what are 5 important themes for brands in 2012

I was asked this question by Aurora magazine ( which is a cross between Marketing Week and Campaign in Pakistan- edited by the excellent Mary-Lou Andrew). It set me thinking. If you ask this question now you are no longer just asking about the narrow question of winning and retaining customers – you are in fact asking about how brands fit into the wider picture of society, technology and government, especially as the state retreats.

Here were my 5

Business for Good

10 years ago companies started to get CSR departments- but was it just a fig leaf whilst the company carried on as before? The suspicion was yes and not the fig leaves were not big enough to cover the private parts

Then Unilever closed its CSR department and said that ethical behaviour was its whole business (see their 5 levers of change). Last year, Jim Stengel ( ex P&G top marketer) said (in Grow the business case for brand ideals is not about altruism or corporate social responsibility. It is about expressing a business’s fundamental reason for being and powering its growth. A big trend- and the likes of Unilever and P&G do make the weather..

The bigger picture is that as the state retreats outsourcing is on the rise- cue more scandals as we resent private companies making profits out of our taxes. Outsourcing is a ghastly word – a damning association for Mitt Romney even in business friendly USA. These companies desperately need to express and believe in a higher purpose- not least as a defence agains public skepticism about their motives.

Volunteering

It was the surprise hit of the London 2012 Olympics- proof that great customer experience is the best form of marketing and the most effective way to build reputation

We are all now interested in how we can keep all that good will and energy going and apply it to other big challenges- especially as the state is in retreat. How can it help in other areas- the health service and social care for example? Volunteering is how the justice system has run in the UK since time immemorial in the form of ( unpaid ) Justices or the Peace. Can the model be applied to other areas of civic society?

The clues are there in the olympic experience  and they are all to do with how you treat people who do the volunteering

Make it feel important , fun, rewarding and sociable- give people a sense of status as volunteers.

Try not to make it feel like ‘ a duty’

This is The Big Society – to make it happen means dropping the grandiose policy wonkery around it and thinking about the things that give us pleasure and make us feel recognised and rewarded.

 Authentic cultural experiences

All trends have counter trends – as many have become more isolated-slaves to a flood of emails and tweets ,so we want to get back into the real world

Music festivals have grown fast over the past decade and now cultural festivals and book fairs are growing too. The Hay book festival has gone international. I expect Karachi’s young book festival to be as big as Jaipur soon – it will be an authentic expression of Pakistan’s vibrant literature and art.

The mobile personal screen

The mobile is no longer a communications device- it is turning into another screen that we carry around and by which we navigate the world.

The drivers of this are device innovation, a dynamic app economy and lower costs. Huawei (chinese) smartphones will make smartphones available to more people soon – not just those who can afford Iphones

To call this “mobile marketing” is to miss the more radical nature of the mobile revolution. This will collapse the separation between the real and virtual worlds. The mobile- as last supported by high speed internet access- will be a tool for adding whole other dimension to your experiences in shops, streets, sports stadia and at events. Of course big data will get in on the act and see this as a chance to target us with relevant messages- right person, right time ,right place is more possible. But the bigger opportunity is to ask – what portable service can i give my customers that they value and use to navigate the world around them and connect with their networks. Foursquare is just the beginning

Food prices and poverty

Food prices are going up as the harvest has been poor in the USA- expect protectionism to grow as countries like Russia seek to hold onto more of their food to feed their own people. This is understandable but misguided and a bad idea for everyone.

These rises will hit the poor hardest as they spend a much greater proportion of their money than the middle classes on just keeping body and soul together. The so-called developed nations will have to get used to more and more soup kitchens in their poorer cities (the Northern ones in the UK).

And for the big food and retail brands it will represent a challenge- the best will seize the opportunity to demonstrate that business is for good and not just for profit.

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