The chart above displays a shift in how human beings experience transactions, plotted over a period of time since the Industrial Revolution. With the rise of one-way mass messaging it’s no surprise that personal interaction and one-to-one dialogue took a nose dive while a faceless (and relatively powerless) consumer was encouraged by corporate sales strategies. Nor is it surprising that we’re returning to a period of high accountability and high expectations with the advent of the internet and more recently Social Media. Regardless of the size of the customer base, brands are now and will continue to be held accountable for what they actually do.
One way of defining culture is to imagine all the different ways that people around the world encode, classify and communicate experience. This includes the brand experiences that customers seek, obtain and remember no less than those related to fine art, literature or architecture. All these elements are integrated in whole experiences of the environment that develop from historical roots and flower through successive generations in that rich variety of manifestations we call “culture”.
Brands have to be considered in a cultural context. Many brands are built on long-standing cultural foundations that shape the recognition and communication of value in ways that obliquely influence our behavior just as often as they’re entirely overlooked. And the best brands contribute to the cultures in which they take root, extending outwards from the conceptual domains of commerce or politics to touch every aspect of contemporary life.
Of course brands that take culture into account – that build on it and contribute to it – enjoy quantifiable successes. But they also act as agents of qualitative transformation, helping to restore consumers to the status of customers, replacing frustration with delight and reducing uncertainty in the face of a marked environment full of claims that cannot always be trusted. Irony in advertising is a symptom, not a trend.
Both symptoms and trends are often difficult to recognize unless we take the trouble to observe changes over time, taking into account things like developments in technology or the ways that people forge communication networks with the tools available to them. In the face of technological advances and continuing innovation that ease the sharing of information it’s critical to recognize that brands will be held increasingly accountable not only for what they say, but more importantly for what they do – and why they do it.