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andrea southcott

With the dawn of a new decade, it's worth reflecting on the pace of change that has occurred in marketing, and think about what it will take to own the future.

At the start of the last decade, no one could have predicted how the tools with which businesses tell their brand stories would shift so dramatically.

As well, it would have been challenging to accept that the shift in brand ownership from the corporation to the consumer would have been as radical as it has been.

To gear up for the next decade, here are some of the key shifts to keep in mind for your own marketing efforts:

Moving away from tried and true

After 23 years, this year's Feb. 7 broadcast will mark the first Super Bowl without any Pepsi advertising.

Instead, PepsiCo Inc. is shifting its multimillion-dollar budget online. And, rather than relying on celebrities to pitch its products, it's shifted to a philanthropic, cause-related campaign.

Called the "Pepsi Refresh Project" ( http://www.refresheverything.com), the initiative, launched in January, offers to fund "refreshing ideas that change the world." People can apply on the website to have their projects funded and vote for projects they believe are worthy of funding.

This noteworthy shift from high-profile, event-based buzz to an online-based, cause-related movement illustrates what many marketers are feeling - that traditional tools don't have the same power to engage consumers that they used to. And, increasingly, marketers are looking at values as a way to demonstrate value.

Speed to market is accelerating

Marketing today has shifted to real-time response, requiring fast assessments of opportunities and threats. This requires a strong understanding of what feels right and appropriate for your brand, so that strategic communication decisions can be made quickly.

The speed with which marketers, not just aid organizations and NGOs, jumped to help raise funds for victims of the Haiti earthquake was astonishing. Within hours, telecom companies created opportunities to contribute via texting, airlines and hotel chains implemented point-donation programs, and other businesses, from packaged-goods to courier companies, were trying to outdo each other with announcements of cash contributions.

More effort to earn your place

Gone are the simpler times when a TV ad presenting a sharp, focused and competitive brand message was enough to do the job. In the past decade, consumers have become increasingly cynical about advertising messages, with blogs and other online tools holding marketers accountable for the promises they make.

As well, consumers are more protective about giving brands the permission to intrude, particularly in personal spaces like Facebook.

To succeed, marketers need to understand where they have permission to show up, and the tools they choose to use must deliver value to consumers and speak in an authentic brand voice.

An interesting example from 2009 is Best Buy's creation of Twelpforce, a service using company staff to answer product and technology questions directly via Twitter - bypassing the usual and often frustrating customer-service practices.

Best Buy's ad agency, Crispin Porter & Bogusky, made Twelpforce a key component of its marketing program, aiming to provide proof that the company's staff are more knowledgeable and supportive than that of its competitors.

Consumers expect to participate with your brand

Over the past 10 years, marketers have increasingly moved from talking at consumers to talking with them. As the lines of brand ownership blur, co-creation of content and user-generated content will increasingly become part of a company's communications approach.

A great example: To promote this year's Grammy Awards, the Recording Academy and its ad agency, TBWA\Chiat\Day, created a campaign centred around an interactive website called "We Are All Fans" (wereallfans.com). It's filled with portraits of Grammy-nominated artists generated entirely from YouTube, Twitter and Flickr postings submitted by fans, constantly updating in real time.

Brands and ideas are borderless

More than ever, we're citizens of the world, with consumers seeking out the latest and greatest, independent of location. With the pervasiveness of global conversations via Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, people feel more directly and immediately connected to brands outside their immediate marketplace.

For last year's United Nations climate change conference in Copenhagen, marketers, agencies and NGOs got together to create a campaign called Hopenhagen, intended to connect people to the issues (hopenhagen.org).

The campaign, promoted via social and paid media, created a platform for people to voice their opinions about climate change. Today, the site showcases comments from some of more than six million citizens of countries all over the world.

Marketers are no longer bound by region, and brands can go global virtually overnight. Today, being nimble, open-minded and prepared to break new ground is the price of entry.

For marketers to find success over the next decade, they will need to be wired for change, creative about understanding their brand's real connection with consumers, and fearless about trying new approaches.

Andrea Southcott is president of ad agency TBWA\Vancouver.

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