By Erika Schlomer-Fischer
Chaos or creative brand opportunity? Technological shifts are being felt at many levels in business and our daily lives today. Human adaptation to these shifts has always created anxiety due to social, economic and power-based changes.
The field of Austrian economics aptly refers to this period of change as “creative destruction.” As an often-referred-to Chinese character for crisis suggests, these are often points where change can happen. But, brand managers and most people are programmed to seek stability and conformity, often constraining creativity. It may be time, in the words of Kanye West, to release your brand’s “dragon energy.”
Businesses recently became obsessed with the power of technological rigor and quantification. The pace of technological change continues. But it is accompanied by disruption in the political, economic and social environments. And, as questions arise and current frames of reference are questioned in many areas, creativity seems to be making a comeback. It appears time, as Donegar creative director Robert Ramos suggests, for brand managers to consider “Making Creativity Great Again.”
Executives managing brands, however, must steer through shifting environments with their brand equity intact. Historical and current research suggests that you should be prepared to change your frame of reference, foster creativity and insight, and actively seek new brand opportunities.
At the managerial level, framing of business opportunities is often key to identifying brand potential. However, organizations often favor stability, which leads to a tendency toward marketing myopia, or an inability to see critical shifts in the market, especially those driven by the customer.
While market structure and firm culture play a role in myopia, we are all cognitive misers. And we use simple criteria to frame risky situations. This includes the availability bias identified by psychologists Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman that suggests that the most recent information is more common than it is. Reframing often requires broadening the frame to include new perspectives related to perspective, time and even space.
Stability makes for easier brand management, and many companies don’t encourage risk-taking. My research into global marketing transactions shows risk-taking in managerial situations often reflects a step-like function where managers and executives cross thresholds of risk-taking.
Firm- and individual-level factors influence this behavior. Leaders in changing times need to be open to risky decisions and foster environments that support these often-uncomfortable needs for customer-driven innovation identifying relevant brand opportunities.
A salient example of brand reframing in entertainment is the recent success of the film “Crazy Rich Asians.” Director Jon Chu realized there was an opportunity for an Asian-American film with an all-Asian cast. Despite having a creative product, Hollywood often limits its creative risk-taking. This is often done, for example, by building franchises relying on established, popular brands such as Star Wars and Marvel. Chu noted that the last film with an Asian cast was no less than 25 years ago. Many risky decisions presented themselves, including dealing with a lack of casting infrastructure. So, the director used new avenues and channels such as YouTube to find and vet talent. This romantic comedy has resonated with audiences and changed the industry, and it is poised for a sequel.
At the consumer level, many feel that the psychological anxiety typical of times of change is exacerbated by the internet. And yet, online and social media is part of most marketing and brand communication plans. At California Lutheran University, we are conducting research into brand equity, brand personality and social media. One study involves analyzing brand innovation in the political arena. This includes the use of text analyses to examine social media messaging. So far, the impact of excitement is a clear differentiator.
In a tumultuous environment, crafting new brand directions and stories is likely to perplex marketing managers. It may be helpful to consider the words of the computer visionary Alan Kay: “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.”
• Erika Schlomer-Fischer, who has an MBA in global management and a doctorate in marketing and international business, is a visiting professor of marketing at California Lutheran University.