On Wednesday to Friday last week I attended Dave Duarte's Nomadic Marketing course at UCT, and on this course I discovered what is supposed to be this year's Next Big Thing, Foursquare.
Foursquare is a social networking platform for mobile that centres around reviewing and sharing knowledge about a city. How it works is that people 'check in' to various spots around their city and leave comments, suggestions, ideas and feedback about the place that they're at. These comments also notify their friends.
So if I want to try a new restaurant out, for example, I would log in to foursquare on my phone and it will tell me where the nearest restaurants are to me right now (via GPS and googlemaps). I don't need to know this beforehand, and so essentially I don't need to have ever heard of the restaurant. As a marketer, it makes me think: is there therefore any value in 'brand awareness'? I don't need to have been bombarded with messages about which restaurants are the best in Cape Town, and I don't need to try and remember information that arrived when it wasn't relevant to me? (ie. when I wasn't looking for a restaurant at that exact moment).
We all know that 92.3% of stats are bullshit, but even so: a vast majority of people (between 70 and 90%) would trust their friends or even strangers over advertising. People have been barking on about the power of word of mouth for years. But now this word-of-mouth functionality is easy, instant and mobile. Assuming foursquare takes off, you will be able to see exactly what everyone (and especially all of your friends) thought of this restaurant just down the road from you.
Obviously, it means that marketing communications can't lie. No more fluff, no more exaggeration. But will there even be a point to advertising? If awareness is of limited value, and reputation is built by delivering something that people value rather than saying anything in particular, then why say anything? Your consumers will do the talking for you.
And what will the role and value of a brand be in the future? Brands are supposed to be shortcuts to make consumer decision-making easier (you don't have to think about the functional benefits or social ingredients of every soap in a store because the brand already stands for something in your mind) - but the route to mass peer reviews is becoming almost as short as the shortcut in your mind.
Granted this only works for location-based businesses at the moment, but I'm sure similar things will emerge for products and services soon. I've loved the platitude that "people are the new media" for ages, but only now can I appreciate what a massive shift this is going to be.