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The brand of the future looks very, very different.

The future of marketing belongs to communities.

Recently, when addressing a class at the Ross School of Business, I asked a simple question. How do you shop for the things in your life?

The universal answer? They look at customer ratings first. What their peers are saying is far more influential than what a brand says about itself.

This simple question-and-answer exchange reveals everything we need to know about the future of the industry I love.

No longer do they visit your website first. No more will they hang on your every tweet. No longer will the mascot or jingle or gimmick do the job.

The future belongs to communities. To peers. To authenticity. To truth. To experiences. It’s unleashing a true capitalism to products and services who outperform as opposed to merely outspend.

That wacky campaign you once had? Meaningless compared to the fact that your customers own your story. That multi-million dollar campaign built to draw interest? Potentially destroyed by a single poor customer experience.

Keep in mind, I run a branding firm. So, I’m basically saying my entire industry is going to be obsolete.

Yup. It will be. Hell, in many ways, it already is.

This is precisely why we’ve reinvented the model. Those who focus on brand culture, authenticity, and truth will win. Those who engage, ask, offer participation, build trust, and create unabashed transparency will thrive.

But those who try to cling on to some slick veneer that has little to do with reality will be sniffed out swiftly and harshly.

Therefore, firms like ours now have a responsibility well beyond look and feel. It is about aligning culture with story. Internal with external. Systems with stories. And the entire brand with the authentic reality of the organization. Understand that brand is not just what you say, it’s how you look, act, treat others, hire, make decisions, and build a loyal following.

When people ask me what our company is and does, I often struggle. Not because I can’t explain it, but I can’t explain it in terms people immediately relate to. We’re not an ad agency, marketing firm, digital house, etc. We’re a brand experience activation agency that understands that problems aren’t solved via advertising. They are solved by going deeper, wider, and affecting organizations on a foundational level.

Companies like ours have been built around this new reality instead of those who are trying to react and modify to get there. However, it’s an entirely different approach that barely resembles what it used to be.

And we think that’s a great thing.

Photo of Jim Hume.
Jim Hume

As the principal and founder of Phire Group, Jim works closely with clients to build brands that match an organization’s reason for being with their desire for solutions. Jim started the agency in 2004 with the philosophy of engaging a brand’s community to help shape and recognize its full potential. With more than 20 years in the industry, he’s worked with clients ranging from Fortune 100 companies to startups in consumer goods, healthcare, technology, education, business-to-business, the arts, and more.