by Mimi Nicklin (@MimiNicklin) It seems to me that the four major news headlines of March and early April might have a fundamental impact on the world as we know it. Linking that to a column on brands and shopper marketing may be a stretch (!), but bear with me as I explain.

The big four snapshot

  • Malaysian airlines flight MH370 is still missing at the time of writing.
  • Russia has taken over Crimea leaving its people divided.
  • Oscar Pistorius is still on air daily with the highlights flashing snippets of cricket bats and timelines that leave the nation with mixed emotions.
  • Turkey’s Prime Minister has recently announced a shut down of Twitter. They are only the second country globally to take this away from their people.

Now, imagine being a child right now in 2014 – growing up in a world where planes drop out of the sky, nations are overthrown, sports hero’s are accused of committing nightmare inducing crimes, and your right to expression is being threatened. These are the insecurities that our next generation of shoppers are growing up with, and that our current generation is trying to explain.

Mimi NicklinSeismic shifts

Behind these stories lie the seismic shifts in consumer perceptions, confidence and behaviour that are slowly forming as the news keeps rolling.

Those that were once powerhouses and powerbrands without question(holding control of the one way communication)are now seeing the focus shift as the people surrounding them begin to question who should be taking the leadership,and how these “powers” are seen, shared and consumed.

In order to balance some of these insecurities, we watch on nervously and passionately as consumers — continually connected, commenting, and living dual realities — at home with our own political changes and publicly debated governmental spend, as well as sharing online the simultaneous realities of those who live thousands of miles away.

The power of our networks

We may not share a home language but we do share a Twitter feed. This is the power of our networks.

In 2014, brands can’t assume that they are working in a ‘closed circuit of shoppers with a one-way power to the people’ approach. As smartphone usage in South Africa reaches beyond 25%, our shoppers are more connected and smarter than ever before.

While the world around them fundamentally shifts — their heroes fall, their chosen transport falls out the sky and their fellow BRICS countries don’t follow the rules — our shoppers change. Their frame of reference shifts, their trust wavers, and their use of global networks to make and break decisions widens ever further.

The power of our connections

It is the power of these connections that now needs to drive brand strategy. If the 20th century were all about scale, when the biggest brands with the biggest budgets and best supply chains won, the 21st is all about networks.

Anyone with an internet connection and a Twitter feed can find and rally the finances, the marketing and the followers to make their idea the next idea. Suddenly small, previously niche, brands are great, and bigger brands find their circles shrinking.

Yes, of course, our shoppers here are South African but their power as connected global shoppers has never been stronger — they know what’s available on every street worldwide; they know the styles and trends and prices. They know when their market is the one that is being left behind. They follow everything, from fashion to art, from their corner of a city train station platform, and they fuel debate on issues for which they previously had no voice at all.

Crowd-sourced and crowd-loved

Brands are being born without the roots they previously needed — crowd-sourced and crowd-loved.

In a country with some of the highest word-of-mouth rates worldwide, SA brands need to realise it’s not just ‘from them to us’, from the power (brands) to the people, but from the people to the people. It will be the brands that are brave enough to let the people change them, build them and fit them into their new realities that will win in 2014 and beyond.

People first, powerbrands second, with a dose of smart marketing in the middle.

Mimi Nicklin (@MimiNicklin) followed her passion and experience in the consumer, retail and shopper space from regional roles in Europe and Asia, to South African shores in 2010. Having led global brands through the line for Procter & Gamble, and two of London and Hong Kong’s top agencies, her background gives her an international perspective to add to her depth of SA understanding. She serves as strategic director and a partner at 34 Group. Mimi contributes the monthly “The Sell” column concerning shopper marketing to MarkLives.

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