Sustainable Gratification: Kanye West released his “finished” album, “The Life of Pablo,” while still adding songs and repeatedly changing lyrics. Photo Credit: Meagan Dexter.

WHY BRANDING AS WE KNOW IT IS OVER.

Or, What Kanye West, Diane Von Furstenberg and Binge Culture Can Teach Us About Modern Branding.

There’s never been a better time than now. By that I don’t mean this day and age. I mean right now. This instant. This very nano-second.

It seems we’re now living an IWWIWWIWI existence (“I Want What I Want When I Want It”). We’re growing increasingly impatient. We have an insatiable thirst to consume in the moment. To enjoy it in the here and now.

Not only has digital technology connected us instantly to information, to each other and to every place on the planet, it has shortened our attention span to 8 seconds…and counting down. Why should we wait when, depending on your supply of 5 Hour Energy, in a single weekend we can consume upwards of three seasons of House of Cards or Breaking Bad or Game of Thrones. It’s a phenomenon that’s spilling over into every other aspect of our lives.

Time frames of the previous century have utterly collapsed. You see it not only in how people are living their lives, but also in the wrenching change confronting every business defined by legacy, whether that be fixed assets, business models, route to market or any combination thereof. While legacy keepers sleep, someone’s in their basement building an app to get it to us faster, cheaper and just the way we want it.

A February 11, 2016 NY Times article, “How Smartphones Are Killing Off the Fashion Show” details how a sluggish relic of the previous century makes women wait six months to purchase apparel that was Periscoped the moment it appeared on the runway and instantly shared with the masses via the Snap-Twit-Insta-Face socio-sphere. Wait six months? By then, in the calculus of 8-second attention spans, that’s not aged inventory, it’s inventory from the Dark Ages hardly worth anyone’s attention. By the way, who among us would have been first to name Diane von Furstenberg, chairwoman of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, as the unlikely heroine attempting to drag this legacy-bound group into the 21st Century? Props to Diane.

What’s happened to record industry buzz campaigns, the announcement of the artists “returning to the studio” with an expected release date five months down the road? Gone. Now Queen Bey drops her surprise album online and BAM!, it’s instant fan gratification to the tune of 828,773 copies sold worldwide in its first three days and the fastest-selling album in iTunes store history.

What could be better than instant gratification? Sustainable gratification, complements of one Kanye West who announced his “finished” album, “The Life of Pablo,” while still adding songs and repeatedly changing lyrics and iterating release dates. As The NY Times so aptly put it, “Mr. West has turned the album release process — into a public conversation, one taking place on Twitter, YouTube, Periscope and in Madison Square Garden as much as in the studio.” Kanye, while simultaneously introducing his latest fashion line, has in the process quite masterfully been curating his personal brand by inviting fans into his artistic process. His West-ness tweeted: “Life of Pablo is a living breathing changing creative expression.”

So, dear marketers, welcome to the new world of branding. A world in which Culture — enabled by the bit stream, all its interconnected access points, social media and big data — has become the crucible of an ever-evolving, dynamic, real-time, iterative shaping of a brand’s narrative in collaboration with its publics.

Culture is the new media and earned impressions are the new metric of success.

Watch-out, ad agencies, another legacy business model — yours — is about to bite the dust.

Among the relics of the post-advertising era will be the multi-million dollar, one-minute anthem ad. Remember that 8-second (and counting down) attention span? By the time an agency conducts focus groups, briefs the creative teams, completes an exploratory, tests-modifies-re-tests and gets their spot on the air, the audience has moved on. Agencies are not only NOT in their flow, they’re not even in their slipstream. Instead, automated, real-time analytics tools are informing creative development. Which in turn feeds programmatic delivery of content assembled on the fly, which swiftly swirls onto the user’s screen of choice. Meantime, algorithms react to behaviors, interests and integrated views across multiple platforms and channels and the process of continuous message refinement hums along happily with less human intervention than ever before. And why would clients still pay for media when they can on their own generate and track earned impressions at a fraction of the cost?

What’s more, after climate change, the great recession, crumbling infrastructure, massive waste streams, rising oceans and planetary plundering we simply don’t trust what brands say. Today’s savvy brand owners know that opinions are now shaped by peers with audiences of their own. They expect nothing less than transparency. Truth. Purpose. Voting with their dollars people are coercing brands into cleaning up their act, some are even integrating social good into their business models.*

Now that search engines are more trusted than traditional media, brands are no longer the sum of their advertising; they’re the sum of their behaviors.

The problem confronting agencies is that “Brand Behavior” is no more an advertising proposition than announcing to a roomful of strangers what a terrific person you are and believing you’ve thereby earned their eternal admiration.

It’s game over. Control is now totally in your consumers’ hands and hearts. You can’t fake it or side-step it. You simply no longer dictate the rules.

Consumers now expect brands to “show up” in their lives in meaningful ways. To advocate for their behaviors and beliefs, not sell to them. And since big data enables us to engage, track and interact with them in their Culture you must make the algorithm your friend and take to your multi-platform, 24/7 aggregated digital dashboards.

Which gives rise to two last critical points about the new model of brand building. The first is that content for content’s sake is a fallacy. It’s the lowest hurdle, which alone amounts to nothing more than borrowed interest. Such approaches may keep you in the game, but when you’re competing in an 8-second attention economy, there’s no way you’ll ever win. You must start with a unique and well defined brand advocacy platform — or “positioning” for the more traditional among you — that you alone can own. One that is rooted in the belief systems and totems of your consumer’s culture or sub-culture. When conceived within the envelope of a unique brand point of view a brilliantly curated content strategy, by which I mean everything the brand says, does, delivers and how and where it shows up, creates sustained engagement, astonishingly powerful impact and most of all, adds immeasurable value.

The last point is that Culture is not episodic. Rather it is a flow of vibrant, dynamic, ever-evolving expression. It is, therefore, all too swift and easy to lapse into irrelevance. Without the right tools to understand and track Culture; without a commitment to continuous vigilance, to uncovering every nuance and signal of where its edges are carving new territory, you’ll be relegated to reacting when you should have been anticipating.

This new model takes diligence, creativity, tracking, analysis, content creation/iteration and commitment to implementation excellence to a whole other level.

Welcome to the New World of Branding.

A few Dos and Don’ts of the new branding:

Don’t test. Culture is the real-time crucible of learning.

Don’t observe. Live in the consumer’s culture.

Stop selling. Show up. Engage. Advocate.

Ban “content.” Deliver cultural truths.

Screw perfection. Do! Accept failure. Move forward.

Never talk at. Dialogue. Solicit feedback. Give editing privileges.

Stop managing. Collaborate. Evolve.

Leverage the algorithm.

Let the Culture be your guide.

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