How Brands Can Fend Off Disruption Threats and Ultimately Survive

In its inaugural year, Brandemonium tackles transformation issues

Brandemonium was a four-day live brand-driven experiential event and conference. ORU/M. Kearns
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Hefty macro brand-transformation themes of personalization, a technology-first and courage-led culture in the face of failure, consistency and converting common sense into common practice were central themes during the inaugural Brandemonium in Cincinnati, a four-day live brand-driven experiential event and conference that drew 1,000 attendees.

During the opening keynote panel Thursday, Jim Stengel, president and CEO of the Jim Stengel Company and Alex Tosolini, svp of new business development at Kroger, which has its headquarters in Cincinnati, outlined some of the hurdles brands need to move past now in order to survive in the transforming brand-marketing ecosystem.

"People talk about technology only as a necessary investment. Every single company needs to be a technology company."
Alex Tosolini, svp of new business development, Kroger

Many brands “are still in the product and service mentality rather than a service and frictionless mentality,” Stengel said, pointing to an evolving GE as an example of a large company going through the necessary process and cultural changes to survive. Stengel was the global marketing officer at Procter & Gamble from 2001 to 2008. He is also the author of the recently published Unleashing the Innovators.

Tosolini said technology for technology’s sake is a common mindset that won’t push innovation that will lead to the greater personalization that will increasingly drive business success. “People talk about technology only as a necessary investment,” he said. “Every single company needs to be a technology company.”

Tosolini and Stengel agreed that creating a courageous culture unafraid to learn from failure is crucial in a disrupted and transforming environment. But Tosolini cautioned that embracing risk and failure as a cultural hallmark has to come from leadership. “Having the top of the company behind this is very important,” he said.

At the close of the panel, Stengel noted that in light of breakneck change and massive pressure to find a path forward, brand consistency shouldn’t be forgotten or underestimated. “Execute, bringing things to life consistently—great brands have consistent execution,” he said.

Tosolini added, “Where we fail is turning common sense into common practice.”

Following the keynote, breakout sessions covered brand-centric topics including the likely demise of 50 percent of the Fortune 500 companies in the next 10 years, the innovation and intimacy economy, telling your brand’s visual story on Pinterest and the future of cannabis.

“Brands have to behave like they are starting in a new school. Everything is different,” said Tim Schigel, general partner at Cincinnati-based Refinery Ventures, who, in a TED-like talk, broke down some of the challenges among Fortune 500 companies facing disruptions that could very well put them out of business.

To combat the threats of a winner-take-all and attention-based economy in which the first movers into “zero-billion-dollar markets” like Uber define who wins the future, Schigel encouraged disrupted brands to borrow the agility models from sectors like venture capital that often hinge on a fast, cheap and multifaceted mindset.

“Brands have to take a portfolio approach to experimentation and learning,” Schigel said.

“A common theme is people are looking for experiences from brands, not interruptions. Brandemonium wants to explore this and create an environment that fosters this,” said Bill Donabedian who, with Kevin Canafax, founded Brandemonium in 2017.

“Several years from now, we want Brandemonium to be a fluid experience, one that blurs the lines between the conference and festival” Donabedian said. “Maybe a brand like Virgin takes over an empty storefront, turns it into a unique space where conference attendees see speakers and panels during the day, but it becomes an after party later that evening.”

@jcoopernyc James Cooper is editorial director of Adweek.