In early 2005, Kevin Colleran pitched Sean Parker and Facebook on a deal where he would bring them advertisers interested in the emerging college demographic. He was already working with other startups that appealed to college students and knew how to translate that audience into brand interest.

By April 2005, Colleran had joined full time, one of the first ten employees and the first explicitly focused on brand partnerships. Parker would later call the hire one of his best at Facebook.

In some ways, the hire was like a starting gun on the social era, and the beginning of the era of digital transformation for marketers and commerce professionals at brands. Facebook wasn't just a new channel to reach audiences, but represented a new paradigm of relationships between people and brands enabled by new social technology.

In the almost exactly ten years since then, brands have had to adapt en masse to a new era of digital consumer experience.

First it was social networks, which empowered consumers en masse to be content creators, not just consumers.
For brands, social meant a directly line to and from consumers and a new two directional relationship.

Then it was mobile. All of a sudden, every customer had a computer in their pockets more powerful than anything that sat on their desks just a few years earlier, replete with the sort of information about interests, locations, and habits that would make any marketer drool. Brands again had to reimagine their work to think about the new context they had for getting messages to consumers about products at the exact moment of highest interest.

All the while, e-commerce startups where innovating as well - tapping social networks to translate peer recommendations into buying opportunities, and geo and time data from mobile to make automated, personalized offers.

Brands responded by creating dedicated innovation initiatives, meant to keep track of and translate new technology transformation into the enterprise - first in marketing, then commerce, and then across the enterprise. According to a Forbes Insights study, 72% of corporations have or are planning one of these initiatives.

The problem for these brands is that even as they plan and pilot and dip their toes into the waters of new strategies, the landscape of consumer experience is racing ahead.

Just a few years ago, consumers had barely heard of Uber. Now, they expect that pretty much anything they want - from cars to goods to services - can be delivered directly to wherever they are, on demand.

Just a few years ago, the choices for dining were groceries you bought yourself at a store, going to a restaurant, or take out. Now Instacart will do your shopping for you within just an hour or two. Or, if you prefer, Blue Apron or HelloFresh will send you the ingredients for specific healthy meals every week, pre-prepped to reduce your time to cooking. Or, if you want that fresh healthy quality, Munchery, Spoonrocket and Sprig can deliver top quality meals in just a few minutes.

Just a few years ago, if you went away, it meant you were staying at a hotel or with friends. Today, literally millions of regular people's rooms and houses are available for rental via Airbnb.

The point is that for consumers, there is no distinction between digital and real world any more. They've gotten used to the constant advance of new technologies and new opportunities that make their lives easier, healthier, more convenient, and more fun.

Havas' SVP of Strategy & Innovation Tom Goodwin put this succinctly in an article for MediaPost a few weeks ago. To summarize, he said that while brands still divide the world into TV and online video, consumers care about content delivered to them wherever they want it. While brands still divide things into retail vs. ecommerce, consumers simply want the best deal and most convenient experience to buy things, whether they're in the store, on a website, or on Instagram.

The reality is that the beginning of the first era of corporate digital transformation - where brands had the privilege of waiting and seeing what stuck, or slow walking technology adoption, or dividing things into convenient buckets - is over.

People's experience of technology is wholly integrated across their entire experience - from the moment they wake to the moment they sleep - with no distinction between online and offline.

So too must brand strategy be. Because what's coming next - wearables, and internet of things, and virtual and augmented reality, and data, and data, and data, and personalization, and automation, and in short a fundamentally connected and transformed world - makes what's happened in the last decade since Kevin Colleran walked into Facebook's then modest doors - look quaint.

Welcome to the end of the beginning of digital transformation, and the start of what comes next. Is your brand prepared?


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