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Published July 19th 2016

Brian Solis: Thoughts on Disruption, Innovation and the Future of Marketing

As part of our NYK Conference, futurist, analyst and digital pioneer Brian Solis shared his thoughts on the future of marketing and the opportunities ahead

The future of marketing. One sentence returning 411,000,000 search results on Google – but very few of those results will be useful, and how to best sift through so many thoughts on one topic?

For our Now You Know Conference in May we wanted our delegates, made up of leaders from some of the biggest brands and agencies in the world, to have the opportunity to listen to the thoughts of an undeniable expert on the subject.

Step forward, Brian Solis.


Digital pioneer, author, futurist and Principal Analyst at Altimeter (a Prophet company), Solis is better positioned than most to offer his thoughts on the future of marketing

In his keynote session, Brian Solis drew from his bestselling book, X: The Experience where Business meets Design, to inspire us to step up to the experiential challenge of business in 2016 and beyond.

He opened with a great point.

“I’m usually not the most loved person in a room when I come into a business, because my message is about bringing about change, and the people who are in that room have to be ready to hear that message and do something about it.

Leo Tolstoy, the Russian novelist, once said, ‘We all talk of change, but none of us talk about changing ourselves’.

The future of marketing – the future of anything really – requires that we take a step back in order to take all of these insights, to actually bring them to life as insights and convert them into things that matter.”

Here, in his own words, he explains.

Accidental narcissists

I’ve studied the future of marketing, and experimented with the future of marketing, since the ‘90s.

In fact, there were a lot of online communities back in that day which were discussion groups, forums, message boards, and a lot of my initial experimentation which was pre-social media was actually social media – experimenting with how you could bring brands into these communities to better build communities around those brands.

Everything that I learned then, and that I still learn today, is counter-intuitive. And so what I want to spend this short time that we have together this morning doing with you is getting you to take a step back in order to move forward.

One thing that I think we can all appreciate is that technology is affecting each and every one of us, all of our friends, all of our families, much in the same way.

We’re becoming what I call ‘accidental narcissists’. Just think about when you post something on Facebook as an individual and you don’t get an immediate response.

There is a lull, a sinking feeling inside you. We get caught up as individuals, and also as marketers, in this notion that the only way to matter in this world is to get someone’s attention.

Facebook message and notification alert close-up on RGB monitor

But that’s actually not what it’s about; it’s about persistently being relevant, and that’s why data and insights matter.

But we tend to take things to make things, which don’t always have the effect that other human beings want. I mean think about it, your streams are so full of information that you can hardly keep up. It’s not like I’m sitting in there on the other side of the screen saying, ‘When are they going to publish that infographic?’ I can’t start my day until I get branded content.’

We get so caught up in the process in having to do things in order to justify a value, in order to measure things that have questionable value, and we get so busy in it all that we sort of forget that there are human beings on the other side of the screen.

We take the tech, we take the content, and we place greater value on the platforms that we’re putting it into – rather than trying to adapt our story, our message and our engagement for those platforms. That’s why we broadcast more than we engage.”

The re-invention of the brand

“But today, the idea of brand is being re-invented. Not because brands want to be re-invented, but it’s just the nature of what’s happening in the democratized web.

More people make decisions about a brand based on what their friends say, or based on reviews or based on YouTube videos, than they do based on what you say about yourself. This is why the future of brand is actually talking to and through people, through experiences that matter, that are so compelling that they have to be shared.

Color Social Networking


















We haven’t figured that out, and this is where we have to bridge the gap.

There’s what we say we do, and there’s what people feel and share, and somewhere in the middle there is what I call the ‘experience to buy’.

Marketing is like Silicon Valley – where I live – one big echo-chamber.

We all celebrate the same things, we all look to others for inspiration and aspiration, but change has to start with you, as an individual, to see things differently and be able to get other people to see it differently as well.

What tends to happen is we allow ourselves to conform to the standards at which we operate. No matter how amazing the insights you get, you still have to put it in the same machine that looks at marketing through a lens of yesterday.

Is marketing as valued as it should be in the organization? Absolutely not. You have enough budget, enough resources to do what you need to do? Absolutely not.”

Experience and Return on Ignorance

“The metrics that we showed to demonstrate value and success are also based on legacy foundations and legacy platforms of which were built and designed for a world that just doesn’t operate in an era of accidental narcissism.

All of this starts by challenging convention and moving it forward.

You have to ask different questions. When you ask different questions, you get different answers, and those answers are what start to unfold your path for transformation.

ROI. You hear about it all the time. What if the ‘I’ was ‘Ignorance’?

