A Question for 2011: Are you Animal, Mineral or Vegetable?

Blimey, 2010 was another year of change on the macro scale wasn’t it? The Euro got the flu, the internet started to #influenceourculture, and the “Great Recession – the Aftermath” landed on our breakfast tables in the form of political and social upheaval.

The state du jour is ‘shell-shocked’, so using the tour de force that is ‘the list of predictions for the coming year’ I want share with you a few thoughts I’ve had about 2011.

Are you game? Good.
Change puts the fear of God into everyone. No matter how many times people hear ‘change is good’ some part of our lizard brain still fears it.  It stands to reason, it is pretty difficult understand what you don’t know, and therefore change appears complicated when it happens. Which is why, as marketers, we must take our heads out of the clouds and learn to live in the now, in the real world, over 2011.

What is ‘living in the now?’
It’s enjoying life while keeping an eye on how these big changes affect us. And ‘the now’ way of understanding the world is through our networks. Think about this for a moment, because it’s easy to dismiss. My great grandfather read the Times to help him, my grandfather the radio and my father’s generation was brought up with the TV in the corner (as was I) which reported on the big events of the day. But now we trust our networks for news, culture and who’s won the X Factor.  OK, this is not big news, but I believe the implications of this shift are yet to be fully explored.

Emotional Value and Networks
Brands are built on emotional value. With this in mind, networks have certain characteristics that are interesting for brands. These are the actors within a given network, and the links between these actors. Let’s take links first, because they’re easy.

A link can be characterised by its strength. A strong link is, yes strong, and a weak link is, well, weak. An actor, or person, can maintain only a couple of strong links because of the big commitment needed to do so. Weak links conversely are more numerous. But the really interesting part is the link actors in your network create between you and yet uncovered networks.

Think about your network of friends, family and colleagues. Who do you go to for advice on, for example, parenting? Someone who is a parent perhaps? I bet so, but why? For two key reasons: they can give you advice from their own experience, but also draw on the experience of their network of other parents. So the value for you is not so much that they have children, but that they can draw on the experiences of lots of other parents you don’t know. Interesting eh?

Here’s the clever thing brands should be doing over 2011
Share your network with your customers and stakeholders so they value you as their umbilical link to your market. Able & Cole, the UK organic delivery company, do this brilliantly, without relying on technology. The confusion around organic food movement is well documented (food miles anyone?). To counter this they introduce their network of suppliers (‘farmers’ to you and me) through short printed interviews that appear in your weekly boxes, they share recipes by chefs they admire and they hold events for charities they support.

The net effect is that you don’t need to question your worldview of organic food every time there’s an article in the papers about mad cows/beans flown in from Kenya/GM foods or whatnot. We live in a complex world, but Able and Cole make it that little bit simpler. And today, in the ‘now’, that’s a strong reason to be loyal.

The moral of the story? Know your network – is it animal, mineral or vegetable? If there’s no clear value in it for your customers and stakeholders then you’ve some work to do enhancing its value over 2011.


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