So, last day of the year here in New Zealand. Summer’s arrived (something we always welcome in Wellington) and I’ve had a few days to put things in order and get ready for the year ahead.
In contrast to 2014, where I spent much of the time travelling, this year has been much more regionalised in terms of where I’ve been. I always enjoy working with entrepreneurs – and start-up brands, particularly those looking to make a splash globally, require plenty of thinking through. This year I’ve been fortunate to work alongside people with huge plans in unlikely areas. It’s reinforced the need, as I pointed out in this article at Entrepreneur.com, to always build a brand for tomorrow, not build a brand that suits now but will need rebranding in the years ahead as it expands.
Brand cultural challenges
A couple of very large internal culture projects reinforced four obsessions: the need to coalesce strategy with structure (because delivery won’t happen if the human factors and the logistical structures are out of sync); the need to increase urgency in terms of responsiveness and yet remain caring and deeply principled (which is all about the values you choose and the permissions you endorse); the all-important signals that come from the language you choose (because how you speak as an organisation reflects not just what you think as a business but also how you think and how you don’t think); and the paradox of consistency and iteration that every brand culture grapples with (the need to be predictable and yet stay interesting).
Marketing remains complex
It’s always a privilege and a pleasure to share thinking with others and once again this year I’ve been able to do that at Branding Strategy Insider. If you review the sheer range of topics that were covered by all the writers to the site, and the discussions that were raised and debated, they reflect not just the pressures that marketers are under across a range of fronts but also the sheer complexity of effective branding today.
Difference of opinion and belief should be a driving force in brand strategy
Plenty remains unresolved, and that’s a good thing, because effective competition depends on lack of consensus. Difference of opinion and belief should be a driving force in brand strategy, particularly as products converge, because I believe it’s the only way that brands will be able to carve out clear space for themselves in the years ahead. It’s risky to be opinionated and to bet the brand on specific strategies and trends … but I would argue that the alternative (the big beige) is worse because it can only ever end in a relentless dive into commoditisation. Back yourselves to take risks rather than follow trends, and take an actively managed portfolio approach to your strategy to ensure there are always options but only the most effective options make it.
Positioning, engagement, affinity
I used a couple of speaking occasions this year to air some developing thinking around the priorities as I see them. In May at the Un-Conference in Miami I suggested that as the middle ground continues to fall away brands will have to make more radical positioning decisions. In effect, they will need to decide whether to go big (globally or nationally), be brash (by becoming challengers) or intensify (by becoming more niche or opting to become a cult brand). In a second presentation the following day, I talked about the shift from lifetime value to real-time value and how customer engagement would be redefined across 8 factors (story, time, personalisation, belief, payment, channel, dialect and iteration).
Later in the year, at the New Zealand Marketing Summit, I gave a short keynote on why competitive advantage is a dying strategy and why in my view the search for affinity will dominate brand thinking in the years ahead, particularly on social platforms. It’s a strategy though that is not without its risks. Bret Easton Ellis wrote a sobering piece on Living In The Cult of Likeability that spelled out eloquently and convincingly why we should be wary of the reputation economy and what can happen to your work and your integrity when you feel that you have to please everyone.
Connecting and reconnecting
This year I connected with a number of people whose work I admire. Some I have met through the years and we had lost touch; others were thinkers who I have quoted or referenced and wanted to get to know better. I don’t know about you but I still find networking hard. Even for someone who loves to write, invitations on platforms like Linked In remain a challenge. You want to be interesting and to express why you’re keen to include someone in your network but saying that succinctly and effectively is never easy. If we met up this year, online or in person, thanks for making space for me. If you’d like to connect, please drop me a line.
One person I did meet up with this year was Denise Lee Yohn and I continued the Virtual Coffee series with an intriguing interview with her that spanned not just her new book but also her wider thinking on branding, the future of retailing and the lessons we can all learn from the hospitality sector. I’ve had some great feedback to our interview that I’ll include in an upcoming post.
Finally, a big thank you to all those whose interactions and encouragement kept me writing and sharing this year – (in alphabetical order) Beto, Blair, Chris, Christine, Derrick, Di, Durga, Hilton, Jane, Jeremy, Kevin, Mark, Patrick, Pete, Philippe, Sandra and Tom.
The year ahead
There’s a few things I’m keen to explore in 2016: how do marketers deliver smarter experiences; what do brands need to do to manage customer relationships more effectively; what does dialogue look like as we become more mobile. Any other suggestions are of course welcome. I’ll also have news to share soon on a major writing project.
See you in the new year.