An old way to look ahead
By Adam Reynolds on Jan 21, 2021
Throw a stone on the internet right now and it’s likely you’ll hit an article about marketing predictions for the year ahead. You know the ones. Never mind what we said (and got completely wrong) about 2020. In 2021 you should only target culture-shaping Gen-Zers – and why that’s doubly important if your category is a significant purchase that’s usually the preserve of people with the money to actually pay for things like appliances and luxury goods and cars. And just to be on the safe side, run all activity on the hot new social app with the least number of people likely to buy your brand.
New is always sold as better than old. It’s shinier. More exciting. Full of possibilities. It’s why all the best bandwagons are new and headed to impossibly fantastic destinations. But why are we so anxious to use the latest thing before anyone else? Why do we rush to the new and unproven over the tried and tested? Is TikTok automatically better than a perfectly placed and brilliantly executed billboard just because it’s TikTok?
The answer is because we’re programmed to be rabid consumers of novelty. Our brains are fascinated by new data. According to neuroscientist Daniel Levitin, ‘humans will work just as hard to obtain a novel experience as we will to get a meal or a mate.’
Far less exciting, is predicting that focusing on constants is a solid strategy. The enduring truths, the fundamental values, the wants and dreams that define us all. Jeff Bezos built Amazon not by asking ‘what’s going to change?’, but by asking ‘what’s not going to change in the next 10 years?’ As he said, “When you have something that you know is true, even over the long term, you can afford to put a lot of energy into it.” It’s a lot easier to build business and brand strategies around ideas that are stable in time.
I also think the pace of recent technological advancement fools us. Just because we can order pizza without the inconvenience of actually speaking to another human being, it doesn’t alter the fact that we’re still ordering pizza. As Bill Bernbach noted, “It took millions of years for man’s instincts to develop. It will take millions more for them to even vary… a communicator must be concerned with unchanging man, with his obsessive desire to survive, to be admired, to succeed, to love, to take care of his own.”
We trivialise what we do by not building on what came before. Brand building is a long-term project after all. Constantly flipping and flopping what your brand stands for and how it behaves is a short cut to uncertainty in the mind of your market. Endless change only leaves people wondering ‘who are you again?’
Being first doesn’t equal being most creative. It’s worth remembering that people don’t want something new, they want the familiar done differently. So stay the course. Stand behind your brand and its distinctive assets. Leverage them in ways that amplify their meaning to your audience. Our job is to stand out, to provoke, to get noticed, and get remembered. Our job is impact. Not being seduced by the pornography of change.
So if you need a prediction to follow this year, make it be consistent. Instead of chasing short-term fads and confusing fleeting cultural trends for constant mainstream behaviours, take a longer view. Look at what’s true not only today, but what will still be true in two, five and 10 years. Brands are made of memories. We should be making them stronger. Not running them down in our rush to be first with the latest gimmick.