Marketing needs a new role in the horizontal society
The individualisation of the last 50 years has created a society with empowered individuals. Internet has made our world transparent and has given people the means to live more independently: banking over the Internet, looking up travel information and seeking medical advice. Our society is changing from the previous hierarchical society to a more horizontal model in which people aspire to establish relationships of equality with one another as citizens, employees and consumers.
The first wave of emancipation (or Emancipation 1.0, if you will) in the 1960s and 1970s involved groups such as women, gays and African-Americans who wanted to change the way they were treated by the establishment through loud protest,. Today’s movement, Emancipation 2.0, on the other hand is about individuals seeking to free themselves from the established hierarchical society, which they view as based on self-interest and control. In their dealings with companies and the government, members of the public demand equality and a chance to be heard. This current fight for freedom is giving rise to both unrest (Occupy movement) and new bottom-up initiatives (Move Your Money project, My World).
Customers speak out and start grassroots movements
Customers want companies to treat them like adults and equals, not like children. Consumers want to be heard and be taken seriously. And when companies don’t listen, protest is quick to follow – in the form of angry tweets, online messages, screeds by pundits and consumer boycotts. People also start grassroots movements by ignoring companies and organising things such as energy, food, healthcare and insurance individually or collectively (peer-to-peer) instead.
The new role of companies
In order to avoid being ignored by potential customers, companies operating in a horizontal society must connect with their customers on a deeper level. Today, many companies are attempting to get closer to their customers by providing them with a space to join discussions (panels), to help companies find new ideas (crowd sourcing) and to realise these ideas in practise (co-creation), but that’s not what is truly important. The truest bond between customers and businesses is created by shaping the society that includes both. Companies and their brands must clearly communicate what it is they stand for, and what they hope to contribute to society. Only then will members of the public be willing to commit to them.
A new role for brands
Nowadays, brands often focus on their market, branch and distinctive position within that category. Staples stands for convenience, Heinz identifies as ‘the original’ and Philips represents sense and simplicity. If a brand wishes to remain relevant in the horizontal society, it must be able to relate to the daily lives of its customers as people. A brand should focus not on its competitors in the specific market, but instead look for a deeper connection with their customers’ daily lives by utilising the individual strengths of their brand.
Using its strength and passion, a brand must clearly communicate the role it intends to play in the daily lives of its customers. A brand might be able to make people’s lives safer, healthier, more tolerant, kinder, more sociable, easier, more affordable or cleaner. IKEA’s brand ideal, for example, is making affordable housing attainable for everyone; Dove campaigns for ‘real beauty’; and Google wants to organise the world’s information, making it universally accessible and useful. What will your brand be doing in 2012?
A new role for marketers
Does a horizontal society need marketers if employees and customers are already playfully advertising what the brand stands for and working together every day to realise that brand’s ideal? Even though marketers will no doubt still be around, they will need to adapt their role to fit the horizontal society. Marketers will have to shift their focus from the market and the competition to attention to society and their brands’ customers’ daily lives. Only then will marketers be able to create perfect brand value for their clients and society. Marketers do not create value by themselves; they work together with the internal public (employees) and external public (clients). In other words, they are positioned to play an active and connecting role. The marketer-as- manager is now giving way to the marketer as connector on a mission.