Should Advertising die?

That’s the first thing one might ask reading recent studies that reveal that most people won’t care if 74% of brands disappeared tomorrow. Sorry marketers, but people don’t care about brands anymore.

Gone are the days when brands could exist while being “disconnected” from their consumers. They just had to launch their new products, build an “official” discourse through advertising campaigns that ran in general media for all consumers and then just sit back and wait for expected sales results to know if the product was a success or not.

In those happy days for everyone in the business, companies could build a #1 brand globally, based on their supposed values and if they succeeded in sales, people would take any message for granted. No need to worry about if consume preferences were switching or about unsatisfied clients’ complaints.

But that was before the web. Of course.

Much has been said about how the Internet and social networks have completely changed the relationship between brands, marketers and consumers. In this new three-way relationship, one key is the amplification of the scope of the consumers’ voice. Now they have the power to influence a much wider number of other consumers than before and they can demand transparency and honesty in brands.

They have returned to a central position. And they are fully aware of this. They actively complain, ask for companies to take responsibility and, what’s worse for us, they don’t take any advertising messages for granted anymore. And as hard as it seems for an industry filled with ego, we must accept that we are no longer at the center of everything.

So one might ask if in this apocalyptic scenario is there any hope?

Of course there is! It has always been part of our job to identify opportunities and this is where we have to make the switch from artists to inventors. What could be more creative that to re-invent ourselves and find a new way to become relevant again?

If we analyze the new relationship with consumers established in the digital era, it’s fast becoming the case that there are two strong salient strategies in advertising to achieve our goals. Either help me, or entertain me. The days of ‘interruption’ are long gone.

Let’s focus on the first strategy mentioned and leave the second one for next time.

As the Internet has spilled out beyond the desktop and mobile screens and into devices, objects and hardware, our behaviors have totally changed and innovation is quickly becoming a part of our everyday lives.

So if we are able to identify behaviors and needs, we can develop richer experiences that drive deeper engagement.

Here lies our opportunity: people just want brands to improve their lives and the lives of the people they care about.

Brands have a wonderful chance of creating a service or content that provides useful or practical information to the consumer. Therefore, they’ll be immediately useful for them, with the underlying hope to create a long lasting link with them.

That’s what we call Brand Utility. A way we can replace the classic and persuasive advertising discourse on a product’s performance and we can actually demonstrate our brand mission.

Brand utility can take many forms. From travel brands providing city guides, to consumer packaged goods brands providing YouTube cooking lessons, to mobile networks providing phone charging at festivals. In general, when we talk about this trend, we’re referring to real utility: something that makes you say “Oh, that’s so clever… I need it!”

In fact, the most inspiring brands now see themselves as facilitators.

Nike+ or The Fiat EcoDrive app showed us the way, but there’s been more and more inspiring work these years from around the globe. Like Nivea with its protection ad, a bracelet to be synchronized with an app so parents can easily monitor their kids’ movements on the beach. Samsung uses their technology to improve lives of those who have to deal with Alzheimer or Autism. Or even new brands like Uber, offering free rides to avoid accidents caused because of too much drinking.

So it’s all about identifying new ways to serve and support people by uncovering latent needs, behaviors, and desires. Helping brands to explore beyond their core product and service so they can deal with the rising expectations of consumers and stay relevant in their lives.

The key it’s starting asking ourselves the right questions because as Tim Brown from IDEO says, “we must establish a new culture that starts with questions. It’s the only way to really uncover pressing human needs and create towards them.”

But please, empathy should evolve from the go to word in articles, inspiring talks, Google trends and post-its on the wall, and become the heart and fuel of our ideas. No more navel gazing and more listening to what really worries and matters to real people. And with this shift, we have a much better chance of gathering priceless information to improve our industry. Furthermore, with our new role as inventors, we will help brands develop new business directions and keep evolving with this new approach.

It’s not about pushing people to buy things just because of dazzling technology, but developing tools that make people’s lives easier. These tools will then market and sell themselves and make people fall in love with your Brand.

And above all, it’s time to work hand in hand with brands in order to build a cons­­istent and coherent message that is timeless, meaningful and remains in people’s hearts.

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