2017: A Year of Trialed Transformation

We live in unusual times - there is no denying. Many brands aren’t shying away from addressing the peculiarity of the moment we live in, either. For myself, the year has been one of trialed transformation. So many times I turned to social media platforms to connect with peers and potential clients in the same way that I have for years, only to find that political discourse and ruthless bots have sullied much of what used to ensnare my time. Although the technology of social media is enabling more opportunities for brands to connect with their audience than ever before, the dark cloud that hovers above the everyday discourse in America has cast a din over everything. At least, for people like me, that is. My fear is that with so much vitriol in the air we are becoming even more channeled than ever before. That our social-media-enabled echo chambers are only redoubling the strength of their walls, and that the internet - an environment that for a moment was the hallmark of openness - will be a less open place. (I won’t even comment on the net neutrality discourse in our country right now.) Yet, still, this year we - at Markon - met new clients and we did new things, and through the malaise of finding footing in shifting territory, we have grown more into ourselves than ever before. At least, by my estimation.

Design has an infinite capacity to solve problems. And when I say design, I am talking about any creative function that creates a new product or way of working/living. When digital environments silo communication, instead of opening it to the world, developers can change that. So can individuals and brands themselves. If brands look at targeting information as an act of inclusivity instead of intentional refinement, we can break down demographic boundaries and expand brand audiences across a spectrum of identities. At Markon we try to do this by asking our clients questions about who they believe their audience is, and then by examining the opportunities and environment in which their brand engages. Anytime we can expand their audience to create a new segment of customers we’ve made the world a little more open.

Similarly, when the culture in society is growing tense, designers can create symbols and messages of inclusion to ease that tension. How many businesses adopted storefront signs this year that announced their inclusivity? How many new socio-cultural activist icons emerged in 2017? In our own neighborhood we saw messaging from brands that would otherwise never comment on the zeitgeist of the nation, and yet “We Serve ALL….” signs and rainbow flags popped up in our neighborhood, and clients came to us insisting we be as humanly inclusive in the messaging we publish for their brands as possible.

At the end of the day, in a poignant way, the potency of the vitriol that is so easily found on social media these days underscores that the technology’s power for communication remains. Brands of any size, or industry, can make use of social media in some way or another. It’s the only technology that provides a low-barrier access point to having your own broadcast channel. What we do with it matters, and when we use it to connect, inspire, and include others, that opens our world and grows brands.

Looking toward the year ahead I realize how much power we hold as the people who create messages - for all environments. It’s our duty to be responsible in what we build and to act with intention, integrity, and authenticity. That’s exactly how I - and Markon - will move forward into 2018.

BrandingMichael Wagner