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Is your brand ready for the culture of proximity?

We’re all trying to be heard—brands, politicians, thought-leaders, people with opinions to share and ideas to spread. Or, ideas to share and opinions to spread. Sharing creates a shared set of beliefs. A “culture.” In the past, “culture” and the dominant message was shaped by a top-down approach—record companies, news media, celebrities representing what was deemed important, relevant and current to the public. Today, culture is operating under new rules where fans, celebrities, content creators and consumers are closer together than ever, occupying the same culture-making space.

A recent study by Viacom Velocity calls this The Culture of Proximity. This allows close and deep cultures to form, based on people sharing their thoughts and ideas, observations and opinions and allows others who experience the same thing to engage, “that wasn’t the way I experienced it, but I’m thankful that I’m in proximity to your thoughts.”

This is creating a fundamental shift in how we consume information and “knowledge” about the world and each other. Real-time dialogue as events unfold can visibly change the conversation and the way people experience it. Attendees with the loudest voice, biggest following, or most strategic hashtag strategy are more than just metaphorically standing on the steps screaming, “Hear me!”

This speed makes traditional marketing and brand messaging virtually useless, outdated, always behind.

That may be a little extreme, but not much. Top down, pre-created, in-the-can messaging misses the real-time reality of cultural discourse today.

If brands don’t hold the power to determine what’s most relevant in a culture who does? Content curators will become the source of power going forward—telling you where to look to find the information you want. Telling you who and what to listen to. Those with the same interests as you hold a coveted place in your “close culture.” You find voices online you can trust, or you ask those within your circle (a.k.a. filter bubble) who to trust. Ownership and control of the message, the “culture,” then rest with these curators. People, brands, celebrities, and content creators are all acting like each other—stealing each other’s ideas. It’s the curators you trust that help you navigate. How does your brand show up in this web of proximity?

Find your brand truth, your point of view, what you really stand for. Then jump in. Invest in what it takes to get involved in the dialogue where the conversations you care about are happening. Real-time. No sidelining. To be relevant you need to be heard.

This (United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz’ response after a passenger was forcibly removed) is maddening: “I apologize for having to re-accommodate these customers.” And this (from Uber CEO Travis Kalanick after a number of scandals), “I must fundamentally grow up as a leader” is only marginally better. Pepsi released this (after its ad featuring soda-loving protestors was savaged on social media), “Clearly we missed the mark, and we apologize,” is almost effective.

Participate. Empathize. Have an opinion. Be relevant. Listen and show up at the intersection between content and influencers, and make sure your voice is authentic when you step up and say “hear me—everybody should hear this!”

For brands that want to be a relevant and meaningful part of the culture of proximity today, a commitment to engaging and curating meaningful content is key. Canned brand doesn’t cut it and your consumers can smell it.

You can see the complete intro video on the Culture of Proximity from Viacom Velocity by clicking here.

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