Over how many years would you say that the corporate trend towards automation has put pressure on the workforce? 20, 30 years? Traditionally, automation has meant as far as possible eliminating people from work, leaving the tickly frisson of shiny-new technology tempered with sinister undertones.
And so the ‘them-and-us’ culture became even more entrenched (’twas ever thus, eh?!). Decision makers are seen as the power brokers – and the enemy. Leaving the rest of us flapping around in various states of victim-hood, spitting bile and invective against government, industry, foreigners, terrorists, imports, call-centres – anything and everything we can’t control…
Culturally, we see this played out in all kinds of ways. But for capitalism, this has given rise to consumers who largely play the profit-chasing game with a growing whiff of suspicion, wariness – or even resignation. It’s not safe to trust ‘them’, says the little voice at the back of our heads, with its fuggy, persuasive tone (a view happily reinforced by our peers and an increasingly malignant media).
But now a new global phenomenon – the Connected Consumer – is shaping up to be a real game-changer! Why? Because the proletariat has found its voice. Or rather, found profoundly powerful ways of getting its voice heard.
As any politician will tell you, ideas are powerful, but getting ideas to spread is where the real power lies. And never have the masses had so much opportunity to broadcast their opinions. Subsequently, power is shifting from traditional power brokers to the consumer. And it’s getting messy out there…
Social media has been lauded in some quarters with playing a key role in the Arab Spring. Brands are becoming infamous for getting a bloody nose from their audiences on-line. With more and more people grabbing the chance to snatch their 15 minutes of fame, or simply having fun splashing about making noise on-line, social media penetration shows no sign of abating.
This genie is not only out of the bottle and not going back in, it’s granting everyone it can get its hands on three powerful wishes (unbelievable just a few years ago): an always on soapbox, incredibly accessible, with truly global reach.
Technology, once the power-brokers’ profit-pumping pimp, is now the soapbox-pumping muse of the masses.
What this of course means is that the connected individual is going to matter far more than they have before now. Because slowly and surely, they will be demanding more value from the brands, institutions and personalities they care about and engage with, as they begin to appropriate their power to make choices on their own terms.
And creative communications, more than ever before, will be about managing those heady, temperamental, precarious relationships.
Traditional marketing values such as integrity, authenticity and trust will still be as relevant and as powerful as they’ve ever been towards establishing differentiation. But the new game will be played across social media platforms in cliques (what Seth Godin calls tribes) – as the Connected Consumer gets to pick which clique they subscribe to faster than ever before, making richer connections faster than ever before.
With this, brand custodians – stewarding the management discipline of orchestrating unique, accessible, recognisable, value-packed patterns – face an amazing opportunity or a suffocating threat: the chance to make marks/marques that spread like wildfire, or the stress of living in fear of getting it horribly wrong and the world finding out about it in the time it takes to write a tweet…
But is it both/and, or either/or…?