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Love brands RIP. Citizen brands are the future of marketing

By Jeff MacDonald, Business Humanizer

July 28, 2017 | 5 min read

The increasing number of brands actively supporting causes such as LGBTQ+ rights is growing evidence of a fundamental shift in the role of brands in our world. Not all brands are getting it right (hello Pepsi). But the brands that are, represent a new breed of brand.

Red Bull

Citizen brands will be the future of the marketing industry

That breed is more in tune with today’s socially-conscious, digitally-connected new generation who are actively looking for someone other than the failing, traditional institutions to resolve the complex societal and environmental challenges of the world. The future belongs to ‘Citizen Brands’ – brands that play a highly active and authentic role at the very heart of cultural movements, supporting its shared ideology and empowering the mass participation of the members to create their aspired world.

The obituary for the old form of brand is increasingly written across the marketing and business press. The death of the outdated transactional relationship between brands and people has been signaled very clearly by the Havas Media Meaningful Brands study. The need for a radical overhaul in thinking on propositions and activation could not be clearer. Headline findings in the most recent 2017 study include the damning facts that people wouldn’t care if 74% of the brands they use just disappeared and that 60% of the content created by the world’s leading 1,500 brands is “just clutter” that has little impact on consumers’ lives (or business results).

Businesses need to move on from the now outdated, transactional model of ‘love brands’. Today’s consumer is seeking more than just the functional and emotional benefits being offered from products and features and image based comms and experiences.

People are looking for brands to play a bigger, more significant role in supporting them to build the type of world they seek.

Climate change

The brands that will win in this new world are those that take a cultural perspective. Their reason for being is built on clear values, beliefs and aspirations and the worldview that they share with their community (consumers and other like-minded people).

This is more than the occasional piece of POV advertising that jumps on the latest cool cause. This is about a fundamental change in the way businesses think and act, creating authentic, ongoing, long-term actions across every part of the business. Brands and their agencies need to shift from a focus on creative ideas to belief and ideologies. From comms to action.

These brands and businesses are active members of the cultural communities that they are part of. They have brought down the artificial wall that traditional businesses (whose sole purpose is to sell) place between themselves and consumers. They work hand in hand with the rest of their community as equal collaborators to build the world that they all aspire. There is no ‘us and them’. It is simply ‘us’. With the brand’s role being a supporter and facilitator.

At the heart of this new world are ideas that people care about, protect and nurture. Ideas with the power to inspire, unite, and drive action. And against a backdrop of more and more consumers ignoring today’s brands and their content, surely this is the way forward for brands?

Nike running group

Instead of customers, propositions and activation, brands need to embrace the new three P's of marketing: people, purpose and participation.

This is the future of marketing. This is the ‘Citizen Brand’.

It represents a radical shift from today’s meaningless brands and their activity that the Havas Media studies have highlighted as being irrelevant to people. This is a shift to a much more significant and authentic contribution from brands and businesses – driven by a more progressive and democratic way of working with people.

And don’t confuse this with charity or CSR. Brands are successful when they deliver real value to people. Relevant value that people are willing to pay premium prices for. And those brands that currently play by Citizen Brand rules command premium prices, premium margins and are growing. They have built highly profitable, loyal consumer communities.

Unless you can answer the following 5 questions, your brand is in trouble:

  • What is the core belief at the heart of the cultural community that your brand is part of?
  • What are the big changes in the world that your community seeks to make?
  • What is the purpose (or role) that your brand and product / services play in supporting this change?
  • How is your brand purpose actively impacting decisions across all points of your business?
  • How are you making sure that the people inside your business are a willing and active part of this community?

The revolution is coming. Will you be part of the future or do you prefer to be a footnote from the past?

Jeff Macdonald is a partner and business humanizer at Innate Motion.


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