10 silent changes that are revolutionising branding

 

I would like to share with you ten reflections about the unspoken changes that are stirring up some very well-established beliefs about how brands are created and managed. We can't predict the future but we can pay attention to what's already happening.

1. From definitive versions to permanent beta.

The idea that what's important is to fix a definitive version has been an axiomatic truth in branding. It was understood that we have to define and work with a fixed image within a world that's in constant movement. A strategic identity was thought to have to last throughout the whole life of the product or company. But we need to start acknowledging that things no longer work that way. We have trouble recognising fixed images because nowadays everything is liquid, fleeting, tumultuous, uncertain. Is it really that crucial to engage in long-term thinking or is it an unsolvable mystery? Is it really that worrying to have brands that are launched and implemented in permanent beta until the users assign them a meaning? Has branding become a tactical activity?

2. From a uniform mass to an empowered community

We come from a world that used to homogenise everything and turn each and every one of us into a part of a uniform mass, as if we were linear products with converging characteristics. The best-selling book Funky Business created the term surplus society: "A surplus of similar companies, employing similar people, with similar educational backgrounds, coming up with similar ideas, producing similar things, with similar prices and similar quality." It was the ideal situation for branding consultancies that aimed to help companies define and communicate their differentiating essence.

But we have slowly evolved. Technology has allowed us to outline our borders with precision and personal branding has emerged. And each of these personal brands looks for similar people, creates communities, associates with certain brands and feels free and empowered to consume, create and deliver value.

3. From branding properties to branding access

As Times magazine says in a widely quoted article on the ten ideas that will change the world, there will come a day when we will look back and ask ourselves why we bought so many things. The crisis has forced us to set aside this form of compulsive buying, which in any case didn't make us any happier. But we want to keep having access to products, services, and experiences. And the sharing economy makes this possible. Many experiences that we couldn't previously afford are now becoming accessible. And along the road, the sharing economy makes us better people, because sharing and cooperating is much more rewarding than acting exclusively in our own benefit. Branding within the sharing economy is no longer directed at property, but rather, at the platforms that give us access and at the sharing community that we collectively form.

4. From the best kept secret to the need for focus

One of the most repeated mottos is that information is power. Keeping secrets used to make us powerful. But nowadays, it's difficult to keep a secret and the tendency is to do exactly the opposite. A quick search on any topic, no matter how unknown, will deliver information. More importantly, things now have a value insofar as they can be shared. The problem is almost the opposite: there is so much information that it's becoming difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff and determine who we should pay attention to, how to choose, what is useful and what isn't. Branding has to help companies and people to focus, to segment better, to set aside what doesn't help.

5. From hierarchical growth to nodal growth

Traditionally, companies have grown pyramidally. A brand's repositioning used to cascade down from the tip of the pyramid. However, some new companies and organisations are showing that it's possible to grow without a hierarchy. With leaders but without bosses. Through interconnected nodes. And that this, in fact, is the fastest way to grow. With real information transparency, with free and collaborative tools. Extending our brands in this way yields a different type of organisation, in which individuals now count as persons and are able to achieve much more because they accept a bigger degree of responsibility and are happier. Without pressure or stress. And to grow in this way, we need to be able to tell our brand's story really well; to seduce in the best sense of this word.

6. From guilty consumers to happy consumers

The magnitude of the problems we're facing has created a consumer who feels a part of the problem generated by decades of unethical behaviour, pollution and a lack of transparency on behalf of brands. Furthermore, these brands have invested a great deal of effort to create the behaviours and lifestyles that consumers don't feel like wanting to leave but know they should leave. At the same time, a new form of consumption is emerging, one that doesn't imply guilt, because it isn't materialistic, because it helps to revert inequalities, because it's beginning to stop environmental destruction, and because it's giving back its dignity to those that the capitalist society isolates from the system. It's the happy consumer of the peer to peer economy.

7. From passive spectators to prosumers

For a lot of years, brands were built in a unidirectional manner for passive spectators who received their messages and didn't offer any response in turn. As the media panorama proliferated, this spectator became more and more cynical, and became an expert in avoiding all sorts of insistent advertising. Slowly, as technology began to progress, we matured and became the consumer-producer who gives live feedback, produces content on his experience and engages in meaningful conversations with brands. Each one of us can become today a powerful opinion leader whose ideas can favour or damage a brand. Identifying our influencers is a basic task of the new brand management.

8. From waste to efficiency

We live in a system that accumulates inefficiencies that the crisis has made even more dramatic. We waste up to 40% of our food, we leave our houses empty for the day to be able to afford our mortgage, our car is parked 90% of the time and when we use it it's normally at a quarter of its capacity, we accumulate thousands of objects in our homes which we barely use or have even forgotten they exist... And what's even worse: owning so many things has not made us happier or better people. Simply by mending these inefficiencies and many others, a whole bunch of new brands are appearing. Instead of a new car brand, a carpooling brand; instead of a hotel on each corner, renting empty rooms from private homes... and so on.

9. From a lack of trust to reputational capital

We are witnessing this on a daily basis: we have lost faith in all institutions. The regular survey that Metroscopia performs thus confirms it. We don't trust politicians, and the same goes for brands, television, the government, the city council, trade unions, big companies... And yet, we are increasing our faith in people. Many brands have made rating systems available to their users and directed at those who provide their services. This way, each of us is accumulating an online reputation by means of different channels. This reputational capital, at the same time, is an accurate reflection of well-managed brands that understand that their company grows if the reputation of those who use their platform also grows.

10. From lost values to shared values

Values are the invisible mortar that holds us together. Whether explicit or not, they're there and they reflect all of what we do. We talk of a "loss of values" when the behaviour of brands contradicts their discourse and they enter a moral vacuum that discredits them. Brands that, for instance, talk of productivity as if it were an end in itself, replace good work for underpaid and insecure work, and create a working environment where appreciation and acknowledgment is lacking.

Shared values is one of the only things that can't be missing from a company that aspires to become a relevant and appreciated brand.

 

These are my ten observations. Do you agree? What's your point of view? What changes are you witnessing? What would you ad

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