Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

In an era of rapidly advancing technologies the challenge for each and every brand and business is to future-proof itself, to ensure it doesn’t go down in history as the next Nokia or Kodak.

Consumers have never been as discerning as they are now. The average US consumer is faced with around 10,000 advertisements a day, so to break through this clutter, brands need to be marketed differently, said Publicis Africa Group’s Verusha Maharaj at a recent Product of the Year Innovation masterclass held in Johannesburg. “In an age where you can skip or delete an ad, customer engagement is more important than ever before.”

It’s also an age of scepticism, with less trust in mass media and many consumers preferring to conduct their own research among their peers. There is no doubt, said Maharaj, that the Internet plays a huge role in a brand’s success and reputation. He warned, however, against an obsession with artificial intelligence (AI) and data analytics rather than focusing on customer engagement.

In order to future-proof themselves, Maharaj urged businesses to truly understand the consumer and the environment. Quoting Rupert Murdoch, he said big will not beat small anymore; it will be the fast beating the slow. “In this rapidly changing world, what are you actually doing to disrupt your market? Are you using AI to its full potential, bearing in mind that brands will in future be felt and not just communicated?”

As an example of a brand that has disrupted the way it markets itself, he cited Simba Sleep, a mattress manufacturer, which launched a campaign that encouraged potential buyers to try out physical mattresses at B&Bs and hotels close to them. The result is that the company needed less physical stores. It also launched a free 100-night trial.

Future-proofing your brand, said Maharaj, requires finding a unique way to position your offering. The world’s largest online bookseller, Amazon, has in the past few years, started opening physical stores coupled with coffee shops to leverage off its online presence. “Amazon understands that online still accounts for only 8% of sales,” he pointed out.

Look at ways where online and offline can meet, advised Maharaj. “The future of shopping is about retail outlets looking more like online outlets and vice versa. The retail store of the future is all about hi-tech convergence. Bricks and mortar stores aren’t disappearing but they are changing as the distinction between bricks and clicks dissolves.”

He urged brand owners wanting to future-proof their businesses to understand the challenges facing the consumer – and then to address those challenges. “It’s no longer enough to play it safe,” he said. “Start with tomorrow’s thinking today and you are well on your way to being future-proofed.”

The big take-out:

In order to future-proof themselves, brands need to think about what they are doing differently compared with a year ago; they need to be constantly innovating; they need to use technology to its maximum potential; they need to find new ways for brands to transact and connect with their consumers; and they need to ensure they are worthy, shareworthy, trustworthy and creative.