Drinking adrenaline from a fire hose

Columnist Tony Chapman reflects on the last whirlwind decade to try to divine what it will take to succeed in the next one.

Do you remember the first time you climbed a stepladder? I do. I was a toddler blatantly defying my mother’s warning. I used all of my strength to pull myself 10 inches off the ground, gripping the rails in a near death lock, my feet frantically searching for footing. I was so alive – my eyes were shining, my heart was beating, standing at a place where I had never been before. 
That afternoon I tasted adrenaline for the first time. We all know the taste: saliva that’s almost metallic, the euphoria of conquering fears. It never presents itself when you’re maintaining the status quo, only when you attempt or conquer.
I developed an insatiable appetite for that taste, that feeling. It’s probably why I became an entrepreneur. My game was to identify white spaces in the marketplace and try to seize them. I learned early on that most of the rungs I coveted were out of reach for me as an individual and only achievable through a team. More importantly, the intellectual and emotional rewards of “all for one, one for all” far outstripped individual conquest. 
As a result, Capital C continuously ended up where we didn’t belong: inventing the story of the Easter Bunny and designing products that ended up being marketed around the world (for Cadbury), launching the largest teen magazine in Canada (Pepsi’s Pop Life), creating a rogue $3,000 viral video that found its way onto Jay Leno (“Bridezilla” for Sunsilk) and launching a car without a dollar in advertising (the Nissan Cube). So often with wonderful clients we boldly and at times blindly leapt for the opportunities that the marketplace always seemed to offer.
That was then. The marketplace has shifted drastically, and I have to ask what the next decade will bring for any of us who make our living on the client or agency side of marketing. Will there be new rungs for us to reach for or will the forces of change become so overpowering that the footholds of opportunity become impossible to grab on to?
We grew up in an industry where CPG marketers leveraged their brands to attract, build and keep more consumers, not by cost cutting, downsizing the package, slashing marketing or justifying irrational trade spending to source volume at any cost to simply feed infrastructure.
Today, even the most muscular national brands are highly vulnerable. Even with extraordinary talent, dominant market share and engaging marketing, they can have their position overturned and their supply chain and marketing budgets permanently impaired if an important retailer consolidates the number of brands on shelf and auctions off their space to the highest bidder versus the best brand.
This situation won’t go away. A combination of retail saturation and consolidation makes the CPG cash grab a layup play. For national brands that depend on a handful of retailers it will be survival of the fittest. The clients and their agencies will have to reach for a rung that will only be accessible via a revolutionary change in the way we collectively do business.
The route through this revolution is not price competition where brands all reach the same rung, become commodities and essentially make themselves extinct. We need to climb to that fresh plateau where we unleash human talent and unmatched choreography – seamless and effortless use of left brain and right brain individuals working together, linked to common purpose and goals. 
CPG organizations will have to smash down silos and bring marketing, sales and shopper marketing together to precisely map out the path to purchase; identifying how their consumer thinks and feels and, equally important, how they behave as shoppers. They will need to invest their dollars faster, better and more efficiently than their competition. They will need to win back control. Their agencies will need to be less preoccupied with awards and more focused on how their strategy, creative and account management can deliver sustainable results.   
Both organizations will require cultures that flourish with curiosity, creativity and imagination powered by algorithms fuelled with the freshest of intelligence. Planning, creativity and execution will need to be democratized and deployed at the speed of the marketplace.
For brand promises to truly resonate, they’ll need to be personalized and relevant to the individual or a value-centric community. HR will need to attract and fast-track 25-year-old revolutionaries armed not with a business degree but with expertise and attitude garnered from years of collaborative game play to lead the charge alongside industry dogmas.
Welcome to the new decade; a time in the history of brand building unprecedented in terms of disruptive change. Where rungs are so high they seem impossible to reach. Those who find their way there will have discovered the ability to continuously drink adrenaline from a fire hose. What a wonderful time to be in the business of building brands.
Tony Chapman is the CEO of Toronto-based Capital C and a founding partner of Fresh Intelligence.