explains the three functions of the prosumer, briefly, as follows:
"There’s a certain set of consumers who don’t just passively consume goods and services; they proactively seek them out, help to produce them and help to propagate them."-

Briefly, this person:
  1. Actively looks for the hottest new products
  2. Co-creates the product, either directly or through feedback
  3. Enjoys popularizing them through word of mouth, social media, etc.
The purpose of this post is not to suggest a solution for reaching the prosumer. That's one for another day.

Rather the intention is to point out that McLuhan, Nevitt, Toffler, Salzman and the Cluetrain group are correct: Prosumers now dominate the discourse of advertising and marketing. Yet we are ignoring this reality. Preferring instead to talk to ordinary people in a propagandish way.

Real people want plain speak.

They want to talk to their friends.

And the future of communication is to create the friendship effect for the purpose of producing desired business results.

Think about it - have a good day - and good luck!