What happens if you don’t try something new? It’s not about the attention that you get, it’s about the attention that you missed, or the attention that you didn’t get – that has a value on top of it as well.

All of the platforms you can use for measuring insights or captured insights, there are also platforms of which to show that your stuff has an impact, but you have to think about current state and future state; you have to think about what is the behavior that exists today, and how do I want to change it? How do I want to cause effect? What is happening today, and how do I want to change that?

Insights aren’t just about coming up with ideas. Insights are also about solving problems, and also about finding opportunities for both iteration and also innovation.

vintage glowing light bulbs on black background

What is the brand in this connective society today? We always talk about the same brands, we all have our favorites, but if you think about the importance of designing experiences, using insights to design experiences that people feel and people share, you then start to see why some of these brands compete at a very different level.

It’s because those insights are translated into things that come to life, where the marketing is the experience, where people become either related to, inspired by, moved by the things that you create.

Marketing has an opportunity not just to work on the top of the funnel, but also through the entire customer journey, the entire customer life cycle.

The experience doesn’t stop just because they saw great marketing. those insights could also lead to tremendous product advancements, better service programmes, whole new infrastructures for business that would start because marketing saw the opportunity to do that. 

Once you’ve tasted a great experience you will never go back. That is your new standard.

New York, USA - May 6, 2016: Person using the Uber Taxi Cab App on Apple iPhone 6s Plus in the streets of New York City. The classic NYC Yellow Cab, which is the Uber Service Competition unsharp in the background. Uber Inc., based in San Francisco, develops, markets and operates the Uber mobile app, which allows consumers with smartphones to submit a trip request which is then routed to Uber drivers who use their own carr as an alternative to the classic taxi service.

I have actually studied how impatient we are becoming, because of apps like this. What’s the magic number for you when you call an Uber and you say ‘That’s too long?’ The average is seven to eight minutes.

That’s why marketing has to think differently.

There’s this incredible core shift in what your consumers value, the standards that they have now, for what meaningful engagement and experiences look like. And that has to start with you as an individual, because when we show up to work, we start thinking like marketers.

But we have to start thinking like people, and reverse engineer our way towards relevance.

Because every single one of us have had those moments of things that just matter so much to us as individuals, they touch us, they inspire us, they move us.”

Re-imagining marketing

“If you get someone’s attention and you settle for vanity metrics to justify that effort, it’s a path towards irrelevance. But if you make that moment something greater, make somebody feel something, somebody do something, those are inherent hooks.

What happens if we re-imagine what marketing could do and why?

If you think about just every aspect of what it takes to do business, we just take all of these touch points for granted, when in fact there’s an opportunity to recognize marketing is as much about what happens next as it is about getting someone’s attention.

There was a video that changed my world. 

The video is of a one year old baby using an iPad, a natural. Her father thought it would be funny to take the iPad away and give her a magazine. So she takes it and starts crying.

Screen Shot 2016-07-19 at 10.40.12

To her, a magazine is an iPad that doesn’t work, and will be that way for the rest of her life. Mindblowing.

You’re designing for brains that don’t exist any more. The way that today’s brain has to see things and do something with it is radically different. We had to learn what an iPad is, she has to learn what a magazine is. 

Marketing is undergoing these cycles of iteration, where you’re just doing the same thing better, whereas innovation is doing new things that create new value.”

The future of marketing

“You have to wonder about your role in the future of marketing.

Because if you’re waiting for somebody to tell you what to do, you’re on the wrong side of innovation.

Our aspirations are limited only by those from whom we allow to measure and validate us. That’s where this story begins. we grew up in a time where we were told to follow the rules, don’t ask questions, do as you’re told, this is the way it’s always been done for a reason.

Seattle, USA - January 26, 2014: An old Historic Alki Rainier Beer advertising sign on a brick wall in Occidental park in the historic Pioneer Square neighborhood.

That’s exactly why we’re where we’re at now. That’s exactly why there is so much disruption, and exactly why there is so much change needed.

The only way to make this more amazing is to let your inner juvenile delinquent out. Seriously.

We need more people challenging convention, we need more people thinking about new possibilities, we need more people to think about the human beings on the other side of the screen, because otherwise we’re not actually competing for relevance, we’re just doing what we have always done with new technology.

We’re buying time, not changing the world. And that’s why this is your time.”

A massive thank you to Brian for sharing his thoughts.

We’ll be sharing more insights from this year’s Now You Know Conference in the coming days and weeks.

Tickets for NYK Europe go on sale in August – register for updates here. Keep us bookmarked, and follow us on Twitter: @Brandwatch.

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