How to Bring Brands Back to Life

If you’re looking for provocative but informed predictions on the future of marketing, look no further than Scott Galloway.

You might find him featured on your favorite marketing podcast, or sitting in a panel at conferences from Cannes to Advertising Week. The man is everywhere. Earlier this summer, he made headlines by predicting that COVID-19 would completely end the university model as we know it. More recently, he’s been shouting a particularly stark message from his pulpit in the town square: the end of brands is nigh.

Scott Galloway is a New York Times bestselling author and professor of marketing at New York University’s Stern School of Business, where he teaches brand strategy and digital marketing. Today, he has been warning CMOs that we are entering a “post-brand era,” where massive tech corporations and artificial intelligence make branding and advertising redundant — a thing of the past.

While this message might come as an unwelcome surprise to marketers, it is worth carefully considering what Galloway is trying to say, and to recognize that his prediction is a warning for a future that might still be avoided. In a world where tech giants gobble up small and mid-size businesses, and gain more market share across industries and services, there is only one weapon in the arsenal of companies today: creative, authentic, and human advertising that can’t be outdone by predictive algorithms or invasive data practices.

The Challenge

According to Galloway in a recent podcast interview, we are entering a period where consumer choices are dictated not by brand perception and appeal, but by taste-making algorithms. Furthermore, Galloway claims these algorithms will be driven by Amazon Prime and Netflix-type business models — where consumers subscribe to “bundles” that give them access to products from a curated set of brands, either owned by a tech giant or created through partnerships. “Your enemy is not your competitor, it’s Silicon Valley,” he says.

A company like Nike, Galloway predicts, could be poised to become a massive subscription-based and digitally-enabled service offering all sorts of athletic goods and services from partners and subsidiaries — shipping you the latest Lululemon yoga pants to try in a curated box, while also referring you to Nike-approved podiatrists if your health app detects a posture problem. The consumer world would distill into a small number of networks led by major brands — mostly tech brands — which curate all your experiences by gathering oceans of personal data from your devices.

“Brand building will either go away, or it must evolve completely in the face of this new challenge,” says Galloway. “We have mistaken choice for a good thing, it’s like Sheena Iyengar, professor at Columbia, says: it’s not that we want more choice, we want to be more confident in the choices we make.”Will algorithms and subscriptions make us more confident in our choices? Or will they threaten our privacy and limit our options? For brands to prove their worth today, they must demonstrate that they can meet consumers better than algorithms or subscriptions through authenticity and human ingenuity.

The Solution

What will a successful evolution of brands look like? It will mean doubling down on the most memorable aspects of modern marketing campaigns: graphic design that amplifies product, creative direction that drives the message home, public relations that generates interest and awareness. It will mean adapting to future business models, collaborating with competitors and partners to create value packages that can remain competitive in the face of disruption.

In the post-pandemic, ultra-digital age, brands will have to come back to life through creativity, CSR, and humanity in order to outpace the algorithm’s ability to connect people to products. They must connect with the consumer and provide them with the security of knowing they’ve made the right — most familiar, most honest, and most authentic — choice.

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