by Jerry Mpufane (@JerryMpufane) Welcome to 2019 — a very different place.

Major shifts in the consumer relationships with brands continue to dominate the minds of the industry captains. Whether you’re a brand manager or a communications professional, you’d have to totally ignorant to not recognise that brands must behave differently, speak with a new voice — in a very different tone as compared to the past — embracing this new world.

The reasons why

The consumers of brands concern themselves more and more with the reasons WHY they choose one product or service over the other, ahead of the usual functional and efficacy reasons. While this isn’t a new trend, we will, however, see the increase in prevalence of this phenomenon. We’ll experience a world where arrogance by the major brands about the ‘soft issues’ will no longer be tolerated by an increasingly well-educated, well-connected and activist consumer.

Thanks to the major advances in technology, which has created a more-connected world, consumers feel very empowered and, indeed, act immediately on their emotions and attitudes towards what they like or dislike. These actions by the emboldened and empowered consumer range from a simple comment about their feelings at a particular time, reaching many eyes and ears in great numbers — all the way to voting with their wallet at the point of purchase.

Cultural wars, and not just the economics, determine the relevance and appeal of brands to a bunch of consumers who are woke to the zeitgeist. The emotional is trumping the rational in what drives choice. Worldview drives consumer choice, where brands are expected to behave in a manner that’s consistent with the new societal norms. Homogenous markets are gone, and it’s in with a diverse and highly vocal consumers, forcing brands to conduct a reappraisal of their value systems.

Consumer dialogue

Subject matter that was previously considered taboo, whether it be abortion, gay marriage, race, sexuality or religion, are now front and center of consumer dialogue. This has turned the world into a place where brands must actively and more meaningfully participate in the dialogue, in order to be in with the consumer. Lines have blurred between politics and commerce, and this has turned society into a very different place.

In order to be able to adequately respond to this new world order, major cultural institutions ranging from media publishing houses to fashion brands — really anyone who trades in culture — have implemented some major shifts in their leadership. A diverse crop of new editors and creative directors have been entrusted with navigating this new consumer landscape.

Cover lines in men’s magazines carry content about the state of man — and what man is doing to embrace a more-diverse world. Shifting demographics have seen women’s magazine titles leading with stories about politics and protest, alongside light subject matter such as fashion and gifting. These new voices have responded to the new political moment and shifting demographics, and they are leading by bringing a sense of mission to their work. They are driving content, storytelling, style and commentary that is inclusive and socially conscious.

Changing demographics

The changing demographics, in a more-inclusive world, are forcing big heritage brands to go younger and more agile, shaking off the old and embracing the new. Of course, these heritage brands have not lost their true values; they are, however, behaving differently in order to appeal to a younger demographic.

Under the leadership of these new crop of diverse captains, brands have become more socially conscious. They speak differently, as manifested in their market positioning of the brands at their core, or simply at a messaging level.

The era where greed was considered good is being replaced by a force for good. Brands are being called to account for their messaging, and whether they actually contribute towards a better society. The stories that brands tell are changing, seizing a new narrative, with a deliberate attempt to build a better world. Peddling product and services can no longer happen in isolation of the social agenda.

Tech fuels change

Advancements in tech fuel this change. Magazine covers, movies and advertising campaigns are shot on mobile phones. An individual’s reach has become a million times more than an established published title — thanks to Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. Commerce is conducted via social influencers, as well as traditional bricks-and-mortar retail. The annual Black Friday sale delivers more traffic online than it does in physical retail.

Style, technology, entertainment, politics, mental health, fitness, finance, cars, homes, sport, food and sex are central to culture. This phenomenon has been consistent for many years; that’s how the world has worked for a very long time. What’s changed in culture is a more-diverse world that is open to many voices, and brands better be ready to move at the speed of this new culture.

See also


MarkLives logoWhat are the industry expectations for the marketing and advertising industry in 2019? Kicking off our “Big Q”  column for the year, a panel of key agency and marketing executives discusses the macro environment, budgets, changes in messaging, movement in the industry and any consumer and communication trends they’ll be looking out for in the year ahead. 

Jerry Mpufane (@jerrympufane) is the chairman of the M&C Saatchi JHB Group and jury president of the Bookmarks Awards.

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