Remind me again how much your customers really like you.

Dinosaurs Didn’t See it Coming, Either :/

The air is dirty, the sky is dark, and those giant lungs of yours are struggling to do their job.

You’ve witnessed a few of your mates drop, but you figure they just ate some dirty mammals.

The truth is, the world is changing faster than you realize, but you don’t realize it because, unlike dinosaurs of old, you big-brand dinosaurs live in a vacuum chamber full of buzzwords and bullshit.

But big brands don’t read anything I say.

I’m here to talk to you small brands that think you should be marketing like the big brands do. And I’m here to tell you it’s not only ok that you don’t have the budgets to do what they do, but it’s actually to your advantage.

You see, it used to be a brand could develop a few print ads, some commercials on the big 3 TV stations, and they had a captive audience.

And because advertising was relatively new, it’s possible that brands might have abused the trust that consumers so freely gave them.

I don’t know, maybe I’m wrong. Judge for yourself. Here’s an ad from 1956:

This one came from 1938. “She Learned Her Lesson.” It’s a good thing.

And then, of course, this one from 1969. I don’t know, maybe advertising really hasn’t changed much over the years.

Of course, nowadays federal law says that “[ads] must be truthful, not misleading, and, when appropriate, backed by scientific evidence.” What a bunch of killjoys.

That doesn’t mean brands have stopped trying to wedge their way into your heart–or at least your pantry — it just means they’re a little more subtle about it and a lot less entertaining.

But times they are a changing….

With the dawn of the Internet, new methods of creating and consuming media were introduced, new brands could be started over night, and the “New Economy” was born — i.e. the fateful, fatal meteorite had struck.

They were confusing times. Investors would put money in the strangest places because, well, who knows what the future might bring. And a lot did change: do any of you remember Circuit City, Borders, or Blockbuster? These were big brands. Huge.

Now, they’re little more than a distant memory and a nice example of how what happened online could have a huge impact on Wall Street and on Main Street.

That was the first wave:
The whole world freaked out, and a bunch of new kids shook things up and throwing darts with a blindfold seemed like the best investment strategy at the time.

But then the bubble burst, and since then, even while the rich have slowly, somehow been getting richer, there’s also been an ongoing, seismic shift on how business is conducted overall. 
You see, eventually social media became a thing, 
which made it even easier to go from personal brand to internet celebrity; and reddit, well that spawned a whole generation of learning and sharing (not to mention a shitload of memes); 
lifestyle businesses became a thing (thank you, Tim Ferriss) 
and people learned that lean companies were more resilient; 
and they figured out how to bootstrap, 
and they got the courage to just start something; 
and where they couldn’t bootstrap with their own funds, 
they were now able to crowdfund from complete strangers. 
And so now you have a whole new type of capitalist. 
A new type of capitalism. 
And a new batch of brands for consumers to choose from.

And that has had some dire effects on business-as-usual.

Take this article from the New York Times about Millenials and large food brands as an example:

“…decades of deceptive marketing, corporate-sponsored research and government lobbying have left large food companies with brands that are fast becoming liabilities. According to one recent survey, 42 percent of millennial consumers, ages 20 to 37, don’t trust large food companies, compared with 18 percent of non-millennial consumers who feel that way.”

Ok, big deal, the rising generation doesn’t trust big companies. Nothing new there.

Except that there is: earlier generations didn’t have the alternatives that the rising generation has. This means distrust of large corporations will now translate into sales away from large, established brands and into the hands of small brands, individuals, clever startups, collectives, and dozens of new types of startups all over the world.

And so the slow-moving dinosaurs with huge but shrinking revenues look to acquire their way to a growing, engaged audience by buying young brands that have them.

This is why you see behemoths like Walmart and Unilever buying startups like Jet.com and Dollar Shave Club for ungodly amounts of money.

Remember that movie where the “nerdy outcast secretly pays the most popular girl in school one thousand dollars to be his girlfriend?”

