PSFK 2017 Speaker Interview: How Brands Need To Stay Discontent To Thrive
Piers Fawkes interviewed trend curator Rohit Bhargava, who's speaking at our PSFK 2017 conference, on his experience in discovering new trends and opportunities.
Trends are difficult to foresee because consumers are constantly changing their preferences with time. However, there are still ways to understand customers, whether it is obvious or not. As technology continues to advance, there are precise methods that can help determine what customers are looking for. Brands can utilize better data to respond to this and create a loyal following. Another important emphasis is on brand authenticity. Younger generations want brands to be more honest, transparent and give back to the community. These are just some of the ways the marketplace is changing.
After years of surveying the marketplace, Rohit Bhargava has managed to come up with some significant clues to aid brands in noticing relevant trends and implementing them into marketing solutions. He strongly advocates for strategic thinking and taking the time to understand multiple perspectives to build a better business.
We are excited to host Rohit Bhargava at the PSFK 2017 conference on May 19, who is known for is relevant insights on branding and marketing.
Can you could just start by sharing about what you plan to talk about at this year’s conference?
I would like to share what it takes to notice the small details that most of the time we’re used to ignoring.
Perhaps we can get better at predicting the future– at seeing trends that are going to take shape in the world. The end result is seeing the details that most people don’t see and we put the pieces together.
Are there any techniques or tricks that you think are particularly useful for seeing things that other people may not find to be obvious?
Yeah, The positioning, I talk about a lot of things that are not obvious. You’re asking, “How do people do that? What do they actually do in order to make that happen?”
I often tell people to spend time buying and reading magazines that are not targeted to them. If you do that, you’ll start to consume a media that’s outside of your usual scope and you’ll start to understand and empathize with people who aren’t like you. You’ll get a deeper variety of knowledge, which will then allow you to see things that most people around you don’t see.
Maybe, it feels especially relevant after the election last year.
Yes, completely. I remember there was a news story two weeks ago about Facebook sharing more insights into their algorithm. One of their offerings are those new buttons beyond the Like button, which helps us understand people in a more detailed manner.
There is speculation that if you’re a person that tends to click on, for example, the ‘Angry’ button, the Facebook algorithm will see that and think that that’s what you want. Then it’ll serve you more articles that are likely to make you click on the Angry button even more. They’re making you angrier.
To that end, what would you say are some of the biggest marketing trends that you’re seeing at the moment?
Every December, I produce a trend report in a book that features 15 trend predictions for the coming year. The book that I published most recently, Non Obvious, predicted 15 trends that will change business this year. I’ve got a bunch of different trends in the report. If it’s useful for you, I’m happy to share one or two of them.
Actually, there was one that I was particularly interested in. You mentioned one called passive loyalty, which is switching from one brand to another. Maybe you could expand on that?
Sure. There’s a big misconception that certain customers are loyal, when they are actually only loyal out of convenience, or habit, or price. A lot of organizations get it wrong.
As soon as you count that person as a loyal customer, you miss the boat on rethinking how you need to engage them, because you think they’re already loyal. The first thing I think we have to do is get better at segmenting our customers, because a lot less of them are loyal than you think.
Brands who manage to keep themselves innovative have this idea that they need to do more to keep these customers, because just doing what they’re doing is not enough. We have to be discontent and we have to keep our discontent.
Another trend these days, especially among younger people, Millennials and Generation Z, is the whole idea of brand authenticity– brands standing for something greater than just selling a product. I just wanted to get your thoughts on brands cultivating authentic relationships with their audiences.
That’s definitely been a theme on many levels. One is this idea of authenticity and how we relate to people we see as authentic, even if their authentic self is something that we find disgusting or repulsive in some way.
Reality television is kind of based on that. It’s based on this idea that you will watch someone being their authentic self, even if their authentic self is an asshole, because it’s watchable.
That’s a pivotal level of authenticity there. Sometimes we tend to equate authenticity with always being something good, when the reality is that authenticity is actually just about being who you are and that doesn’t always mean it’s good. Regardless, people pay attention to authenticity.
Another level of this is our desire as consumers to feel like there’s a bigger picture and that these companies that we purchase from are making a better, bigger impact in the world.
It’s no longer enough to have a lemonade stand that makes money. You have to have a lemonade stand that makes money and is using organically, ethically sourced lemons, and is saving the world. Now, I think this idea of the Moonshot Entrepreneurs is there has to be a mission behind it– “What’s the big purpose?”.
You also have a book coming out that deals with advice in an interesting way. Could you talk about that a bit?
The book is called, Always Eat Left Handed and it’s all about the bad advice that we get whether we’re a Millennial or not, and how to leave that bad advice behind and actually think about your career in a different perspective. The book is written based on a lot of my experiences working in the corporate brand advertising world the past 15 years and then starting a couple companies.
How do you leave the bad advice behind? I feel like we’re always bombarded with people wanting to give us advice one way or the other.
The format of that book is that there’s 15 small quirky tips shared alongside the story. For example, “procrastinate more” is one of them, because learning how to strategically do things is an under-appreciated skill.
Or “be a cross-dresser” is another one. [laughs] When you are a crossdresser, you have empathy for other people who are not like you, because you’re literally wearing their clothes. Not that you have to actually be a crossdresser. The point is, learn to appreciate somebody who’s not like you.
Finally, the theme of this year’s conference is innovation with purpose, so I’m curious about how you find purpose in the work that you do every day?
I find purpose in a couple of different ways. I’m lucky that I’m the sort of entrepreneur that has a couple of different businesses. I have a speaking and advisory business where I help brands to do strategic thinking and innovation. I work for people and brands that make and do amazing things. I actively choose not to work for people that I feel are evil. That gives me some purpose because I’m in a position now, after having spent most of my career working for someone else, where I can choose what I work on and what I don’t. I find some purpose in that.
I also own a book publishing company. I find purpose in the idea of being able to bring work to really talented people and help them to stay employed and do what they’re great at. I believe I also help powerful ideas get out into the world, because that’s what publishers should do, not help people who have bad ideas get them out.
Rohit Bhargava is a trend curator, founder of the Influential Marketing Group, and an expert in helping brands and leaders be more influential. He is the author of five bestselling books on topics as wide ranging as the future of healthcare, building a brand with personality, and why leaders never eat cauliflower. Rohit has advised hundreds of global brands and is a Professor of Marketing at Georgetown University.