Five Tips to Build a Brand in 2015

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Fewer Memes, More Me

Because messaging can no longer be controlled by the messenger, brands have had to figure out how to get customers themselves to spread the word. One of the most effective ways to do this is through a "meme" that grabs people's imagination — such as the Ice Bucket Challenge — and goes viral. Modern marketers spend a great deal of time trying to figure out how to create successful memes. Some work, but most don't, because the nature of memes is that they are spontaneous and unpredictable.

So-called meme-marketing is still in its infancy, but it is already giving way to a more me-oriented form of messaging: the sort of super-targeted, hyper-personalized messaging that is becoming possible with the convergence of Big Data, artificial intelligence, and ubiquitous mobile and personal devices of all kinds. There will always be a place on the Internet for absurd humor, but Big Data allows companies to understand and connect with each individual customer in ever more intimate ways. In turn, each of those customers has unprecedented control over the messages they receive. Memes may work for a long time to come, but more "me" is what people really want. Learn how to give it to them.

For the past 70 years, business branding has been largely guided by principles developed in the 1950s and 1960s — when there were only three television networks, messaging through advertising was easy to control, and information flowed from a few "trusted" news sources to millions of people.

This one-to-many model of information flow has been upended since the advent of the Internet and social media. Now, information flows in millions of different directions at once — to, from, and by people all over the globe — in an all-to-all free-for-all for eyeballs and market share. Some of the well-established rules of branding still apply in this new, hyper-connected environment. But that doesn't change the fact that building and differentiating a brand is harder than ever and will only prove even tougher in 2015.

In the coming year, the technological connectedness of everyone on Earth will reach a level never before experienced by humanity. The old rules don't apply in this world. New rules must be developed.

Owen Shapiro is the author of "Brand Shift: The Future of Brands and Marketing." Shapiro is a market researcher, strategist and speaker and spent more than 30 years in customer insights and market strategy. He has a career-long interest in helping launch innovative start-up companies, several of which have become well-known brands, including Staples, PetSmart, Sports Authority, Ulta and Five Below. For more information, please visit,


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