Behold, the Swarm

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(Printed in Aurora Magazine, July-August Issue)

By Jahanzaib Haque

It’s the dawning of a new marketing age where arcane wisdom regarding the relationship between a brand and the consumer must be reinvented to reflect light-speed advancements in digital technology, social networks and media. So says Chuck Brymer, CEO, DDB Worldwide, in his new book, The Nature of Marketing.

For Brymer and the DDB team, the first insight into the new world of marketing is to understand who is being targeted.

“Years ago people used to say marketing was all about the consumer,” writes Brymer.

“We are now starting to discover that we only had it half right – it is also about communities.”

The book discusses how in the past (and perhaps currently in Pakistan), marketers treated consumers as passive herds to whom messages would be pushed in a constant monologue – a notion which Brymer believes brand managers will have to abandon in the light of ‘the swarm’.

It is here that the key insight of the book is unveiled:

“Fuelled by the power of social networks and media, humans are re-establishing themselves as the ultimate communicators, spreading the word across the globe at unprecedented speed. In the process we have moved closer to the predictable behaviour of other systems in nature including animal swarms.”

Brymer goes to great lengths to explain how this body of constantly connected humanity functions.

Swarms respond to the power of one individual. They are driven by the Web 2.0 and digital communities which have given word of mouth an enormous, almost dangerous new power.

When exposed to something of use or interest, the swarm can respond at phenomenal speed, and if a brand is lauded by the swarm, its members will fight fiercely to defend it.

However, if a brand is found to be harmful or is perceived in a negative light, the swarm will abandon or destroy it with even greater speed. At the end of the day, companies no longer control their brand’s message and transmission – the swarm does.

Now the hard part. How does one go about influencing the swarm?

It is here that The Nature of Marketing returns to certain universal themes in marketing, but examines them from the perspective of the swarm.

The first term Brymer refers to is conviction, or the extent to which a brand carries with it a truly great, authentic idea which the swarm can adopt as its own.

Brymer identifies Amazon.com, Apple’s iPod and Google as brands which have successfully conveyed their identity to the swarm:

“The biggest online marketplace on earth, the simplest and most widely accepted music player, and an easy, fast and accurate search engine.”

For each brand, Brymer examines what worked, be it Amazon’s product review forums, Apple’s emotional, “think different” appeal or Google’s simplicity and open source architecture.

Moving beyond conviction, Brymer then speaks about collaboration i.e. making the brand a part of the community. Here he quotes the Lego website, which calls on visitors to submit their own models built using Lego bricks, and each emerging model is then voted on, and will go into production based on the vote count.

Finally, Brymer discusses the role of creativity in terms of finding new ways of reaching communities and their points of influence and attraction, whether that be through the virtual ‘intimacy’ of a personal blog, or an innovative viral video.

Brymer also suggests that the time has come for a new agent who will serve the brand exclusively in terms of the swarm: the community officer.

Drawing from the sum experiences and insights gained from running a global communications firm, Brymer’s 190-page analysis of marketing may fall considerably short in terms of length, but it is full of clearly defined ideas and most importantly, a visionary sense of exuberance which leaves the reader almost anxious to explore the wide new terrain wherein the swarm resides.

In Brymer’s own words, “The role of marketing is changing from creating communications to creating communities… In the process, we are entering what I feel is the most exciting period in marketing history: a future we will co-create together with the people we serve.”

The Nature of Marketing, published by Palgrave Macmillan is available at Amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com

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