"More than half of all cell phone users now live in developing countries, making the mobile phone the first electronic technology to garner more users in the Third World than the First."
If you let that intro line sink in, you’re realizing there’s a revolution coming. For the first time ever, the so called “third world” is adopting a technology faster than us Westerners. And they’re not just adopting it – they’re using its power to do some pretty amazing things.
Brand New World is a book about the changing trends of global consumer behaviour, and those markets that are leading the change. Author Max Lenderman provides an explanation of why (and how) third world markets are the fastest growing consumer economies, the mental shift we need to take as marketers and business owners, and the lessons we (all of us) can learn from our hyper-developing counterparts.
While the insights themselves are game changing, it’s perhaps the markets that are leading the changes that made this book such a fascinating (and completely absorbing) read. Whether it was Lenderman’s examples of how Russian Oligarchs are fearlessly innovating to work around government mandate, how global entities are successfully introducing new technologies to rural India or the benefits of a complete billboard ban in Brazil, one fact in particular is becoming startlingly clear; if you want to connect with your customer now and in the future, you had better be connecting them as individuals. Not as a nation. Not as a “market”. Not as a demographic. With them, as complex human beings with unique needs and desires. And you better be ready to wow them.
"...the one aptitude that's proven impossible for computers to reproduce, and very difficult for faraway workers connected by electrons to match, is empathy."
Brand New World has a fascinating chapter on “Silk Street”; a section of Beijing that occupies a seven-storey office building and sells top quality knock offs. (It’s an incredible chapter. You should read it.) The lesson from this section of the book is this: anything that can be seen can be duplicated. Anything that can be manufactured, anything online; truly anything can be produced by someone else for cheaper. Except experience. The brands that are poised to dominate the business world in the years to come are the ones that engage their customer base. The brands that ask questions and then genuinely listen to the answers. The brands that provide their customers with something beyond the transaction.
Lenderman uses the example of the Apple “Genius Bar” to illustrate how one brand is doing this brilliantly. Walk into any Apple retail location, and head to the back of the store. There you’ll find a long counter staffed by true Apple experts. These are the people who live and breathe the digital space and exist (for their eight hour shifts at least) as Sherpas for newbies to their world. They help you understand the Apple world and all its devices. And in doing so, they build relationships. They connect with their customers, 1 on 1 in real time. They provide an experience. They organically spread the Apple fever. And the brand is thriving as a result.
"Try Before You Buy"
"Stop saying what your offerings are through advertising and start creating places - permanent or temporary, physical or virtual, fee-based or free - where people can experience what those offerings, as well as your enterprise, actually are."
Apple is one of the many, many examples Lenderman uses of companies that are successfully navigating the waters of the new business world by creating an experience for their customers, and fostering genuine interaction as a result. Using consumerism of developing nations as a backdrop to his story, Lenderman really hammers home the point that the time of telling people what to buy, and why (particularly through TV, radio or print) is dead. It’s time for companies to put up or shut up. Companies need to be active. Rather than talk about how they’re “doing their part for the environment”, they need to show it. The need to allow consumers to engage with it. Marketers need to learn this. Business owners need to embrace this. But how does it affect those of us who aren’t in the marketing space, or don’t control companies?
I think the lesson for us is engagement from our end. Now, more than ever, there are ways to talk to your brands. Blogs, forums, Twitter posts and Facebook fan pages you can respond to. It’s easier than ever to reach out to your brands, and faster than ever to get a sense of whether their open to conversation. WestJet (an airline in Canada, for our out-of-country friends) has a twitter profile staffed by three people just waiting to answer any questions or handle any concerns. Microsoft has a team of people surfing blogs and responding when appropriate. Not all companies are in the social media space, and not all those that are there are using it well. But those who truly care are out there, and they’re waiting to have a conversation with you. Engage the brands you’re most passionate about and start to build relationships. The social media world is too new to know where this is going, but imagine the possibilities.
Be an Oligarch
"Emergence doesn't occur until a 'What if?' conversation happens, either internally for an individual or collectively for a group."
Things are changing. We know this. In fact, virtually every book we’ve covered in the past six months hits on this in some capacity. But what to do about it? Lenderman has a partial answer in examining the (relatively) recent success of Russian Oligarchs.
Oligarchs are becoming billionaires because they’re constantly thinking forward. They’re finding ways to take setbacks and turn them into massive gains. Lenderman talks about Russian Standard – a vodka company that had a crisis when the government put a ban on vodka advertisements. So what does Standard owner Roustam Tariko do? Creates the Russian Standard Bank – with branding identical to his vodka brand – and then marketed the bank like crazy. Not only has Russian Standard Vodka become the most consumed vodka in Russia, but the bank now has 20 million customers and issues nearly 80% of all credit cards in Russia. (pg33) Not bad for a side business.
The lessons to take away from the Oligarchs is that anything is possible, so long as you’re open to possibilities. Lenderman explains:
“When two seemingly incompatible things are combined, new links between the two are likely to be discovered. Psychologists call the result of this process ’emergence’, and confirm that the more dissimilarity there is between the two products, the more potential there is for emergence.”
Are you putting yourself in situations that allow for emergence? Are you having the conversations about “What If?”, or are you simply “doing”? Ground breaking innovation and success go to those who take time out to ask the right questions.
Brand New World is really one of those books you just have to read. Written for the marketing world, but full of content we can all appreciate, Brand New World is, in a word, fresh. From China to Russia, Brazil to India, its 237 pages are a mind expanding trip.