When I traveled to Namibia to speak about marketing at the World Indigenous Business Forum, I learned something fascinating about today's digital marketing and branding efforts. Despite what we all may assume, these 21st century tactics draw from the same age-old well of values that have been vital to indigenous peoples through the millennia. The power of storytelling, the importance of identity and inclusion--these things form the foundation of today's social media-driven digital world.

To put it another way, the old and the new are converging. Even though our smartphones and tablets look and function like nothing our ancestors could have imagined, they're really just the latest expression of some very old, universal human needs.

That's an exciting thing to recognize, because it means that technology doesn't necessarily have to be the isolating, culture-killing giant that it sometimes appears to be--like, for example, when you're on the subway and all you see is a sea of faces all zoned in on their touchscreens.

Instead, if we let it, technology can give us the best of both our traditional, analog world and the digital one.

Take digital picture frames, for example. One company, Nixplay, has taken the digital frame out of the 1990s by connecting it to the cloud and to social media. So while you can still upload photos to the frames (wirelessly, of course), the frames can also instantly access images you post on Instagram or Facebook. (Btw, yes, I do think this is going to be hottest present this year under the tree. Perfect for grandma and your boss.)

That's pretty cool, sure, but how does it blur the lines between what's old and what's new? It means that an image of you hiking in Africa (or in my case, of me with the tribe I was lucky enough to spend time with in Namibia) could pop up next to your scanned grandparents' wedding photo from 1950. A baby picture of you sporting some serious 1980s style could be immediately followed by an image you took literally seconds ago--a selfie at your friend's baby shower.

Nixplay's frames are part of the internet of things, yes, and in that sense they're firmly entrenched in the new and the now. But functionally, they're also part of our greater human journey--our desire to connect with each other, tell our stories, and build community.

Another place where the old ways and the new are blending might seem to be an unlikely one: Instagram food pictures. Trust me, I can get just as annoyed as the next person when my Instagram feed suddenly seems to feature nothing but those trendy, filtered shots of beautifully plated food. (Give us a break now and then with some ugly food shots, guys. Just an idea.)

But in a way, those shots point to a refreshing trend in our hurry-up-and-go world. By slowing down enough to take a picture of the plate you're about to dive into, aren't you savoring your meals a little longer? Taking the time to enjoy food through not just taste, but smell and look, has been a beloved cultural more for hundreds of years in many countries.

And the same could be said for our obsession with capturing daily moments on our social media feeds. The shot of a mom eating ice cream with her happy child, a couple enjoying a sunset, friends laughing over drinks--these are all small, yet precious moments the likes of which we've always recorded somehow. It doesn't really matter whether that's in a journal entry, a painting (see Renoir's "Luncheon of the Boating Party"--if he lived today, he'd totally have Instgrammed that moment), or on Facebook.

This is something that businesses need to be aware of as they're building their brands. Just as authenticity has become a vital, inherent part of any brand strategy, recognizing--and capitalizing on--the age-old human values that have led us to embrace 21st century technology will be what sets the game-changers apart from the rest of the pack.

Shama Hyder is founder and CEO of the award-winning Marketing Zen Group, an integrated online marketing and digital PR firm. She is also an international speaker, bestselling author, and a regular media correspondent for major networks ranging from Fox Business to Bloomberg. Connect with Shama on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Published on: Oct 16, 2015
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