“The great fish moved silently through the night water.” Peter Benchley, Jaws.
Brands are dead in the water. Sitting ducks. Bobbing inertly, waiting to be picked off one-by-one or a batch at a time - depending on the mouth-size of the hungry leviathan rising from the deep.
Brands: Bob. Quack. Chomp.
Only, it doesn’t have to be so.
But first, why the chomp? Why any fatalities at all? The answer, of course, is simple. Because the world turns. Disrupt. Pivot. Progress. Change. It all leads to a churned wake of broken paradigms, out-dated rule books and former conventions-turned-floating cadaver.
In our ‘right here, right now’ reality, it’s a call-to-arms and action - to look upon how we do things (like brand-building and ‘better marketing’), to ask some punchy and probing questions, and to start mapping the star chart towards some brave, bold, and novel horizons.
There are, of course, some fixed-bearings on which we can first anchor. Like, ‘consumerism’.
Consumerism, under the rule of capitalism, still holds firm and true. Brands are still in the business of creating want, and it’s through the creation of want that we create wealth. But it’s the ever-expanding data-points that make up ‘The How’ that has changed everything so radically.
Consider the shifting contexts of the Digital Age. The attention economy has led to nobody taking the time time to stop and stare. Conspicuous consumption is now paired with conspicuous communication. The new reality is one of global monopolies and duopolies and gaming the system and consumer promiscuity at an all-time high, all fuelling the boardroom table punditry around how to survive - and how to thrive. The choices presented (and their consequences) are candidly binary. Option One. Or Option Zero.
Option 1: A game of adaptation, survival and success. One score.
Option 0: Decision paralysis, inaction, old practices… and death. Sum score: zero.
A bigger boat
While seldom used as a Harvard MBA case study, the bona fide movie classic Jaws re-enforces this point well.
Boil it right down, and Jaws is pure conflict narrative, played out at the apex of the food chain. Will fish eat man (literally), or will man eat fish ? Who will net out the biggest bad-ass in the big blue, showing the biggest appetite for survival?
Whatever form we take, we want very desperately to stay that way. Jaws is ultimately a battle of wills and want to survive. Brands and businesses: take note.
On the side of the land-dwellers, we have three archetypes of the everyman. A cop, a scientist and a sea captain. Only they’re not so everyman. They also happen to be 70’s cinema rock gods, Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss and Robert Shaw. Yes, it’s a little like going up against Bowie, Jagger, and Mercury in a karaoke contest. But then, they are facing off against Jaws, the definitive black-eyed monster of our murky subconscious nightmares.
And to dial it up to 11; there’s a built-in disadvantage, in that man has to take the fight to fish. Our three guys on a mission have to become the fish out of water, forgo home advantage and terra firma, become three men in a boat that they quickly realise needs to be bigger.
The insight in all this? Being ‘all at sea’ turns you into fish food. At least, it does if you don’t adapt. Your big thinking needs to stretch beyond packing flotation aids.
Today’s new normal is all about ongoing context shifts - GDPR’s rightful decimation of CRM; a cookie-less future; the erosion of consumer trust - and the need to get a bigger boat to cope.
Brands and businesses need to adapt and draw upon that imperative to survive at all costs. They need to think differently and think about themselves differently. Sure enough, from the other side of the looking glass, we as consumers are looking at brands (and the companies that own them) with a very different kind of gaze these days.
Brand and business-builders need to recognise that competition comes out of the blue, crossing business verticals without warning.
Businesses need to expect digital predators. They need to always feel paranoid and under threat. More, they should feel happy about embracing that varietal of paranoia, because it will bring the best out in them.
They need to re-imagine the game they’re in and the role they can play - because the landscape and the dynamics are changing whether any of us like it or not. Viewed positively it's a dawn chorus of invitation, to become the next Netflix, Uber, Tesla, the next unicorn. Otherwise it’s a just a booming alarm bell.
In reality it's both, a call for open-mindedness and fast-thinking ingenuity, for adaptation of form and to trial new practices. And for those with greatest will and appetite, it's the chance to truly thrive.
Simon Pont, CEO at BLIX and co-founder of BIG BLUE.