Notwithstanding mystical associations with prophecies of old, the year ahead is significant in a few ways. One prophecy in particular, made by Michel de Nostradame, has put an unusually cataclysmic spotlight on what may happen or what may cease to be (if you follow the doomsayers and the Mayan Calendar).
Interestingly, on a positive note, Wikipedia has aggregated established themes found in this 2012 literature. These include suspicion towards mainstream Western culture, the idea of spiritual evolution, and the possibility of leading the world by individual example or by a group's joined consciousness.
There is definitely something familiar in this - the radical and largely positive transformation that has occurred in our world over the past few years postulates the fact that we are entering a new era of super connected earthlings that affect change. This is partly due to the empowering technological devices best described by the late visionary Steve Jobs as "human tools".
The big 'hello how are you' theme continues to unlock potential in cultural and consumer behavioural and mindset shifts, however disappointing this simple revelation may be to the expensive trend hunters and their annual reports. From a marketing perspective, rapid innovation in technology merely assists consumers in accessing or spreading messages. Technology is still subservient to human beings' experiences and emotions, so it's ever more critical to be on the pulse, in the now and riding the wonderful wave of re-formed culture. Interconnected we can prosper. This is MetropolitanRepublic's belief and this is how we can best drive client's brands and products to success. Here are a few drivers we believe can help us understand how to ride the waves of culture in 2012.
1. Uncertainty is the new Certainty
Uncertainty is inherently based on fear and thus stifles the one thing that needs courage within these uncertain times - great creativity!
2011 saw less effective work, less great work, just work that sometimes works... from South Africa than ever before. 2012 will see clients streamlining better and less reactively with the help of their slightly frustrated agencies to achieve the 'less is more' equation to aplomb. The game has changed, the role of communication has changed and both agencies and clients will redress their approaches. How? By understanding their role in a broader socioeconomic sense and streamlining and refocusing their strategy. In so doing, clients can overcome the fear of treading beyond the average. It is a natural evolution - great commercial communication as a business lever has the power to shine through to survive because great brands can shine a light on the path ahead in uncertain times.
2. Our Ever Savvy Consumer Goes Cross Category to Find Value
Consumers are forming new shopping habits, and whether they are wealthy or not, consumers are engaging the 'spending less and smarter' story. The trend is specifically strong for everyday goods. Proliferation of choice and the hunt for value due to the economic climate will make our consumers savvy enough to compare apples with oranges and make a purchase decision based on that.
Brands will need to go beyond the products they sell to assume cross category competitiveness and consumer lifestyle profiling to remain relevant. Woolworths, a primarily premium communicated brand, has started shifting its messaging from quality to value. Just check out their point of sale and loyalty program mechanics. It's a consumer that can compare apples with oranges, Coca-Cola with MTN and come up with a notion of best value to life.
3. Television Ads as trailers vs. self contained narratives
"Fewer and fewer advertisers will start their strategic marketing planning with a television advertisement in mind. Instead, they'll step back and begin with an engagement strategy that gets operationalised through a series of creative ideas that then gets reflected through different channels." HBR.com.
Sounds like nothing new. Consider these facts from a recent study in the West: 60% of television viewers look at their mobile phones while watching TV; 33% have their laptops open in front of them and most interestingly iPad owners spend the most time in front of the TV with their tablet. So, it makes sense for TV advertisements to be thought of as an element in a broader narrative arch for the brand - a narrative arch that allows the telling of a more complete and interactive story. Interactive meaning the purchase opportunity is available further up the funnel. Integration is blurring the switchover from audience to buyer. TV as the Harvard Business Review states should be 'a trailer for a deeper branded experience.' Is this the true return of integrated branded retail? We think so... and so should media planners!
4. Happiness and Brands?
This was sparked by healthy debate internally and a Knowledge Venture survey in the UK recently - people are increasingly disenchanted with the story of wealth and consumerism for its own sake. While they still want to consume, they are looking for a deeper sense of meaning and purpose. The global recession has raised questions for many about what is most important in life. A futurist consultant may speak of happiness and the benefits of happiness and brands. While happiness clearly matters to people - and is the topic of the day - should it matter to brands and organisations? Within the limited scope of things they do and deliver, is happiness the right thing to focus on? Happiness is sometimes hard to differentiate from concepts like customer loyalty, customer satisfaction and the ever popular Net Promoter scores..
Understand what makes consumers happy, how much of a priority happiness is, and how it affects behaviours and customer interactions. VW's fun theory campaign (which won a Cannes Cyber Grand Prix) was a great example of linking product to happiness... in this case their blue motion technology. Businesses must return to focus explicitly on happiness. Contribute to overall happiness and people will choose you more. So we need to focus on how a better understanding of this complex but universal emotion can help improve relationships with consumers and grow the bottom line. It's not a new concept. It is something that we have always done, from the goal of delivering happiness through products, services and communications, through to business strategy, innovations, organisational culture and brand values. On this, it's a return to fundamental that we will see - brands and companies are here to make life better and so create shareholder value.
