Summary of the opening address at Mediatel’s “The Future of Brands” Conference by Michael Karg, Group CEO of Ebiquity

A brand is defined as a “name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller’s service as distinct from any other seller’s”. It is true that some brands have disappeared in the wake of recent digital disruption and transformation – globally-recognized household names like Saab, Blockbuster, Kodak, and Blackberry. At the same time, new brands have risen and grown to be some of the biggest and most powerful brands and businesses on the planet, from Google to Red Bull, Tesla to Alibaba.

So, while it’s clear that brands come and go, I believe that there are currently three trends and dynamics in the market that will determine which ones thrive and which ones disappear.

  1. Consumers’ unstoppable appetite for services and utilities
  2. The increasing role of word of mouth
  3. The emerging discipline of marketing to machines


  1. Consumers’ unstoppable appetite for services and utilities

The rise of digital – technology, not media – has demonstrated that consumers are very keen on products and services that make life easier, better, and simpler. The on-demand, always-on culture spawned by technology has had a profound impact in the entertainment sector, with books (Amazon), music (Spotify), movies and TV (Netflix). This trend has grown powerful brands in the process. But it has also grown brands in categories previously considered to be of little interest to consumers, from banking and financial services to heating and lighting.

What unites these new or extended brands and categories is utility, and utility is a critical criterion for differentiation and brand health today and into the future. Utility is about making life easier and simpler, with brands becoming super-useful. It’s also about making life more fun and entertaining.

  1. The increasing role of word of mouth

Word of mouth is undervalued, underestimated, and frequently misunderstood by many brands. We’ve always known that consumers trust friends and family in terms of product recommendations. Recommendations from trusted sources drive behavior. According to McKinsey, word of mouth drives 30-50% of all purchase decisions, and this is especially true for first-time buyers. There is also evidence that word of mouth drives more sales than above-the-line advertising, notably in skincare and mobile technology.

TripAdvisor has more than 300m members and 500m reviews, and the site and its content is a major driver of consumer travel behavior. It is one of the most powerful examples of the shift from one-to-one to one-to-many, and the key to that is the application of analytics; the data-driven approach. Brands that succeed in the future will be those that use analytics to understand and harness the power of word of mouth.

  1. The emerging discipline of marketing to machines

The rise and rise of voice search heralds the dawn of another discipline many brands will need to master if they are to thrive. A recent Mindshare/JWT report showed that 31% of smartphone users use voice search at least once a week. Christmas 2017 – Amazon’s biggest ever, with 30% more sales than 2016 – saw the company’s Alexa-based Echo Dot the best-selling product in any category across Amazon. 40m Americans now own and use smart speakers.

Research shows that voice-based search works differently from text-based search, with consumers using fewer branded terms. This trend is reflected in Duracell losing its market-leading position during 2017, replaced by Amazon Basics batteries, which now have 21% and 31% market share respectively. Clearly, there are strategies brands can use to turn voice search to their advantage, and in this case, it could involve paying Amazon to get on Alexa’s shortlist, increasing the overall marketing budget to drive branded search, or creating voice-based stores within Amazon, eBay, and other online marketplaces.

In summary

These three trends all highlight the common truths that brands now have more, more complex data to analyze if they are to thrive. Those brands that embrace the data-driven approach need to balance creative with analytics, left-brain with right-brain marketing. Google, Amazon, and Facebook have all used analytics to test and learn which approaches work best, where diminishing returns lie. Other brands are quickly catching up and catching on.

Ebiquity’s Chief Strategy Officer, Christian Polman, has written a blog with his reflections on the main themes emerging from the Mediatel conference on the future of brands. Read his blog here.