Building Brands in the Connective Economy

We live and do business in a hyper-connected world: one, where the fabled six degrees of separation has, according to Facebook, shrunk to just 3.57 degrees. That means, in effect, that the average Facebook user is just three and a half people away from connecting with anyone, anywhere on the Facebook network.

So the rate of connection that we have between ourselves has become not just shorter but also faster and flatter. Our lives are more interconnected than they have ever been and as a result, we are now more aware of other people and other lives. We’ve also become more mobile and much more dependent on our devices to drive and connect our lives as workers and consumers. According to author Nir Eyal, 79% of smartphone users check their phone within 15 minutes of waking up.

All of this has implications for how brands grow. Companies often plan for growth vertically, within the sector(s) they feel comfortable. But increasingly consumers recognise no such boundaries. They incorporate brands into their lives as and where it feels right to do so, guided by the cues they get from others and from their devices. In other words, they take their references ‘horizontally’ across their lives. If brands are going to keep pace with this, they need, in the words of Nigel Hollis, to move from a focus on ‘share of market’ to one oriented around ‘share of life’.

Over the last 18 months, I’ve been working alongside US-based brand licensing expert Pete Canalichio studying how and where many of the world’s most successful brands partner to touch customers, how they grow engagement with their brands by expanding their market sector reach, and what that means for business models. These are some of the learnings I shared at a recent Fairfax Media Future Of Business event:

1. Brands need an idea that can expand

Disney’s huge success doesn’t lie in the fact that they make movies. The thing they excel at is creating and building characters. They do so because a film is limited to a movie theatre or a screen, but a character can take on many forms. It can form the basis for a line of clothing or a ride at a theme park. It can become a musical. Brand strategists talk a lot about the single organising idea: the one idea around which a brand orbits. But increasingly I think brands need to look for a single expanding idea – an idea that will literally allow a brand to not just stand for something that people are deeply drawn to, but that they will potentially  ‘follow’ across sectors in order to gain more experiences.

2. Look beyond one income source

Movie companies make less money than many people realise from their core product, films. Increasingly, they depend on ‘ancillary income’ (money they earn outside their core offering), from rights, licensing, merchandising and so on, to make up the shortfall. It’s a portfolio strategy. The idea is relevant beyond entertainment, because more and more companies are finding that consumers expect them to ‘give’ them information and services that once they would have charged for. Taking the movie theatre ‘portfolio’ idea one step further, companies cannot depend on a single facet to deliver them profile and profit. They need to be able to distinguish what they are willing to do to grow loyalty and awareness, and what they want people to pay for. As I pointed out during my presentation: Know where you make your name, and where you make your money, because the two may be quite separate.

3. Seeking out partnerships

Increasingly, companies are recognising that if they want to expand their idea, and they want to derive income from more than one source, then they need to engage consumers on a range of levels – and that means joining forces with others. In my presentation, I gave the example of how My Food Bag had teamed up with Nadia Lim to achieve a partnership that, in my opinion, neither could have achieved on their own. I also gave the example of how Invivo wines have teamed up with Graham Norton. More New Zealand companies should be thinking about how they can form partnerships with others, particularly if they plan to expand globally, in order to gain access to opportunities that might otherwise elude them.


Mark Di Somma

Mark Di Somma is a creative brand strategist, writer and speaker. His company, The Audacity Group, helps decision makers, brand owners and brand agencies define, articulate and elevate the value of their brands at critical moments of change. Brand and business owners seek Mark out for the powerful and creative mix of left and right brain thinking that he brings to brand strategy and his ability to shape decisions through a deep understanding of the business case and the commercial realities. Mark is a regular contributor to Branding Strategy Insider, one of the world’s leading brand strategy blogs, and Entrepreneur. Find out more about Mark, and read his latest thinking on brands in a shifting and social world, at