Editorial Roundtable: Brands Must Learn To Resonate As Consumer Platforms
adidas, GE, Pinterest, Stitch Fix, Allbirds, Helix Sleep, hmbldt and Ready Set Rocket lay out how companies and organizations must approach their relationships with empowered consumers
PSFK’s Editorial Roundtable series takes its inspiration from the traditional roundtable: bringing together industry insiders to share their insights on emerging and compelling trends in an idea-friendly manner. PSFK guides the discussion and our roundtable helps guide the future.
As a sort of epilogue to a Year 2016 marked by displacement, we predict 2020 will be the year when consumers seize away control. (Yes, from you, brands, corporations and governments). What that means is that the consumer will stop being simply a consumer. They’ll become the consumer cycle itself, wielding control over more than just consumption. As our Forecast 2020 predicts, the supply chains, media channels, and product offerings that were once determined for the consumer will be determined by the consumer.
As the closing act to the twenty-tens (and the opening act to the twenty-twenties), 2020 will serve as a preview to not just the fully empowered consumer but the prospect of ‘people as business platforms.’
But three years separate us from then and now, and we must first learn how to crawl before we can fly civilian missions to Mars. As folks forever-fixated on what lies ahead, PSFK wants to know: what will come to define 2017, 2018, and 2019 in order to facilitate 2020’s retelling? How can brands and other propped-up institutions respond to the shift? If consumers come to replace the organizations that once supplied them with products, services and messages, what will become of consumerism as we now know it?
To answer some of these looming questions, we’ve turned to a handful of experts, who include:
Brian Monahan | Head of Vertical Strategy at Pinterest – the inspiration-collecting site that has elevated the act of ‘pin-ing’ into an enterprise valued in the billions.
Linda Boff | CMO at GE – serving industries in the medical, automotive and financial spaces, the multinational corporation can be called ‘innovation incarnate’ for all of the novelty it’s brought into the world.
Eric Liedtke | Executive Board Member at adidas – more than simply a household name, the sportswear manufacturer has become a lifestyle for many a mobile consumer.
Derek McCarty | VP of Marketing at hmbldt – a health and wellness brand delivering bliss and calm through cannabis-based solutions.
Aaron Harvey | Co-Founder and Executive Creative Director at Ready Set Rocket – a digital agency that specializes in connecting consumers and brands by means of innovative and award-winning multi-channel experiences.
Adam Tishman | Co-Founder of Helix Sleep – a direct-to-consumer company using an algorithm to personalize mattresses to consumers’ sleep styles and body types.
Tim Brown | Co-Founder of Allbirds – makers of the ‘world’s most comfortable shoe.’
Katrina Lake | CEO and Founder of Stitch Fix – the personal style service for women and gents that evolves alongside its users.
(Below is the second part of a four-part editorial series).
If the consumer becomes the consumer cycle, what shifts will brands undergo as a result? How will they remain relevant? Will their power and influence be reduced or simply repositioned? Where do we see this happening already?
Derek McCarty | VP of Marketing at hmbldt
“It’ll shift from an organization/ecosystem that makes decisions for the masses and serves consumers, to a platform that empowers them to increasingly take action into their own hands. The systems need to be oriented in a way that is less hierarchical/top-down to a more organic structure that educates and empowers the consumer.
I think Apple at its height is a great example of this—they focused on unleashing and empowering creativity and created a suite of tools to make that happen. More recently they’ve started to slip as they’ve started orienting around more ‘sizzle’ in their products which ultimately impedes their commitment to their purpose.
Everlane is another good example.”
Brian Monahan | Head of Vertical Strategy at Pinterest
“To foster brand loyalty, brands must be inspirational, useful and helpful to the consumer; they are only going to invest in brands that provide value in return. On Pinterest, people respond best to the retailers and brands that inspire, inform and help them take action on things that are meaningful to their everyday lives.
For example, retailers used to expect the consumer to walk into their store and experience them in the way the retailer controlled (e.g., department store beauty counter provides free samples and turns you into a lifetime customer). Today, retailers are meeting consumers in-store, online, across digital platforms and devices.
Retailers must find the places where consumers are in the right mindframe. Places that allow brands to inspire them within the context of why they are there, and empower them with the information they need to take action on that inspiration.”
Linda Boff | CMO at GE
“Brands will be forced to shift from a content-centric approach to an audience-centric one. We need to know our target audiences intimately and have a direct connection to them—what’s important to them? What do they spend their days thinking about? What gets them excited? What do they identify with?