This is kind of like that.

Consumers — millennials, especially — purchase according to their own identity. And because this rising generation values authenticity as the new status, they look to align themselves with brands that feel authentic. Brands that have a social mission, or that are transparent, small, cool. Brands that appreciate aesthetic and humor. Brands that feel like the kind of people these consumers would like to hang out with.

Which is why it’s getting harder for large brands to fake their way to growth.

“Do I attract you?
 Do I repulse you with my queasy smile?
Am I too dirty?
 Am I too flirty?
Do I like what you like?
I could be wholesome
 I could be loathsome
I guess I’m a little bit shy
Why don’t you like me?
 Why don’t you like me without making me try?”
– MIKA

You know that girl (or guy) that completely changes every time she starts dating someone new? And she somehow seems perpetually single, wondering why nobody stays interested in her; and she wants to know just who she needs to be to get a great guy to like her?

And in her mind she can’t understand why a guy wouldn’t want a girl that’s willing to change everything just to be what he needs. Isn’t that what everybody wants?

Actually, Shaylee, it isn’t.

It isn’t, because a person that’s willing to do that is the kind of person that doesn’t know who they are.
 That kind of person has no authentic identity.
 Their identity is contrived; it’s fluid; it’s fake.
 And when it comes to dating, those fortunate enough to have a choice choose who they’re attracted to.
 And the most desirable people — the people with the most options — generally choose people with a strong sense of self, with their own compass, and their own set of opinions.

And, you see, business isn’t all that different from dating. People tend to define themselves by the person they pair with. The same goes with the brands they buy. Ultimately, consumers purchase the brands they want to be associated with — the brands they like, or believe in, or are curious about. They want to craft their own story by borrowing from the characters authentic brands represent.

A brand is the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another. If the consumer (whether it’s a business, a buyer, a voter or a donor) doesn’t pay a premium, make a selection or spread the word, then no brand value exists for that consumer. — Seth Godin

Do these new brands still make commercials and buy ad space? Sure — this isn’t a case of “if you build it, they will come.” But when they advertise, they do so like Dollar Shave Club — they get resourceful, they create something novel, and they use their marketing to develop an authentic identity that discerning customers are attracted to.

Bullshit and bravado ain’t gonna cut it anymore. (Unless we’re talking about presidential candidates).

Authentic brands understand this. They come off as confident because their identity is aligned with their actions.

They realize a brand can be an expression of self. In many ways, a brand is like a child. And it can grow up and have friends, and do important things or selfish things or exciting things. And marketing can help steer all of it. It’s quite remarkable. And when you operate from that kind of attitude, growth doesn’t mean you’re building some business just so you can make a killing and have a bigger house than your peers. If that’s your attitude, you’re stuck in the 80’s — get your head out of your ass and maybe get rid of your mullet.
 Actually, keep the mullet, it works on you.

Look, I’m not here to preach some new-age bullshit. The fact is you’ve got one life to live. And, yes, you’ve got to eat and you’ll probably want a roof over your head. But we live in a time where we have the luxury of being able to focus on more than just hunting for food and finding a dry bed. And we’re entering a time where brands are finding they have a similar advantage.
 So why not buy from a company that has a mission you resonate with? Or work for one? Or help the one you work for become one? Or even just start one yourself?

It’s time to start using your marketing to develop your brand and give more to your audience; 
Use it to find your voice; 
To define your character; 
To help understand what image you portray; 
Why would people want to talk to you at a party? 
Why would people want to be associated with you at all?

The marketplace is big enough and broad enough that it’s no longer your job to convince people they need your product — no more than it is the hot-girl-at-the-bar’s job to dish out cheesy pickup lines. Rather, it is your job to make a great product, and to use marketing to uncover and develop your brand’s strengths, traits, influence and impact.

Remember the words of Emerson — “Who you are speaks so loudly, I cannot hear the words you are saying.”


Originally published at srslybusiness.com.