By Butler, Shine, Stern & Partners
Why Now is an important thing for brand communicators to understand
By Ed Cotton, Director of Strategy & Innovation
In the communication business it’s always tempting to either look forward to some shiny speculative future or backward to the golden days of old, when things seemed much simpler and easier.
In my mind, both are massive time wasters. Nobody knows the future and we aren’t going back to the past.
Consider the zeitgeist, defined by Mirriam-Webster as the “general beliefs, ideas and spirit of a time and a place.” It’s the Now, and it’s the only thing that matters. It’s becoming more and more important.
Don’t worry, this isn’t another marketing blog post extolling the virtues of “real-time” and “conversational” marketing. Those are tactics with questionable effectiveness, and not my topics today.
We are in an age where context matters. Channels, platforms and apps are the places where consumers are spending their time and the environments where brands have to find ways to capture attention and action. We have the new world of native content created to appeal to the Now, and also programmatic digital trying to hunt down customers right in the moment.
Because these channels are constantly shifting and moving, I need to know what’s going to work for my audience right Now, and what I have to do to engage them in an interesting way.
I don’t care if Snapchat takes over the world.
I don’t care if Snapchat will still be around in 18 months, if it will be bigger than Facebook or even if it will take over the world. All I need to know is this:
Is it right for my audience Now?
Does it scale?
Can it deliver impact for a fair price?
What behaviors does it satisfy?
How could my brand strategy play out in this environment?
Of course, I also need to understand all the other relevant Now channels in the same way. At a macro level, I need to understand consumers’ enduring behaviors and how those behaviors are manifesting. It’s the manifestations that are constantly moving and shifting.
When I am working on a brand, I want to develop a strategy with endurance and stamina built in, but I also want to understand how and why it’s relevant to Now.
What is it about the strategy that makes it culturally and conversationally relevant?
How does the strategy connect to what people are thinking, doing, feeling and saying right now?
Does the strategy connect to the issues and needs of the moment?
How is it going to strike an emotional chord, and how is it going to make it out there into the cultural conversation?
That works whether I am talking about a piece of communication or building something useful for people. In both cases, understanding Now matters.
Understanding Now requires a new framework for planning: comprehending consumer needs, motivations, attitudes and behaviors — some of which may align with deeply held enduring human truths, but you’ve got to know the current context for those.
Dating is still dating, but dating on Tinder isn’t the same context as dating in 2013. I have to understand the cultural conversations that brands can play a role in and I need to know the places and spaces where people go for inspiration, learning, sharing, creating and engaging in other behaviors.
It’s all about what they are doing Now and why they are doing it.
There’s no doubt that there are rich, evergreen human truths that stand the test of time and can work as the foundation for ideas. The ideas that truly resonate and are much more powerful than all others, however, are those that strike a chord with the zeitgeist.
Simply put, say no to future stargazing or looking backward. You need to focus on the Now. The Now is the imperative for brand communicators today.