Recently, I happened by Disney World. My impression of the place was somewhat different from that of my last visit some years ago. The parking lots were empty; the entrance was eerily deserted. Even the once-lengthy queues for attractions were only a few minutes’ wait.
What was wrong? Was there something special about the day that prevented the world’s kids and parents from converging on the place in their usual fashion?
This apparent abandonment is not suffered by Disney World alone. Coca-Cola reduced its four-story merchandising store in Las Vegas to two floors. The move seems a metaphor for the crisis the iconic company currently faces. McDonald’s, too, is experiencing the trend: a steady reduction in visitor numbers matched by a steady reduction in share price.
Many reasons for the phenomenon spring to mind. We’re heading into an era in which permanent branding strategies fail to relevantly address an ever-changing world with ever-changing demands.
What we have on our hands is the “Instant Generation,” a generation not equipped with patience, supremely brand literate, and expecting quality in every detail as a firm right.
Coca-Cola, Disney, and McDonald’s have been around for ages. This blessing may also be a curse. These great companies, household names, were born in a generation to which technological interactivity, instantaneous communication, and the rapid gratification of shifting desires were matters of science fiction. Like the machinery that accompanied everyday life a few decades ago, the marketing machines that support these companies were, and remain, huge. Such massive infrastructure elements do not move easily, nor did they need to in the days when consumer behavior was, by contemporary standards, steady, stalwart, and dependable.
Those attitudes and behaviors changed. They’re now driven by individual vicissitudes, changeability made possible by a vast array of consumer options, a deep knowledge of these options, and the communication and means necessary to acquire them.
This is the landscape of the “Me Selling Proposition” (MSP) generation. The preceding consumer generation was the “Unique Selling Proposition” generation (USP), to which brands were presented based on their unique differences. Before that, in the “Emotional Selling Proposition” (ESP) generation, emotional drive controlled consumer selection. This followed the “Organization Selling Proposition” (OSP) generation, for which an organization’s values were the chief means of driving consumer choice. Pioneering the lot was the “Brand Selling Proposition” (BSP) generation, for whom brands became so cultish, choices were made on the basis of brand identity rather than product relevance.
What about MSP? It’s about the consumer, not the corporation, controlling the brand. “Me” is the consumer. I change the brand, I form the brand, and I (almost) own the brand. I feel ownership of it. I don’t feel ownership visiting a Disney theme park or a Coca-Cola merchandising emporium. It’s an impressive phenomenon, and not one you can necessarily build yourself.
Companies for which interactivity is a foundation are equipped to handle the enormous demands of consumer feedback from the MSP generation. This feedback informs their brands’ development and decisions. The great old companies are accustomed to working the other way around: developing brands, then expecting consumers to adapt to them and accept them.
This phenomenon radically impacts the way brands will develop in the future. Stay tuned. Next week, I’ll take you on a fascinating tour through some brands of our future.
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