Recently, Edelman’s David Armano highlighted six areas that CMO’s should pay attention to in 2014. His last one–The Responsive Brand–caught my attention. He writes:

Every day there are examples of brands whose quick thinking earn them bragging rights or are keeping them more relevant and current in the minds and hearts of consumers…Being a responsive brand means being able to move nimbly and in the moment. For numerous organizations this will prove difficult to do, but many will try and some will even get really good at it.

I think this is largely true and long overdue. Corporations–and the brands they own and manager–are notoriously unresponsive to contemporary culture. Grant McCracken went so far as to say that the corporation is at odds with the future.

The ability to be nimble in the face of rapid marketplace change is a highly desirable ability of any organization. And it’s probably a huge first step for most corporations.

But it strikes me that responsiveness on its own is a very short-term approach. If you’re always responsive, you’re reacting. The better question: How does a brand navigate today’s landscape?

Navigation requires a more developed sense of contemporary culture than most corporations currently have. A more developed sense of culture would’ve prevented Amazon  and Target from making the mistake of refusing to sell Beyonce’s album. Amazon is more understandable, given the singer made her album an exclusive via their competitor iTunes.  However, Target is a different story.  Yes, the money it cost them was probably negligible, but they took a hit to their reputation. And for what? All in the name of sticking with old procedures? Attention is really king, and Target could have been part of the conversation and attention around the superstar’s new album, which was considerable. They probably also would’ve seen a bump in basket size.  But, hey, fight the future a bit longer.

Retail consultant Tadd Wilson asked a pertinent question: “[W]hen are you the brand and when are you just the channel?”

You need to be attuned to culture to know the difference. Target would’ve needed to grasp what Beyonce means. Unfortunately, they didn’t and came off looking small, like they were trying to punish her for releasing her album digitally first.

What’s needed is a deeper, more expansive approach to culture, one that’s pervasive throughout the corporation. Perhaps it’s companies taking seriously the mandate to understand movements,  or understand that global brands like Beyonce, Gaga, Beiber or Timberlake command much more attention, engagement and loyalty than corporate brand ever will.  But this requires new ways to organize and recruit. It will require new vision from the C-suites. Whatever it takes to make the corporation more attuned to the world outside its walls.

That’s the responsiveness I’d like to see.

Posted by Rob Fields

Observer. Curator. Marketer. Dot connector.