by: Jonathan Salem Baskin

Ok, you probably know by now that I'm no Nostradamus.

I'm less interested in making predictions of what will be, but rather forecasting issues that might be relevant to us, whether as trends impacting business...or potential areas of experimentation and exploration that could prompt said trends.

I don't believe in trends happening independent of our initiative. We human beings are active (and basically free) agents in inventing the future.

As such, I think the most meaningful trend we could see in 2008 will be the shift from talking -- saying, presenting, or otherwise communicating words, images, and sounds about brands -- to doing things that evidence brands instead.

It's the big, ugly, complicated, undefined secret that has been haunting the ad and marketing world for the past few years:

  • Branding doesn't work the way thought it did, or hoped it would
  • People just don't make decisions the way they used to; or, more precisely, they make them the ways they always did, only now enabled and amplified by technology
  • Brands were a mass-media contrivance to try and leap-frog past all of those messy steps that people relied on for making decisions: research, conversation, affirmation, support, and a host of other behaviors that are all but hard-wired into our consciousness
  • With the coming of the Internet and all of its cultural implications, those steps are now again relevant. Branding isn’t something consumers consume, its the function of that very consumption

2007 saw another year of valiant efforts at making the old approach to brands work in this new media world. Lots of it was beautiful, funny, inventive, and very financially rewarding to the people who came up with it. We kept talking about a bold new 21st Century future of media, even though the behaviors related to those experiences had much more in common with how people used to shop in the 14th Century.

No wonder it didn't all that often move the dial on sales.

At best, it briefly breathed life (if not simply hope) into all of the job descriptions, business plans, and other conventions that depend on a belief in traditional branding theology. 

If consumers have said one thing clearly and consistently, it's that actions speak louder than words. Every mechanism of the new media world -- Internet search, online communities, video gaming -- relies on actual behaviors, and not on words or ideas alone. The other observations I've made this week affirm this conclusion.

We can no longer declare brands like we did briefly last Century. We have returned to a world wherein brands are something businesses and consumers do. And the time we waste debating or fooling around with the abstractions of traditional branding (images, creative blather, etc.) is time taken away from engaging in the real facts and experiences that lead to real sales.

2008 might witness the start of a new approach. Or a return to the principles that drove businesses through most of history, save for the brief mass-media interlude of the last Century.

We used the term revolution like other throw-away concepts (anybody had enough of innovation yet?), but the original use in political experience was to describe the overthrow of King James II of England and his program of radical change back in 1688. The revolution wasn't as much about change as it was the return to an earlier point, like a celestial body completing an orbit.

2008 may be the first year we look at branding in the new media world more like a selling challenge in an older world. 

Or as the opportunity to reunite marketing with the real world.

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