What was once the privilege of the few has become prolific and demonstrably influential by all. Brands used to be about control, a short cut to decision-making and the means to stand out in the crowd. Now we have saturated markets and research that reveals the consumer buying process has changed dramatically where consumers now take all the brands in their consideration set to the point of purchase, i.e., no real short cut nor stand out yet the process of brand building has changed little.
Once brand became a verb and not just a noun, an entire industry leaped up around it “applying ingenuity to the disingenuous” according to Lucas Conley. Now we live in an age where businesses need to look beyond the aesthetics of a brand or the efficacy of a service where consumer engagement and loyalty factor far more than benefits and features because consumers now expect to interact with or even influence brands. Thus many clients and pundits are firing salvos saying traditional branding is fast becoming ineffective, irrelevant and impotent complimenting Amazon CEO, Jim Bezos’s definition as, “A brand is what people say about you when you leave the room”.
Brands should benefit society as a whole, not just protect tenured brands from competition. Mutual client suspicions and holding company interests underlie the growing debate of brands added value role. Now a revolution is needed thanks to three forces: rising costs due to market saturation and the explosion of channels, big changes in consumer buying behavior and disruptive technology. To capture this opportunity requires a new approach to brand building that delivers the consumer earlier and deeper into the brand building process, not just the ole who we are, what we do and why we do it approach.
Rarely have need and opportunity so neatly come together. The business goal of any brand is to create more users, new users and/or new uses by continually innovating to add value to customer’s lives. Plus brands help consumers compete to get what they want. Today brand owners should attempt a new approach by being interested in the consumer not just interesting to the consumer. This is not palliative it’s the solution. To do so brand owners need to distill their brands into a core idea/promise, the emotional attributes concerning their values and personality, the functional needs of the brand, social attributes surrounding the environment and the brand’s context in society. These combined will enable product and service innovation that helps brand owners realize ambitions, build legacies, violate convention and shatter norms.
With the 21st Century on fast forward, never has there been a more important time to innovate and drive productivity growth in the face of rampant change with new faster global competition. Entire new industries and many existing ones have transformed to become creators of valuable ideas and experiences. Increasingly, businesses are organizing themselves to maximize the generation of new and better ideas, creating the infrastructure, education systems, and innovative organization that will solve problems, create value, and change the world. As former IBM CEO Lou Gerstner said of business transformation. “It requires focus, leadership, and commitment” to create an authentic community of motivated thinkers and doers that can open new channels for the business, industry and society.
In brands’ defense, they do have the capacity for reinvention because branding is not a body of doctrine but an activity. True originality in brands, as in life, comes from turmoil and the constant search for new insights, ideas and true innovation. Brand owners need to be messianic on their vision and martial in their command because it’s not about who you are underneath, but what you do that defines you. Reinventing an established institution to be fearless crusaders will not be easy and like all revolutions the one that needs to take place with brands will have many victims, but the process will benefit many more businesses and people than it hurts.