Now more than ever, my clients and colleagues need to understand that a brand can only live in the present. There is a likelihood that consumer will purchase something today just because they bought the same thing in the past.
In the not-too-distant past, a brand could often live off of its legacy and maintain value through turbulent times with that cachet. Brands such as Coca-Cola, Ford Motor Company, and McDonald's were bulletproof. These brands, and their associated products, gave their users consistent pricing, quality, and messaging that (at the time) created an impenetrable force in the marketplace.
Cut to today's consumer: The following list of observations came from the past six months of research with Millennial's, tweens, and teens, of various races, ethnicities, and income brackets)
- Today's consumer understands disposable product cycles for things such as technology, entertainment, and in many cases lifestyle (furniture, clothing etc.).
- The acceptance of revision-based products indicates that longevity as an indicator of quality is no longer a factor. For example: "What version iPhone is that?"
- Today's consumer is knowingly going to buy the same product in what is perceived to be a better model at a random point in the next three months to two years.
- The consumer is a moving target of sociological and economic ideals. Consequently, there are countless sub-niche groups that drive lifestyle trends such as "geek chic" and "hipsters" – all with differentiating interests and buying propensities. The only commonality that truly binds them is loyalty to cool current brands.
Brands are subject to a blinding array of the new factors that can not only effectively change their business model, but destroy their credibility in the blink of an eye. I refer to this phenomenon in past articles with the term "brand fragility."
Moreover, brands are responsible for understanding the footprint of related touch points that surround them.
For example, imagine I am a B2C retailer of hip-hop clothing, accessories, and associated entertainment products that showcase specific groups and cultural movements. Two decades ago, my biggest concerns were keeping up with who has the latest album, or slight regional style deviations that might put my product in the "old school" column. Now my products are under attack from variables such as whether the lead singer had sex with a tranny, to an associated brand of automobile depicted in my product sets that is now considered passé. At the core of this is the need to understand your product, your competitors,and associated products, but also and overall monitoring of your entire vertical at any given time.
So when creating the "cool of the now," you need a currency model on tap at all times that answers:
- What is your risk of guilt by association?
- What is your willingness to create change?
- Court of public opinion is the court of the now. What are you preaching? But more importantly, what are people hearing/reading/feeling?
- Perception far outweighs reality. Do you know what your "perceived reality" is?
- People eat what they see the most of and don't regularly hunt for the truth.
- How long will "the now" of your product maintain cool?
- What's next? More importantly, what perception of "next" are you creating?
The same tactical deployment of social media and consumer engagement can create both a passionate following or undying bloodlust. It all depends on how the digital court of public opinion chooses to interpret your business directives.
If you think this all seems a little abstract, and you are wondering if there is a clear path to success – let me offer this observation: In the 20 years I have been cool/trend hunting, there is only one industry that has to virtually re-create itself on a yearly basis.
The toy industry.
"Kids have a shorter attention span and thus need a greater number of different toys to make it through the day without boredom. Multiply that by 1 million, and factor in the fact that toys aren't just for children anymore. but are often marketed to and sold to adults (young adults today are the first adults ever who grew up surrounded by computers) and the result is an entire industry whose product life cycle is growing shorter by the year."
Think about every year what you remember to be "the hottest toy." This industry shifts more than Ken Block's gearbox. Now I'm not so foolish as to think that the vast majority of desire is created by innovative new products and relentless advertising. The level of sophistication is changing every year to ensure that toy manufacturers not only create "the want" in children, but they also bypass the mother filter to ensure the purchase. So by all accounts you are literally having to fight to demographics for one purchase.