As you likely know by now, this is a big week for a venture six years in the making, and something I’ve been working on recently with my partners Scott Monty, Tim Hayden, Frank Eliason, and Angus Nelson. Yesterday morning, we officially launched Brain+Trust Partners, our new executive consultancy helping busy leaders manage an evolving marketplace with common sense and strategic guidance.
We’re based in Austin, TX — home to some of the most innovative companies in the world. We’ve also got partners in Nashville (great start-up scene!) and Philadelphia (in the heart of the northeast business corridor). But I’m proud to say that we’re also very well represented in Detroit — where the start-up scene is burgeoning and playing a big part in our city’s rebirth. Scott Monty and I will remain based in Michigan and will bring some Detroit flair to the business world both here and outside of our home city.
Our consultancy, Brain+Trust Partners will provide clients with clear, common sense strategic guidance in the areas of:
- Strategic communications and marketing
- Management consulting
- Digital transformation
- Innovation planning
- Advanced technology strategy
Our premise is simple: the business world is changing rapidly. Between emerging technologies, shifting customer demands, and new employee expectations, businesses are entering a period of even more disruptive change than has taken place over the past decade. A consultancy rooted in business experience and understanding of real business environments, while also providing expertise and comprehension of how emerging technologies (digital and otherwise) can impact business processes across the board, can be invaluable to businesses in any industry. That’s what we’re betting on, anyway. And I can’t think of better or smarter people to be going into business with. No one ever starts a business pessimistically, but I feel extraordinarily positive about the future with this bunch.
So given where my focus has been for the past couple of months, it’s not surprising that I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about both the past and the future, as I consider how my career to this point has been shaped by business change and how the next stage of my career will be defined by even more dramatic change. The future of marketing, the future of employment, the future of customer experience, the future of business processes and structures themselves are all about to change.
The Future Of Marketing And Communications
We’ve written at Brain+Trust about the five things that are shaping that future: people, technology, operations, mobility, and regulation. Sometimes these apply independently, but often their full impact comes from how they intertwine. Such is the case with the future of marketing. You can look at marketing’s evolution as something of a combination of people, mobility, and technology.
There will be time to dive deeper into this evolution in future posts, but let’s briefly look at the dynamic currently at play in digital marketing. More money is being spent on digital video advertising and content than ever before — some sources report that more money will be spent on digital than on TV advertising in 2017 — and yet between the rapid rise of adblockers, alogorithm shifts that de-emphasize publisher and brand content (judged as frequently unwanted by users), and simply the increase in the sheer amount of sources and content that are out there to sift through and realistically pay attention to… all that content is being seen less frequently than ever. People have done, largely, what they were doing before the rise of digital: they’re ignoring most brand content as irrelevant to their interests and needs.
When digital and content marketing fails today (and too much of it does) it does so for one of three reasons:
1) It’s not relevant to the audience. People have hundreds of potential content sources, pumping out literally millions of pieces of content each day. The human brain can only process so much before it naturally begins to filter out, forget, or ignore — so we begin applying a natural filter to content, and we only pay attention to things that seem relevant to our wants, needs, or interests.
But too much brand marketing isn’t produced with that realization front of mind. When we develop content, we still think about marketing and content first in terms of the brand’s key messages, selling points, or what we want the viewer to walk away with. Too often, we don’t start by thinking about the customer’s need state, what is going on in our customer’s life or business that is front of mind for them, what they’re naturally paying attention to already. We think too much like marketers and not enough like consumers. We need to be more customer-centric in our content development and creation
2) We don’t know how to effectively tell stories that grab an audience’s attention. Consider two things: (1) the average person now has a shorter attention span than a goldfish; (2) Human brains are wired to positively receive good storytelling. Traditional marketing often takes too long to grab an viewer’s attention, and fails to invest the audience in its completion by telling a strong, relatable story. Human beings have been communicating via story — and sending desired messages through story — for thousands of years, since we began communicating in the first place. Storytelling ahead of advertising is an effective tool to have in your arsenal as a marketer, and not enough marketers truly understand that.
To that point… “storytelling” is a buzzword that people are already sick of. And I’ll concede, there are a lot of folks out there who’ve latched onto storytelling as a trend without truly understanding what it really means or why it works. But the problem with most reflexive brand storytelling (i.e., the storytelling done by marketers or would-be thought leaders who’ve latched onto it as the latest conceptual buzzword) isn’t that storytelling is a bad or empty concept. The problem is that they’re looking to co-opt the basic elements of storytelling for marketing purposes rather than genuinely committing to storytelling.
It’s like the difference between a paint-by-numbers watercolor and a showpiece created by a master artist. Sure, both methods give you a discernible image on the paper or canvas when they’re completed — but one is mechanically correct while lacking heart, and the other is born from passion and creativity that shows through in the final work. “Brand storytelling” that seeks to incorporate the basic elements of classic storytelling to convey a brand message, but fails to recognize the desires of the audience and build from that desire, is destined to fail — and it’s that kind of storytelling that has deservedly engendered the backlash.
A good story involves relatable characters with a discernible purpose and a clear journey; audiences will respond well to a story featuring “someone like me” facing challenges or having a need similar to their own. This gets back to customer-centricity.
(3) Too often, marketing interferes with the experience people are on a platform to have. How many people do you know who go on Facebook/Instagram/Snapchat primarily to check out what brands have to say, or (outside of the Super Bowl) watch broadcast or video content to see the commercials? I’d venture not many. Too often in marketing, we forget that people don’t usually engage on a network or platform to hear from us. They’re on to connect with and keep up with their friends, to find funny or relatable stories to share with their networks (whether the heartwarming kind or the “isn’t this outrageous” kind), and to inform themselves. We forget this, and we develop strategies to push our content into as many streams and in front of as many eyes as possible.
The problem with this? It basically relegates marketing to being an intrusion on the experience the audience wants to have. And they resent it. Adblockers (and 15 years before them, skipping commercials on DVR) became popular for very good reason; people don’t want to see advertising and marketing interfering with the experiences they’re seeking. We need to be more creative and considerate of the audience’s desired experience, and find ways to make our brands part of that experience, not an intrusion upon it.
We rightfully get excited as marketers and advertisers when thinking about the future of marketing in the context of technology and mobility. We think of all the possibilities unleashed by mobile devices and the ability to reach any audience anywhere. We rub our hands together gleefully when thinking about proximity based marketing and the potential ability to reach customers with targeted offers and messages precisely when they are in the physical location to most likely act on them. And these technologies do hold tremendous promise for marketing and advertising, undoubtedly. They are an amazing opportunity.
But if we think that proximity and location-based technologies will just enable us to push the same unwanted crap that audiences have been ignoring and blocking in other venues, we will fumble this opportunity as well.
We have to think of future marketing holistically — exploiting what technology makes possible, using mobility to better inform ourselves about customer behavior and desires, and most of all keeping in mind the “people” aspect of marketing — making our output more relatable and customer-centric, and less intrusive and more of an augmenting of someone’s desired experience. Do this, and we’ll be best positioned as marketers to make the most of the change factors affecting business in the next few years.
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