We often talk about “brand” as if it is one thing. It’s not of course – in fact, the meaning and the use of the term differs, quite markedly, depending on the context. By my reckoning, brand is categorised in more than 20 different ways. (So much for the single minded proposition!)
A lot of people talk a lot about brands as impressions: brands are how you are talked about when you are not in the room; your brand is the sum of the prompted and unprompted associations that people have of you; your brand is expressed in the ways that you are remembered. All of these definitions accurately describe the associative advantages of a powerful brand. But the critical aspect for me is that a brand today must not only look the part, it must also function as an asset – by definition that means it must be “Something valuable that an entity owns, benefits from, or has use of, in generating income.”
How do brands keep improving? If you’re already a market leader, where should you expend your energies to future-proof your business? A lot of the advice we read in the business press focuses on weaknesses and vulnerabilities and what needs to be fixed and updated. But if highlighting what isn’t working doesn’t work for your brand culture, maybe take your cues from the strengths movement and focus on further improving where you already shine.
This thought-provoking presentation includes some interesting observations on the contrasting effects of brands on the world. On the one hand the Y&R planners point out, brands are responding to consumer expectations that they will drive social change, spending around $18 billion a year on charitable efforts and using their financial clout and influence to affect real change. On the other, some of the biggest brands now know more about us as consumers and individuals than government agencies and we have no real ways of knowing how they will use that information, and to what effect, going forward.
It wasn’t that long ago that competition took place between products, and the criteria for choice between rivals was customer benefits. Product vs product. Today, for globally scaled brands, the competition is really between the reach and co-ordination of different configurations of value chains, and the criteria for choice for customers is the quality of the experiences delivered as a result.
This is the year of wearables it seems. Morgan Stanley are predicting shipments will top 70 million this year and grow to 248 million by 2017. But the thought that wearables themselves will feature in consumer and business spending across areas ranging from fashion and fitness, healthcare and insurance also points to escalation of another trend. Products and services are now less about what consumers have or get and more about who they are and want to be.
Nir Eyal, author of Hooked, recently suggested that products are becoming increasingly addictive. Three macro-trends are driving that, he told me, and together they are lifting the addictive potential of all sorts of products and services: Companies are now able to collect more data about user behaviours; Interactive technology is more accessible; and The transfer of data is happening faster than ever before.