Teaching Brands New Tricks (Book Excerpt)

Steve Addis comes from the grand old world of consumer packaged goods—CPG. He started his career at Clorox, but along the way decided to take a journey into branding, and now he’s proud to call among his clients Lego, Intel and Smith & Hawken.  

“We’re overwhelmed” Addis says. “There’s simply too much choice and access to information to manage on our own. As a result of this new changing reality, we now live in a curator economy. Businesses that understand, embrace, and harness the power of the curator have the opportunity to tap into newfound loyalty.”

New brands, born in the past 10 years, have a curation equation baked in, Addis says. They don’t have to “get it”; they are it. They came into being after the power and influence of network TV began to wane, and they cut their teeth on social media. So brands like Google, sites like Etsy, or companies like Starbucks don’t have to reinvent themselves. But that may mean the large packaged-goods companies are on the long slow slide down the tubes. It’s simply difficult to teach an elephant to dance. Getting brands that are used to buying their way to the front of the line with media dollars to understand that being transparent and responsive wins the day is very hard.

The idea is that brands, both old and new, need to stop ignoring the emergence of consumer power and instead embrace it and accept it. They must channel it, and in turn change how they think about customers. Humans, formerly known as either consumers or couch potatoes, are now creators and thought leaders, passive no more. “Finding and cultivating consumer trust in this economy of abundance means businesses need to understand, embrace, and harness the shift to become a curator brand—a brand that engenders such a level of trust and advocacy that it rises to the level of a peer,” Addis says.

How Can Brands Adapt?

Chris Brogan is perhaps the best-known leader of the social media-conversational marketing revolution. He started early and created a human, funny, honest persona in his 11 years of sharing, blogging and eventually tweeting. He now has earned a powerful amount of attention, attention that he says equals cold hard cash.

“Attention is a currency, just like many others,” Brogan says. “We understand time and money as two interchangeable things. But attention is just as much something that needs to be arbitraged and disconnected from a 1:1 value. Said another way, attention costs me time and time is worth money, so attention by extension is worth money.”

And Brogan doesn’t just preach to the gospel of free content; he puts his content up for grabs. “I give away all the content on chrisbrogan.com for free, provided you don’t use it commercially, and provided you give me link backs to my original posts,” he says. “So, a curator who wants stuff about human business and social media and marketing can use my 11 or so years of experience for free as material they share with their customer base. How do I make money from that? People send me messages once a week (or more, when I’m lucky) that say, ‘I saw your post over on BlahBlahSite.com and I want to know if you’re free to speak on December 44th.’ Money, baby, and I didn’t even have to work for it.”

Brogan says that curation is an essential new tool in the marketer’s toolbox. “I think brands have a great chance to be a thought leader, should they choose that opportunity,” he says. In fact, having just bought his first fancy-pants car—a shiny new black Camaro SS—he suggests that he’s a prime target for marketers to engage him with curated content.
It turns out that the Web, and all the noise and funk it brings, is both a blessing and a curse for brands accustomed to the power and control of mass marketing. As potential customers read, link and “like” content on the Web, they’re leaving breadcrumbs for markers. That content has to come from somewhere. For PR gurus like Steve Rubel, put a few extra checkmarks in the blessings category.