They is no longer The Man, They is Us

Once upon a time I taught myself how to write HTML so that my client’s logo repeated in the background. The site was a single page, talking about an awards scheme for budding playwrights. The site had been commissioned by Allied Domecq via a visionary PR agency, Scope. It was my first commercial website. It was early in 1995, and my digital agency had been going a year – it all feels a very long time ago.

And yet not a huge amount has changed, but there’s been a subtle shift. Online communities still grow, morph, die. People choose which stuff to consume and which stuff not to consume. They choose how and when to interact. They write, take part in places of play, and navigate their social networks.

They. Not you, Mr, Mrs, Miss and Ms Brand Marketer. The individual consumer. They control what they do, say, think, recommend. They control your reputation. They is no longer The Man, They is Us. So now the consumer is doing the building, and the static HTML or even the documentary email is old hat. These days people use XML-based channels, YouTube, Twitter and Digg, and so on – through the browser, IM app and phones. Forrester’s (then employee) Charlene Li set it out beautifully simply in the book (book!) Groundswell, which described a new generation of segments based on how integrated consumers are with social media content production, consumption, recommendation and storage. Li told of a revolution that has taken place under our noses but behind most marketers’ backs.

The future is, as it were, here. Which means that brands too have to start getting their hands dirty. Brands have to join in the social fun, make social gaffes, fix lapses in tact and establish a reputation. Today is when you have to start if you haven’t started already. Gone are the days when background repetition created any capital for brands – we’re in a future where immersion is the new rule.