5. U, Black, Maybe?
Brands and the pursuit of the ever elusive black diamonds, LSM 6-7, the aspirant ones etc, will continue as more organisations realise the sheer potential
We saw some interesting approaches in 2011, with celebrity endorsements ruling the roost. 2011 will see. Local influencers are as key as celebrities. For this market social currency is important. Perhaps (and it's a big maybe) people don't want to connect with brands, they want to connect with other similarly minded people who reflect their immediate aspirations. The jury is out doing voxpops on this matter. We like to think both work and are powerful. 2012 will still see a strong archetype of endorsement campaigns coming out in lifestyle brands
6. Street Marketing and Counter-culture Collaborators
If Influencers are the game, the burgeoning street culture of Johannesburg and Cape Town, primarily, is creating counter culture, collaborative movements across fashion, music, arts and selling a new form of mashed up global cool to the born free generation (those born after 1994).
For all the loss of its street cred caused by its meteoric rise into the mainstream, AmaKipKip has done to local street entrepreneurs what Arthur Mafokate did for Kwaito in the 90's. The str/crd event in 2011 pulled in thousands of visitors, we have stocks of successful local brands, like Strussbob and HeadHoncho, in main retail centres sitting alongside Nike on the shelves. Downtown independents like the Dope Store and Thesis in Soweto are the right flavour. Music collaborators like Pascal and Persie lead our musical exports beyond Pop Idols. And then we have the representers of the 'smartie generation' -the uebercool twentysomethings on Vuzu's reality show Cream Cartel. Iconoclastic, social connected individuals who will ensure that 2012 will see more uniquely South African urban sub-cultures and collaborative mash-ups emerging - a minefield to tap into. There are no rules on this one! Collaborate and co-create with a new generation of social pioneers.
7. The Hipness of Social Entrepreneurship
Social Entrepeneurship is not only making charity cool and hip, it is creating a branded following not necessarily reliant on donors but run like a successful company. Shaka Sisulu of Cheesekids comes to mind as he successfully galvanised middle class young professionals and influencers to give back via social mobilisation to create a true form of active citizenship.
In 2012 young people will continue to look and follow sources of non-traditional entrepreneurial opportunities. It's a generation desperately looking to find an identity and it's important for them to leave a legacy of their own, squarely focused on an inspired 21st Century Africa... all while giving back and giving themselves a purpose. It's the individual in a world of growing collective consciousness. Welcome to the new age.
8. The Global North vs Global South
Multinationals will continue to search for opportunities on emerging markets, or rather the term used by conglomerate types: The Final Frontier. Both South America and Africa have been targets for brands wanting a footprint or production facility for their hero products. Our time to be counted in global brand strategies has come slowly but it's welcomed.
Some lament this is just an abstract form of colonisation, but on the other side of the commercial curtain is that there is more choice and better benefits to consumers. This arises from competition in different sectors, specifically financial, telecommunication and retail. HSBC sniffed around to find Barclays making possible moves to rebrand and Walmart is still doing what it does.
On the retail front, Zara most recently expressed their global strategy with a footprint extended to South America and South Africa. This, beyond online group discounted shopping and paypal services readily available in SA, carves open the retail landscape even further. Brands will do well to reinvent their value propositions and touchpoints to a much more globally astute consumer, whatever their personal GPS. The game has officially been upped.
9. Social Media Ringmasters, Innovation Officers and Big, Meaningful Scale Change for Brands
It would be a trend hunting faux pax to overlook the impact mobile ubiquity has had on internet penetration in this country and more broadly Africa, where even more services are being delivered through mobile connectedness. Think, for a moment, about what that means from a socioeconomic upliftment point of view. UN studies show a direct correlation between mobile penetration and the quality of life indices - interconnected we prosper indeed.
There were over 616 million mobile subscriptions in Africa at the end of September 2011, which means that the mobile market on the continent is second only to Asia-Pacific in terms of mobile subscription numbers (At end-2010, less than a year ago, Africa was only the fourth largest regional mobile market by subscriptions, coming after Asia-Pacific, Western Europe and the Americas.). My good (twitter) friends at Contagious call this the 'liberation of consumers through digitisation'. Markets of the future will be below the line and if Africa has become the second most connected region in the world there is a huge step change that brands and marketers alike need to embrace.
FNB and others (you know who engages and who doesn't) have been successful in adopting a culture of 'social media ringmasters' who are not afraid of the online conversation that seems to drive reputation. They respond accordingly and if they can't, they innovate. Very soon if you are not in the conversation you are dead. The mobile revolution (believe it or not) has only just begun and business needs to understand how to innovate around this one 'human tool' that has toppled governments, has beat CNN's news feeds and will ultimately replace the crispy cash in your wallet.
Hire an innovation officer if you're not clear (Coke, Google, General Electric and IBM have one), address and challenge your agency capabilities in this digital area. Shift your thinking to what and how consumers engage with their world on a daily basis. Continuously ask yourself and your agency: what is our role in all of this?
Originally published in Advantage Magazine, January 2012.
Editorial contact Tlali Taoana is the Regional Strategic Planning Director for Africa at Metropolitan Republic. He is his own social media ringmaster and isn't stocking up on canned food for December 21, 2012.
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