Clarity from Cannes: The Brand “Management” Era is over

Clarity from Cannes: The Brand “Management” Era is over

Away from the spotlight of big award ceremonies, inspiring stories were shared by the founders and leaders of today’s fastest-growing consumer brands. A Liberian unable to return home due to civil war (Sundial, Richelieu Dennis @Sundialbrands), an Italian who learned the importance of farming while working menial winery jobs (Grom, Guido Martinetti @guidomartinetti), a salon spa worker (Dermalogica, Jane Wurwand @Dermalogicajane), and former VC (Glossier President & COO Henry Davis, @Glossier).

In terms of business value creation and consumer demand growth, these brands and hundreds like them across categories are on fire. How much growth and why has been well researched and articulated the past few years. How fundamentally legacy brands need to pivot from today’s approach is what leapt out of a week of contrasts between insurgents and the mega brands who have dominated Cannes for decades.

Sundial fills a big gap in personal care: products specifically designed for women of color, accessible in mainstream retail. Equally important to the product benefit is Sundials’ DNA-level commitment to creating opportunities for more women of color to rise up the economic ladder. True community building beyond cause marketing.

Glossier calls its audience “stakeholders” instead of “consumers.” That mindset permeates everything. Stakeholders contribute 1,000 medicine cabinet photos per week. Priceless input on everything from gaps in the market to competitive sentiment to product reviews. In the same vein as Red Bull, Glossier is scaling its direct connections, becoming less dependent on ad-supported media. Into the Gloss is already one of the leading beauty blogs, and it doesn’t just shill Glossier stuff.

Grom was built farm-up rather than brand-back. Everything starts with strong, empathetic grower relationships and quality of ingredients. The founder travels the world to build and nurture connections with Grom’s supply chain. That connection manifests through product and marketing, but it’s deeper than that.

Dermalogica created an Institute to help salons build their business and achieve their personal best. Generosity and a business model that builds an advocacy community with influence far beyond an ad campaign.

We’ve heard similar stories for years from insurgents. And legacy brands are adapting. Purpose-driven marketing, acquisitions, increased digital investments, and nascent steps into ecommerce are all good steps. Apple’s  “Today at Apple” – scaled already to 16,000 events across all 500+ stores per week – is transformational. Nike, Ikea and others are moving much more intentionally to experiences rather than ads. Yet most brands are just as dependent on media to brand-build as ever, and with some exceptions aren’t testing new methods fast enough. Purpose statements supported by even very good cause marketing won’t actually create the full transformation required.

Our Hypothesis: The Brand “Management” era is over. Winners are crusading on behalf of consumer pain points, needs, frustrations and desires at a  faster pace and with more genuine commitment than big brands. By hitting the road, joining sampling events, poring over blog comments and studying search and instagram feeds, they listen, respond, and learn in real time. There isn’t a big parallel universe of focus groups and research studies. Marketing is always on and iterating – “research” and “marketing” become one. The scale of direct exchanges and interactions grow over time, which creates a true network effect – and reduces the need to generate awareness through paid media. Premium pricing is more possible because the connection is real, and the exchange genuine and satisfying.

If your brand doesn’t come across as “you get me” and feels “managed” to your audiences, it’s going to wither. If too much of a brand budget is swallowed by retailer and media chain costs, consumers may see some ads but won’t feel the passion. If the brand leader rotates every 2 or 3 years, and it’s voice is primarily an “ad” voice, it has almost no chance to feel like human passion and understanding are actually behind it. It’s not a living founder consumers need – but this generation does need to feel your commitment to them personally and to a greater good.

“Brand management” has deep roots and has created massive value for decades. The playbook still has plenty of useful chapters, but there’s a new edition that’s about making noticeably better products that makes lives a little better, learning and responding directly with stakeholders, and giving back.

That’s the entry we all need to write if Cannes is going to remain relevant a decade from now. The book is in need of a rewrite, and many entrepreneurs already have begun to make edits, resulting in some amazingly positive energy and business successes.

Clarity from Cannes #2: The big questions to drive needed change
Clarity from Cannes #3: Test & Learn powers the big pivot – getting money out of where it isn’t valued and into where it is