This new year is special. It marks the beginning of a new decade. It also marks the 20-year transitional journey of change and disruption that we’ve seen ever since the turn of the new millennium. Everything about the way we live our lives, and the ways in which we interact with the world has changed. Everything about the ways in which we build businesses and go to market has changed. In this world of rapid disruption and blitzkrieg marketing, branding and its relationship with businesses has also changed.
Although the concept of branding emerged in pre-historic times with the labelling of livestock in farms, it has only been a few decades since we’ve applied the discipline to sell better. Branding gurus such as Al Ries, Jack Trout, Kevin Keller and David Aaker have been lauded for their efforts in making branding principles relatable to marketing professionals worldwide.
Over the years and with the effort of several brand owners and brand managers, the concept of branding has evolved and traversed a significant journey. Several companies worldwide have realised that branding goes beyond just marketing and penetrates across every level of the organisation. These companies have long realised that their brands are assets that can redefine the trajectory of their performance and can build greater than normal business value.
Today, consumers are also forcing brands to do much more than they’ve ever done before. They are pushing brands to not only deliver on promise, but also create meaningful experiences and change the way they live. Traditional branding parlance such as differentiation and consistency are being replaced by new age disruptive and innovative ideals. Global brands such as Spotify, Airbnb, Netflix and Amazon have revolutionised and monopolised markets and have provided significant inspiration and impetus to a number of companies worldwide, who are creating new markets and are disrupting established business models.
At the start of the new decade and with all the tectonic shift that we are experiencing, it’s imperative to build some new paradigms on branding. Some of the traditionally held tenets may not hold true anymore and it’s probably necessary to create a new understanding that can withstand the test of our current time. Here are a few themes that I see becoming prominent over the next few years.
1. From brand building to brand sculpting
Brands are not built, they are shaped, chiseled and sculpted. Building a brand signifies a humongous brick by brick effort. Any change or disruption signals a danger of the building toppling over. This is probably the reason we find it so hard to accept change. Businesses today need to realise that the brand is an amorphous, adapting entity, ready to face new challenges and realities that the world around is experiencing. When Apple disrupted the mobile phone industry with its smartphone, Samsung didn’t just topple over. It reeled under the temporary setback but chiseled its way right back and created a new meaning in a relatively short span of time. Brands that can withstand the earthquake like disruptions are the ones who are willing to change quickly.
2. From positioning to trajectory mapping
Positioning is dead. Coined in the late 1960’s, this concept has lived well past its sell by date. It is static, signifying a space that a brand holds on to for years to come. Brand managers have strived to maintain uniformity and consistency on their positioning. But consumers and their needs are changing at a speed like never before. Several disruptive brands are quickly responding to these needs and displacing erstwhile positions that brands have occupied. What Swiggy has done to food brands is what Netflix is doing to television channels. Brands that want to survive need to look at quickly adapting to the new normal. Trajectory mapping, which is the projectile movement of the brand in conjunction with the market is probably the new way to manage a brand’s position over a period of time.
3. From vying for brand loyalty to accepting brand adultery
Notice yourself trying to book a cab. Or an air ticket or order a meal at work. Toggling between screens and multiple options is the only way consumers interact with categories nowadays. Brand loyalty doesn’t really exist anymore. And that is okay. It’s time that brands start realising that the philosophy of buying has changed. Brand switching doesn’t necessarily signal a failure or triumph of one brand over another. It is simply the customer’s inability to stick to a single choice at every single purchase cycle. This has a lot to do with the abundance of choice and the excitement to try out new and different alternatives. Erstwhile metrics such as customer lifetime value and customer retention scores may be irrelevant to categories where switching behaviour is normal and expected.
4. From brand communication to brand experience
From communication to storytelling to experience, the branding landscape has witnessed several hallmark shifts in the ways in which it tries to create lasting and meaningful relationships with its customers. The millennial and Gen Z consumer are far more interested in gaining authentic and engaging experiences than acquiring things. Brand experiences that provide a holistic sensory experience helps them get to know the brand better, helping them engage in a mutually fulfilling relationship. The recent Ikea pop ups that showcased actual living rooms on trailer vans in cities across India were an interesting way to get people to actually interact with the brand at a physical level as were the Coca Cola kiosks in malls across India and Pakistan that enabled people to virtually interact with one another, helped the brand stay true to its unifying, ‘spreading happiness’ platform.
Change is good. It isn’t something that necessarily needs to be feared or avoided. The business industry is changing at a speed like we’ve never seen before and a lot of this has to do with consumers and how they are changing. As marketers and brand owners, we’ve got no choice but to lead the change rather than only try and keep up.
Views are personal.
The author is founder- director of Jigsaw Brand Consultants.