Commentary

Hello, Hackers, Co-creators, Meaning-makers

People have always relied upon brands to create identity, differentiation and meaning. Today our expectations are much greater, placing brands in the precarious position of performing both as agents of business and the creators of culture. Since the 1950s, brands have played an increasingly significant role in creating both culture and the lifestyles we aspire to live. In the same way that religion or fine art once shaped our sociocultural context, brands have assumed much of that role in our daily lives. Increasingly, marketers find themselves at the center of these sociocultural crossroads.

The marketing paradigm of the future will be vastly different from the approach that many marketers know intimately: Designing a product in secret, testing its performance in focus groups, unveiling a brand for “consumers” and then broadcasting its message through mass media.

Amidst a rollercoaster of economic volatility and increasingly precarious environmental concerns, our view of the world feels vastly more complex and chaotic. People are far less interested in consumption for consumption’s sake. The shift appears to be toward a greater need for brands, products and services to align with personal values and to resonate emotionally. People evaluate and engage with brands as conduits for personal identity, expression and storytelling. Beyond these traits, brands today are judged based on their “hackability,” as people derive meaning from their positioning and mine for a deeper communion with brands where they can participate in the brand’s innovation or evolution.

More than ever before, the digital revolution has empowered the people, greatly democratizing our culture, putting the creative tools in the hands of the populace and giving them the channels to broadcast and dialogue on their own. And if brands don’t follow along? These super-empowered “prosumers” (producer-consumers) will take credit as co-creators anyway.

So, how can we as marketers create meaning for consumers and help brands transition to this already-present future to become more authentic, transparent and compassionate?

  • We look beyond controlled ideas like the equity pyramid.
  • We throw out ideas related to monotonous, homogenous, “one size fits all” theories.
  • We create opportunities for people to discover our brands in a more interactive way, invite them into the storytelling and give them open-ended platforms to create their own ideas and identities.
  • We give everyone (hackers and non-hackers alike) the tools to hack and create.
  • We encourage consumers to draw their own conclusions and to create new functional and emotional purposes for our brands.
  • We enable and empower “citizen brand managers.”
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