Past, present, & future: Technology’s effect on brand building

Tue Sep 15 2020
Terilyn Walker

Humans crave communities the same way we have for thousands of years. But how we connect inside those communities has evolved. 

Before there was technology or any existence of brands, there was community and storytelling. Though it was limited to those within a nearby proximity, the very first instances of one-to-many communication were people forming tribes with a shared set of rituals that bonded each person to one another. As technology has progressed through the 20th century, we’ve moved from storytelling around fires to families gathering around the radio and television, to people browsing their phones solo and taking part in online activities, changing the way that humans interact with media and ultimately the way that brands form.

Thus brands were created inside of sterile conference rooms, tested with focus groups, and products were sold to us without involving the consumer in the process. The brands that were the most convincing, made the most noise, or had the most money behind them won. 

As a result, those brands that don’t treat consumers as partners are falling by the wayside. Now, we’re seeing more conscious brands, more brands that reflect the values of their customers, and more brands that care deeply about the world they’re creating and their place in it. They build community.  

A timeline of technology and its impact

Commercial radio hit the scene in the U.S. in 1920. While expensive, radio quickly became a staple in households across the country, many gathering around to listen to news and music. For the first time, stories could be shared far and wide. Then, the introduction of radio advertising created an entirely new way for brands to reach consumers. As a result, people’s desire for consumer products increased and the economic boom of the 1920s roared on. 

The introduction of the television had a similar impact on communities, but now people weren’t just listening, they were watching. In 1941, the first true television advertisement aired, a quick spot for Bulova Watch Co. At its start, most television advertisements talked to the masses, instead of niche audiences. This sparked what would later become a multibillion dollar industry.

Later came the birth of the internet and the rise of online communication technologies, like websites and email which completely reshaped how people engaged with one another. The advent of Big Tech — like Facebook and Google — has promised to connect us with everyone and everything. But instead of deepening our relationships, it has inundated us with countless channels, creators, and communities. We stopped telling stories together and started consuming advertisement after advertisement. Brands had a more direct line of communication to consumers. But the introduction of ad blockers became the direct response to consumers’ over saturation.

Peak social and the future of community

One of the largest shifts in the way we view and build community happened with the introduction of social media. Myspace, Facebook, and Instagram have allowed us to connect with people without limitation. Yet access to virtually anyone has caused us to lose touch of the power of one-to-one connections. People are beginning to retract inward in search of authentic bonds that form the core of community. 

Instead of flocking to brands that appeal to the masses, consumers now lean toward brands that speak to them individually. And rather than turning to brands directly, they look to those they know or trust, like friends, family, or influencers when making purchase decisions. For the first time, consumers have the tools to talk with brands and brands have direct access to consumer opinion. Yet many brands have not taken full advantage of this opportunity. 

The great brands of today build families of thousands of people around the world that engage in a shared passion for what they make. Amid the infinite competition for mindshare, these brands recognize the value of co-creating with their fans, nurturing, and engaging their audience at every step. As technology and consumers’ demand for authenticity increase, we predict high-performing brands will need to employ three community-focused tactics to keep up.

1. Create personalized experiences

As the barriers to entry for direct-to-consumer brands are declining, more and more brands are competing to capture the very limited attention of consumers. We’ve seen an influx of brands tailoring products, advertisements and communications to appeal to individual consumers. Brands such as Curology create “custom” formulations for each customer giving them a sense of involvement in the product development process. We predict this trend will only grow stronger as technology allows us to get deeper insights into the needs and values of customers.

2. Prioritize transparency

Consumers have begun to tune out overly “salesy” ads and can spot a photoshopped magazine spread from a mile away. Instead, they’re looking for brands whose values show through their actions and not just through their words. Companies are beginning to be more transparent about what goes on during the product production process and even involving customers in the process. Brands such as Lush Cosmetics, which dedicated their YouTube channel to behind-the-scenes look at how their products are made, have seen that customers respond better to seeing what a brand is truly up to rather than hearing it through overly produced advertisements. 

3. Engage in one-to-one communication

More than 1-in-2 consumers are more likely to shop at a retailer in a store or online that recognizes them by name. While that might not be possible for all business models, we see social media platforms addressing our desire for authentic connection. Forming tight-knit online communities, using features such as Instagram’s “close friends” on Facebook’s private groups, allows brands to speak directly to superfans in a way that feels natural. 

With all of this in mind, know that despite the changes in technology, one thing is the same. People don’t want to be connected to everyone. Humans want what humans have always wanted: a sense of belonging and connection to those with similar values, interests or characteristics. 

In order to keep up, brands must abandon the advertisement model of the 40s. Instead of communicating to the masses, brands should aim to foster authentic connections on an individual level. The next generation of successful brands are those who realize this. And brands that fail to align with their audiences on a deeper level are at risk for being left behind.