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Future Of Branding

Brand Management Of The Future

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Brand Management Of The Future

We all know the fundamental issue: consumers are suffering from attention deficit disorder brought on by too much choice. Now the moral imperatives brought on by concerns over global warming—to buy local, to buy green—are layered on top of an already bewildering variety of alternatives. People are recognizing that every purchase decision has consequences, but figuring out what the consequences really are is tough.

In theory, new media give consumers control over this complex world. When people can rouse themselves to use them, search engines, product ratings and social networks can help shoppers make better purchase decisions, but in reality the online world of search and word of mouth is just as complex and confusing as the offline world. As a result, I believe that people will still be drawn to a simple, straightforward brand promise. If they find that a brand lives up to its promise, they are likely to stick with it. Why make another decision? If and when a brand exceeds their expectations, they are likely to recommend it to others. Advocacy will spread the word more effectively than search engine rankings or branded TV shows.

That said, a brand still needs to make its promise heard, and people need to find that promise personally relevant. They need to feel they can trust the company behind the brand to act in their best interests. Given the diversity of interests out there, many brands will need to align themselves with ever-narrower communities. If a brand cannot maintain broad, mass-market appeal, then it will have to focus on the needs of specific segments of consumers, which may be defined more by shared attitudes than demographics. A brand that can serve the needs of a specific target group better than any other can compensate for lack of mass appeal and trade volume by charging a premium price.

A really strong brand can rise above a specific product category. Apple offers the same philosophy and sense of design across computers, laptops, music players and phones. Dove offers the same promise across soap, body lotion, anti-perspirant and hair care. Disney spans theme parks, cruise ships, movies and games.

What will be far tougher in the future is for a brand to rise above an established connection with one community in making a broad appeal to others. The more a brand draws strength from a sense of community among users, the more likely it is to have a polarizing effect. Apple has set itself up against PC’s in its “Mac versus PC” advertising. In doing so, it may alienate PC users with its superior and self-satisfied tone. Dove, in seeking to appeal to Western values of personal self-worth, may undermine its appeal to women who still appreciate the adulation that outer beauty might bring. Disney, being firmly associated with family fun, will not make my short list of vacation destinations.

Walking The Talk

Brands like Nike, Guinness and Dole are just a few examples of well-established brands that are happily surfing the new media wave. Increasingly, however, engagement is going to mean more than creating an engaging brand experience. For many brands, engagement will come to mean standing for something—a belief or a set of values—and inviting customers to stand with you. Brands need to declare their beliefs and act on them. Brands that are succeeding in doing this today include Whole Foods, Innocent, Patagonia, Newman’s Own, Body Shop and Fair Trade coffee.

Declaring and living out values should not be confused with merely supporting a good cause. Brands like Yoplait, M&M’s and Lee Jeans prominently support the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation in the United States. Assisting such a worthy cause is a laudable corporate action, but if a related value, such as the promotion of women’s health, is not part of a brand’s DNA, then its association may be viewed as nothing more than a marketing tactic. People know which brands are really committed to something and which ones are just trying to sell more stuff.

The future is uncertain but one thing is sure. People pay a lot more attention to what companies do than to what they say. People respect companies that try to do the right things. If they believe companies are acting out of enlightened self-interest, as in the case of Wal-Mart, they are less likely to be cynical about their motives. On the other hand, companies that seek to market their brands through “greenwashing” could find themselves pilloried online and off.

Surfing The Wave

Successfully riding the wave of the future will require anticipation, poise, and agility. It will require us to become far better at understanding our target audience and anticipating their needs. Marketers will need to find ways to make their brands stand up and stand out, going beyond functional benefits to create a sense of purpose and identity.

We will need to be adaptable, changing to meet shifting conditions. The future of global brands does not lie in one-size-fits-all offers and cookie-cutter marketing. The successful global brands will embrace the diversity of individuals, communities and cultures around the world. They will be comfortable appealing to a mindset, not an age bracket. They will deliver great brand experiences, and they will orchestrate that experience across a wide variety of communication channels. To do so effectively and efficiently, these brands will have to allow local team members the freedom to act quickly and sensitively.

Advantages of scale will be realized not from the application of rigid rules and rote systems, but from a broad, shared understanding of the brand and the functional, emotional and social benefits that it brings to its customers.

Contributed to Branding Strategy Insider by: Nigel Hollis, excerpted from his book The Global Brand, Palgrave Macmillan

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4 Comments

Andrew Weir on October 23rd, 2010 said

I completely agree. Brands have to stand for something and make a promise that is relevant and credible. They should then be looking for ways to over-deliver the promise..ideally WOW consumers.

I love the expression “social media is like word of mouth on steroids”. If brands do the above then consumers will advocate them on and off line. That is powerful.

Eddie on October 23rd, 2010 said

Great points throughout, Nigel. I completely agree that consumers are paying so much more attention to what large corporations DO rather than what they SAY. They have been duped for so many years that we consumers are finally telling big businesses to prove their worth to us. Some are succeeding while others are failing miserably.

Chris Ferrell on October 25th, 2010 said

Agreed. If the brand promise is accurate, the brand will be successful. If its not, the brand will fall a lot faster than it would have in the past, thanks to social media. People talking about your brand on their own merit is worth more than any company talking about it. People will only talk positively about the brand experience if the brand promise was accurate. Companies who can accurately understand and project their brand truth are the ones who will survive.

Nigel Hollis
Twitter: nigelhollis
on October 26th, 2010 said

I think the challenge to marketers in the new social media world is to know when to lead opinion and when to bow to it.
People identify with any entity with which they feel aligned. I believe the strongest brands will be the ones that stick to their founding principles and lead by example. Inspiration becomes the new authenticity. But these brands will not appeal to everyone. They need to be very careful when listening to the social chatter to distinguish between loyalists and the simply vocal.

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