When I think about the future of marketing, I have to confess that a lot of my inspiration comes more from the world of start-ups and less and less from the world of industry. When I see dynamic start-ups working in digital, social, mobile and data, I see reinvention that will become increasingly commonplace – I see entrepreneurs that are reshaping the way we work.
To reinvent, you must disrupt the status quo, and the unfortunate thing about the marketing machine – of which many of us are a part – is that we often get caught up in the status quo. Our processes and systems, which we have expertly honed over the years in the job, have defined this era of marketing, yet it is quickly changing.
To truly embrace the wave of the future, we must look to the methods that are springing up from those who are unencumbered by the old models, from those not tied to any frame of reference but their own. This is where reinvention will come from. This is where we must set our sights.
The marketing of tomorrow will be driven by investment in makers – investment in the people and companies that are reshaping our industry. It is imperative that we support these entrepreneurs and visionaries, because they are able to do things we are not.
First and foremost, they have nothing to lose. They are not tied to the old ways of operating, and thus they are free to design the best way of doing things for this moment in time.
Hand-in-hand with this is their ability to experiment, rapidly prototyping their way to the best solution. They are digital natives and they will help us navigate a world where the lines between digital experiences and everyday life become ever more blurred.
Then there is the proximity of start-ups to people. They shape solutions as much for themselves as they do for ‘consumers’. They are able to put themselves in the shoes of others. They craft offerings many-to-many. They are able to leverage the knowledge of others with an open-source mindset that larger entities want to embrace but don’t quite know how. The sense of ownership is far less individualistic and much more collaborative.
Our current model and frame of reference is under disruptive change from the new kids on the block. We can lament this or we can embrace and shape it.
Facebook, Twitter and Google have changed our industry more profoundly over the past decade than any company before them. As an industry, it took us a while to recognise the change – let’s hope we can recognise it next time.
As our industry prepares once again to gather at Cannes, there is an immediate opportunity to embrace and engage with the underdogs of today – those that may have a big impact on tomorrow. Think more Silicon Beach, less desert island.
Let’s partner early, let’s reshape the industry together with these visionary start-ups. It is up to all of us – brands and agency partners alike – to revolutionise marketing alongside the mavericks.
At Unilever, we hope to do just that with The Unilever Foundry. It provides three key engagement opportunities for innovative digital marketing start-ups. They can pilot their technology with us; receive mentorship from our marketers; and apply for investment from Unilever Ventures. Through a pitch-to-pilot process, we hope to identify the next companies that can grow to become our global strategic partners. While The Unilever Foundry is new, our successful investment in start-ups is not; BrainJuicer, Brandtone and Percolate are three other examples of our work in this area.
Through strategies like these, the marketing powerhouses of today can remain close to the experimental world of marketing and branding that will create the global successes of tomorrow, reshaping the future of our industry in the process.