Second, it won’t be enough to simply make great content and amplify it. Going forward, we’re looking at an always-on test and iterate model—think laboratory over megaphone. In real time, brands will need to put things out in the world, see reaction, learn, iterate and repeat. Content will become a source of constant R&D.
It’s about moving from being a brand to being a platform, and trying a human connection that audiences relate to and can connect with directly. I’m personally paying a ton of attention to the state of newsletter products that are super-serving their audiences with a POV: theSkimm, The Information, Product Hunt, Axios AM are all great examples. Each one is cultivating a passionate community without intermediaries, and it’s impressive.”
Aaron Harvey | Co-Founder and Executive Creative Director at Ready Set Rocket
“We’re very interested in the concept of invisible design. While it might be a hard pill for advertisers to swallow, it’s a business imperative. Polar, a European connected fitness company, integrated its web services with MyFitnessPal, which is owned by Under Armour. And while the two companies have competitive goals in the connected fitness space, this investment in ‘invisible design’ allowed Polar’s products to integrate seamlessly into a community of over 75mm users.
The value of being a ‘background actor’ can’t be overstated. Today, brands must create everyday value for everyday people in everyday situations. To do so, they must balance emotion and utility, storytelling and function. Under Armour is proving the model. They are opening our hearts with campaigns featuring Misty Copeland, while rolling out connected sleepwear products that help us improve our sleep.”
Eric Liedtke | Executive Board Member at adidas
“In today’s connected world consumers demand added value from brands and it’s no longer only about what you make but increasingly about what you stand for. Consumers look at brands for guidance and encouragement. We use adidas as a platform to drive change in our consumers’ game, life and world through the power of sport because we believe brands and the business community at large have a responsibility to challenge the status quo. Through our partnership with Parley for the Oceans adidas has stopped the industry’s waiting game, starting a material revolution by challenging the use of virgin plastic, starting with our own industry. Within only 1 year we’ve created an entirely new supply chain to stop plastic pollution of the oceans by finding a way to take plastic out of the ocean and turn it into jerseys and running shoes. In 2017 you will see a minimum of 1 million pairs of adidas shoes made from Parley Ocean Plastic, which is roughly the equivalent to at least 11 million bottles retrieved from coastal areas by the Parley Global Clean-up Network. This is only the beginning but we’re working on sustainable solutions and our efforts resonate deeply with our consumers who value how we take a stand and lead change.”
Katrina Lake | CEO and Founder at Stitch Fix
“Building strong and direct relationships with the customer is going to be required for brands to succeed. I think we will see brands evolve to speak to customers on a 1:1 basis and aspire to resonate at a deeper, more personal level with its customers.
Building long-term and deeply personal relationships with our clients is exactly the core of our business at Stitch Fix. The relationships that our stylists build help us to gain a deep understanding of our clients so that we can deliver on helping clients look, feel and be their best selves.”
Tim Brown | Co-Founder of Allbirds
“Honest communication from business to consumer has become an absolute necessity. With increased access to information, companies, especially large ones, can no longer afford to cover anything up with shiny, embellished, branding that amplifies the best parts of the company and hides unpleasant truths.
Given this trend, it’s easy to see how it could swell into something like the consumer cycle, where branding is no longer a carefully curated thesis about a company. Rather, all of the information about each segment of the company is available to the consumer, and they determine what the company’s overarching message is.
The consumers of 2017 are curious, but fickle. As a result, companies will need to run their business practices with the assumption that at any moment, any facet of their business could affect their public brand. There are a few places where we’re seeing this happen already.
Trusted bloggers with loyal followings have huge sway in a reader’s purchases. Crowdsourced ventures lay entirely in the hands of their consumer backers: Allbirds, itself, might not exist had it not been for our initial Kickstarter, then called 3 Over 7.”
Adam Tishman | Co-Founder at Helix Sleep
“It’s going to all be about how brands maintain and nurture their existing relationships with consumers. People always talk about consumer cycles and customer funnels which are really purchasing constructs we create to try and put a framework in place. But those processes do not replace general brand equity—that feeling of love, admiration, or trust that is created through various channels of interaction and experiences. Empowered consumers have always been part of this process—through reviews, word of mouth, referrals—and will continue to increase in importance.”
The PSFK 2020 Forecast strategizes how brands and organizations can remain relevant as the power of choice grows in the hands of the individual. By analyzing important shifts over the past year, PSFK’s research team has studied how consumers are increasingly tailoring information and products to their own needs. The full report is designed as a roadmap for brands, retailers and organizations to reestablish themselves as platforms for guidance and encouragement. Download the full report here, and learn more about PSFK’s Intelligence Platform.
Note: If you would like to participate in a coming PSFK Editorial Roundtable, please contact us here.