The world is an increasingly complex place. Traditional institutions designed to hold together society have lost the authority they once had. Public trust in government, the financial sector and brands is at an all-time low. Racial division, climate change, inequality and terrorism dominate headlines.
As a result, there is a growing consumer segment who feel left out or left behind. A group that dwarfs the "squeezed middle" - they are stuck in the vacuum between the old cultural, social and economic systems that have broken down; and the new systems that have not yet been created.
Increasingly this means we live in a dislocated world, characterised more and more by distrust, disconnection, disenfranchisement disgust and disorder. Therefore brands need to completely re-think their approach and raison d'etre. In short they need to start again. If they don't properly consider their long-term strategies, they may well cease to exist entirely.
This week we will be hosting our first Global Futures Forum as a direct response to societal uncertainty and increased consumer anxiety. Over 500 experts, thinkers, brands, strategists and innovators will come together to discuss and debate the current challenges and how brands should navigate the future.
Businesses are an important part of the societal ecosystem and they too need to re-examine their place in the world, their meaning and relevance to consumers. To achieve a more stable, prosperous future, they first need to rebuild the fractured trust with customers. They need to be authentic, apologetic where necessary and completely transparent in their practices. They can only begin to do this if they re-establish meaningful connections. Those connections cannot be talking at customers or shouting into the void of social media. The platforms must be relevant, there has to be dialogue where consumers are willing participants.
Meaningful dialogue with consumers is key. Understanding and implicitly acknowledging their needs and desires, managing their feelings of dislocation and distrust are paramount.
Of course, this approach has the potential to be dour, worthy and self-flagellating, however, brands need to remember that against a backdrop of dislocation, consumers still want to engage with brands. Once they feel an authentic connection with brands, they want them to surprise, delight and entertain.
Customers also know that entertainment and engagement do not have to be at others' expense. They want order, sustainability and morality from brands. Transparent, fair employment practices should be a given. Owning up to mistakes, helping others on a local and global level are also now expected as a matter of course.
There is a clear feeling of instability reflected in the news, media, on social platforms in everything from politics and business to leisure and family. Turbulent times are testing for all of us, and brands, like the rest of society, have an obligation to reassure, adapt, thrive and prosper. If they have the courage to think differently, ditch short term strategies and actively listen to the dislocated many, then brands have a fantastic opportunity to better their businesses and positively impact society as a whole.