What does it mean to be a brand today?
To answer this, we need to understand deeply how people live today, and how they relate to brands. And we need to project how they will do in the future.
Taking a long-term view, it can be argued there has never been a better time to be alive - a more stable, healthier, prosperous time.
Yet today we have an omnipresent anxiety about a multitude of perceived risks and threats to our ways of life. And we can feel like we are living through a world that is changing more rapidly than is comfortable.
The culture we are shaping for ourselves, informed by these sentiments, is surfacing questions about the role brands are - and should be - playing in our world.
We are expecting and needing more and more of brands
In a period of rapid change (perceived and real) globally, brands are increasingly expected to participate actively in shaping the world for the better.
They may be challenged by consumers to step into vacuums of authority increasingly left open to be occupied. They may be facing headwinds of regulatory pressure that could shrink the markets for their products. They may be vilified for not speaking out quickly enough on contentious cultural issues, for not striking the right tone on sensitive nuances of race and gender in their communications.
Brands are now navigating new risks, which can emerge at unprecedented speed
It could be a social media post or communications campaign that is seen as out-of-touch with current norms, and even offensive. It could be an exposé by a disgruntled customer or staff member. It could take the form of facing into a clamour to respond to a political situation, and needing to determine quickly what position to take (and what the fall-outs could be).
Our perspective is that brands increasingly need a longer-term game-plan
Quarter-to-quarter targets and pressures are not going to alleviate. But brands can better navigate those and drive growth by developing a longer-term view and agenda.
To achieve this, there is a requirement to take a 360º view of the role they currently play in our lives and our world, and the role they can and should in the future. This requires applied rigour and a multi-lens approach.
More and more, brands are expected to make a positive contribution to our world – but at the same time this needs to be authentic.
How can this be achieved? There are several principles that prove effective in building a longer-term, more purposeful approach:
1. Interrogating the brand’s DNA over time: delving into its history, understanding its trajectory – making sense of its unique story. It is crucial to understand where the brand came from to determine where it could meaningfully go.
2. Bringing multiple disciplines to bear, including the most senior levels: Whether R&D, regulatory functions - all those who have an involvement in creating your product/service and bringing it to market. Upfront and along the journey.
3. Truly understand consumers’ current relationship with the brand, category and competitors. Outside of standard project briefs – how do consumers really feel about your brand and your sector? What do you mean to them?
4. Keeping a commercial reality check at all times. It can be too easy to be influenced by what current marketing dialogue suggests we should be doing, or to pay too much attention to brands that create a lot of noise but which do not perform well commercially.
5. Being careful to avoid doing what is fashionable or appears expected unless it really makes sense - CSR and points of view that fundamentally don't fit with your brand and category will never gain the traction it needs
6. Consistency, consistency, consistency. Which comes back to ensuring the brand DNA is at the heart of all activity
There is a range of tools that can be applied to answering these questions, and these should always be tailored to the task at hand.
For more information on our perspectives and experiences, contact me.