Jonathan Salem Baskin
You know the drill: The first particularly buzz-worthy idea will appear in the title of a business book that you'll read about in a link that your agency sends over (well, you'll scan it briefly before forwarding it to somebody on your team). While you're still focused on trying to make last year's cutting-edge ideas work, the management consultants will have already pitched your fellow C-suiters on the buzz-worthy idea, and you'll get asked about how you're going to implement it before you get to explore the contents of your tote bag at the post-holiday management off-site. So the time to prepare is now.
It won't help that the latest marketing trends resemble Rube Goldberg machines. When did reaching consumers get as complicated as those nutty schemes rigged up by arch enemies to kill James Bond or Batman? Nothing is simple or intuitive anymore, and it's a fair bet that next year's entries will have to top this year's, which will be no small accomplishment. You might want to start thinking about how to reallocate your budgets in light of these possible innovations:
Opt-Out Selling. The logical next extension of the economic philosophy of "free" means you send products to people, then keep sending stuff until they pay you to leave them alone. This goes beyond reworking the sales funnel by simply crushing it; awareness, interest, sampling, comparison and purchase are all combined into a single distribution strategy.
Sleep Shopping. Why be content with manipulating conscious minds when you can put branding into people's dreams? "Inception" meets HSN in this new technique to stop chasing eyeballs and get behind the eyelids of sleep-walking consumers, including dream product placement opportunities (think running gear and things that float) and inclusion in recurring dreams (requires a platform upgrade).
Branded Conspiracies. It's easier for consumers to explain the world through the bold swathes of conspiracy theories than with any necessarily complicated but real explanations, so why not use their preferences to sell stuff? Skip facts: Your toothpaste is a plot to democratize Antarctica. Your competitor employs Martians in Area 51 factories.
DIY Everything. 2011 will see the "makers" phenomenon mainstreamed by linking it to outsourced manufacturing as companies start shipping every product as a set of parts or ingredients. Imagine the joy of receiving a box of iPad components, or the satisfaction of assembling the bolts of cloth and thread required for a a dress or suit? It's like buying ready-made homemade dinners, only for the rest of your stuff.
MirrorCasting. Imagine a set of technology tools that allows people to record blog comments, chat posts and video clips about themselves, and then applies proprietary algorithms to automatically and randomly change the content and play it back to them ... so consumers can spend all of their time interacting with themselves! Already rumored to be in talks for apps on Facebook (JustMyFace) and Twitter (I'mATwit).
Copyrighted Nouns. It's time to brand the components of all that trans-creative that's appearing all over the place, so the FCC is rumored to be preparing to sell licenses for nouns and verbs. Get ready for the land grab for words that best describe your brands. A side benefit will be that your competitors won't be able to use the same verbiage as you, so no more multiple claims of "new" or "easy-to-use."
Responsible Exploitation. Sometimes called CSR on steroids, RE embraces the incongruity inherent in symbolic acts of charity to let brands embrace their innermost shortcomings: Fast-food brands will open weight-loss storefronts; oil companies will operate nature centers; athletic-shoe brands will build union halls. Why fight PR battles when you can make an issue so convoluted that it's impossible to talk about?
EsperantoTweets. One of the year's oddest mergers will be between Twitter and Esperanto, the world's first totally synthetic language; together, they will craft a new level of incomprehensible words, abbreviations and symbols for users of the service. This will raise its cachet immensely and make it likely that other services will follow its lead. Smart marketers will be prepared to translate into Klingon and Pig Latin as well.
Your Gas. The explosion in mobile apps will yield tools that can sense your bodily functions and automatically tee up marketing messages (nearby restaurants, nearby restrooms), thereby obviating the need for pitching consumers' minds or hearts. Stomachs and colons are far less discerning, and the likelihood of said internal organs posting negative online comments is absolutely zero.
Of course, the other buzz-worthy trend we could see in 2011 would be a return to the traditional principles of marketing and branding: Building operational excellence and functional differentiation into products and the companies behind them, then taking credible and reliable messages to the marketplace so consumers can truly understand, enjoy and value the benefits provided to them. We might just decide that embracing more extreme and wacky theories with such tenuous grounding in reality isn't a smart thing for CMOs to do.
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