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As the year 2012 comes to a close, the predictions for next year are already starting to trickle in.

One of the most interesting thoughts about 2013 that I’ve come across lately is out of the U.K., called Empty13. The premise is simple: There isn’t much happening in 2013. After a year full of Olympics and elections in 2012, there isn’t a lot on the shared agenda for 2013.

Yet with big brands and small brands, considered purchases and impulse purchases, everyone is actively trying to engage their consumers in a meaning way of some kind.

As with face-to-face interaction, it is hard to strike up a conversation if you have nothing in common. Brands, like people, typically use shared and familiar topics to strike up conversations.

Face-to-face: “Some weather we’re having, huh?”

Brand: “Great Olympics we’re having, huh?”

Face-to-face: “What is your favorite team?”

Brand: “Who is your favorite candidate?”

So, what happens when there isn’t a common agenda for brands and consumers to talk about?

For some it could be scary; like filling the awkward silence in a conversation. Those conversations never tend to go well. Normally people end up fumbling and talking about themselves too much or saying something inappropriate. In 2013, brands may find themselves at risk of doing the same.

Stimulating conversations
However, 2013 could also be a year of tremendous innovation in marketing and creating conversations between brands and consumers. In the absence of a shared agenda, brands are going to have to create their own conversations.

The nature of conversations also continues to change. Sometimes it is an ad, a Facebook like, an event and other activity. The ongoing engagement seems to be the preferred conversation. It is also easier to achieve if you have a shared topic or agenda.

We create elaborate strategies and interactions, thinking that what our brand has to say must be so important that consumers simply can’t wait to engage with us.

Sometimes, and frankly more often than not, a simple interaction may be just as powerful. A simple message from a brand, followed with a simple response. Sounds like a fair exchange.

In 2013, I expect the content vs. context debate for brands to be in full swing. Should brands be publishers? What is the right context for our brand? Both will continue to be relevant. In fact, they’ll be harder to answer without a shared agenda.

Measurement and results
One other warning going into 2013 is measurement. It is already hard enough to measure the efficacy of branded engagements and conversations. This issue will be compounded next year. 2012 had several shared topics that led to naturally higher levels of engagements. Next year, we’ll be compared to year-over-year results that are artificially inflated by too many shared agendas and topics.

Ultimately, it all goes back to good storytelling. Just as in face-to-face conversations, if we hear a good story, we want to retell it and share it with others. So it is in marketing messages: If it moves us or touches us in some way, we’re compelled to share it. And is there a more powerful endorsement than sharing?

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