Markson is president of the global consumer marketing practice and chief creative officer for purpose branding at Ogilvy Public Relations, a post he has held since last year. Prior to Ogilvy, he spent 21 years with Edelman, where he was chief creative officer.
Markson, who splits his office time between North America and Europe, but travels to Asia frequently, sat down with Campaign Asia-Pacific during a visit to Hong Kong to discuss trends in consumer PR (including whether that's even an appropriate name) and the future shifts in consumer thinking that brands should be preparing for today.
What are the biggest trends you see effecting consumer PR?
One of the biggest trends that I'm seeing is, well it actually sounds like a cheat, but it's China. For consumer marketing, I think more and more we're going to see global campaigns and global trends starting from China.
The work [being done in China], especially at Ogilvy, has really evolved. So what I want to bring back to my colleagues is, how do we put Asia, especially China, more at the centre of the global proposition. In categories like luxury especially—so much of the luxury work is happening more in China, and Chinese consumers who are going outside China are also part of the luxury mix. It's also going to happen in FMCG. China can be an influencer, not just a receiver of ideas from the West.
The second trend is a new role for public relations. Modern PR is evolving and constantly changing. PR is going to influence brand marketing, so I've actually changed the name of our practice from 'consumer marketing' to 'brand marketing PR', because I feel PR has a very strong role in brand positioning, more than just the activation and the tactics.
Everything used to be about 'hero-ing' the brand. There has been a big shift, with us, to move from brand as hero to brand as hero-maker. From brand as centre of the universe to brand as navigator. If you look at history, people used to think everything revolved around the earth. Now we know that's not true. And I believe everything doesn't revolve around the brand. The brand has to revolve around all the different worlds that the consumer is in and it has to be more of a conversationalist than a messenger.
As an industry, we are all starting to think in that direction because of social, but I'm not sure everyone is really implementing it yet. We still have messaging workshops and we still have message training to discuss the three key messages of a given campaign. But I think we should be asking, what are the three conversations we want to have, and then anticipate the feedback, so that it can be a more natural, human dialogue between brand and people.
The third trend is about influencers. We're still, as brands, talking a little too much in demographic categories. And I think for PR, we're going to have to get into more psychographic audiences. P&G has identified this trend and declared that they are the official sponsor of moms. And you might look at that and just think it's clever, but in fact global moms actually have more in common with each other than they do with some of the demographics in their own countries.
So if we look at global campaign development, especially in the future, there are a couple of audiences: one is global moms, another is young urban millennials, and another is the new globals—who are living in multiple countries and travelling more than ever before. We need to identify influencers in different ways, not just think about the age. Especially when you think about the aging global population. I think advertisers are still stopping at [age] 47—unless you're a pharmaceutical company. We just have to think more broadly about who the consumer is.
What is 'purpose branding' about?
I think social and digital has been a bridge. So brands are recognising that they have to be more transparent, they have to be more honest. But at the same time, I think digital and social can be too tactical.
My question is, what's the idea? This isn’t a China or Asia issue, this is a worldwide issue, where we need to be thinking a little more about the bigger idea and the purpose and the meaning.
Brands usually originate with a purpose, but people forget about it over time. For example, think about Levi Strauss, which originally was about developing clothes for the working man.
Look at the archaeology of a brand, and find its original purpose. And then see if it can play an evolved role today. It's being more strategic, thinking about meaning and purpose, and not sticking on something that's not authentic or true to the brand. It's got to be something that's relevant and meaningful.
I don't think people are taking enough time to think that through. In brand management, there's so much turnover, it's hard to be consistent. People want to make their numbers and make their impact immediately. So possibly, PR, advertising and social should be the stewards of the brand, and have some continuity.
From your global perspective, what consumer trends do you see that brands may be behind the curve on?
One of them is figuring out this multiscreen, 24/7, 'ADD' world. I don't mean to make light of that condition. But that's the reality we all live in now. I think brands need to perfect their elevator speech and their conversation. They need to be more flexible. The consumer is moving so fast. Can brands keep up? You can't take six months to develop a campaign anymore, because the consumer has moved on to the next thing. So how do brands become more 24/7?
And this applies in terms of the product-development cycle as well. Is there an opportunity to develop a term I learned from [brand consultancy] The Future Laboratory: 'anarchonomy', which is the combination of anarchy and economy.
You have people developing concepts and ideas at warp speed. Can a brand be more open to some new ideas and bring them to market more quickly, and not always have to do the whole [product-development] cycle? Can a brand be a distributor of someone else's idea? Or can they have someone else come up with a more interesting distribution channel? I think there's going to have to be a lot more flexibility.
If you go back to the Mad Men days, advertisers were actually developing not only communications ideas, but marketing change ideas. Can we get back to that? PR people should also be able to recommend new services and new products. I think we need to challenge ourselves a lot more.
A final thing is, are consumers going to want to consume more and more and more? The idea of consumption—it is what drives our economy. But today people, especially millennials, are looking for more. So, we're moving into more of an experiential economy, versus a product economy. How do brands start working away from their product focus, and start thinking more about an experiential approach.
Perhaps because of the economic downturn, brands have been very risk averse. But I am optimistic that will start to change, and brands will have to think more broadly. And if people want to consume less [then] we've got to start thinking about ways to not think of more, more, more and everything being more SKUs.
China has accelerated so quickly, I think the natural cycle of consumerism is going to happen much more quickly there too. I wonder if that younger generation coming up, maybe the 13- to 14-year-olds now, will move more quickly into the idea of, 'We don't want to just acquire things—we want to have experiences and we want a balance.' I think that tension is going to be a very interesting one. What will brands do about it? How will they respond?