The connection between consumers as humans, and the brands they choose to invest in and advocate, has never been so acute. The phrase ‘brand is business, and business is brand’, is therefore more relevant than ever.
This isn’t to say of course that the premise of connectedness is new. Where budget and choice has allowed, consumers have long opted for products and services provided by organisations they either trust, like, perceive as desirable, or can benefit from – sometimes a combination of all factors.
What has continued to evolve though, is our social perceptions of brand, and the demands we place on brands as a result. Expectations in this respect have, in many cases, become greater and greater. And, in truth, such expectations show no signs of slowing.
So, while we’ve long known that a brand reputation could be made, or destroyed, in an instant, this risk – and opportunity – should now be in even sharper focus.
The consumption of information
To a degree, this is probably linked to the sheer volume of information that we now interact with and consume on a daily basis. Generation Zs in particular are growing up with an almost innate ability to digest content en masse, which sees them interact with language and visual cues in what feels like an instant. As a result, they can begin to make (even subconscious) decisions about the brands they do or don’t want to engage with, equally quickly.
Consequently, gone are the days where an organisation can expect a consumer to absorb reams upon reams of content, to inform their perceptions of the brand. When websites were in their infancy for example, page length and loading speeds were not an issue – the launch of an ultra-detailed 100-page site was therefore considered a rich resource and a job well done. Now, there are nanoseconds to convey the intended message and make an impact. Language is therefore more important than ever, and as we look to the future, copy will continue to prove key to brand engagement.
There was a time too, when brand purpose was seen only as a ‘nice to have’, perhaps expected only among social enterprises or the more philanthropic of entrepreneurs. Some organisations jumped on the bandwagon, of course, coining mission and vision statements which in truth did nothing but adorn the pages of their website or company handbook.
However, consumers are increasingly seeing through any hint of insincerity in this respect and would not think twice about calling brands out when their purpose is anything other than authentic. An eco-brand which pledges to better protect the planet, for example, would soon be viewed as socially flawed if it exploited staff in questionable working conditions.
As environmental, inclusion and equality movements continue to gather pace, the spotlight will shine even brighter on this subject. Empathy, and an active commitment to supporting such societal advancements, will therefore dominate the brand agenda for many years to come.
There’s something quite tribal about the search for purpose and the drive for positive change. Look at how quickly support for Extinction Rebellion grew. Whatever your personal opinions about this ‘do-it-together movement’ – a brand in its own right – this is evidence that people will stand up, collectively, for what they believe in and push back when their principles are jeopardised.
Elsewhere, the growing number of companies certified as B Corporations, shows that organisations are also coming together to tackle significant societal challenges, and build businesses that act as a force for good. It’s like an ISO accreditation for the modern world, that makes people want to invest in, buy from, and work for a brand – but it underpins every decision the company makes.
The more businesses can likewise think about brand as the bedrock of the whole organisation, the greater the authenticity, the more compelling the pull, and the easier it becomes to continually evolve.
Not only do brands need to be able to understand this changing world, but the pace with which they must continually evolve, is beyond measure. Finding a way to ensure the brand is flexible enough to constantly adapt and be applied across every touchpoint, may therefore be a challenge for some organisations. But, get it right, and it could prove a huge growth accelerator.
On that note, a recent white paper produced by The Engine Room, explored the role of brand in fast growth businesses, and a number of contributors cited the direct correlation between the strength of a brand and the guarantee of future cash flow – particularly in sectors that are heavily reliant on IP. I think brand will therefore receive an increasing degree of credit for strengthening the balance sheet, rather than it being misconstrued merely as a marketing expense.
A sense of simplicity
Finally, the fifth theme that I predict will increasingly come into play, in terms of the future of brand, is simplicity.
Despite the complexity of different products and services now available in virtually every modern marketplace, ease of use has become paramount across all. User-centred research and insight is core to the successful delivery of such simplicity, and I believe the design profession can prove instrumental here as demands mount.
This simplicity is already influencing minimalistic thinking when it comes to design cues too, and I expect to see brands pared back in terms of their visual identities, moving forwards. This isn’t as easy as it sounds, from a designer’s perspective, but making the complex, simple, never is.