We live in an age of continual transformation in advanced consumer economies. While we experience it through incremental changes, not big leaps, at its heart there are three enduring mega trends that are influencing how we live and also how we develop brand strategy.
The first is personalisation and customisation. All consumers want individual experiences that go beyond products, services and eco-systems. Brands must also go well beyond their foundations as marks of trust to deliver them. Next is digitalisation. The information revolution continually generates the data points that create new or altered forms of value forming bigger communities and winner-take-all platforms. Brands were always built to capture value in knowable markets, now they must be built to enable businesses to co create the future with it customers.
Finally we have what we term nativism. The shift in our world from the majority of consumers being born pre-digital to a world dominated by digital natives. For brands this means moving on from traditional methods to building strategy that is more dynamic just like the world the brand inhabits.
While the change is perhaps not fast enough for us who thought we would be in Mercedes flying cars by now these three trends are the undoubtable forces that are pushing how brands are born and experienced in a different direction. Brands used to be created to capture the unique, distinct value that a business offered whereas now they need to be formed to hold together an ongoing value exchange between a business and its only real source of value, how well the organisation serves a group of customers. Below we examine how to build brands capable of doing just this.
1/ Understanding customer journey is only the beginning
Customer centricity really really matters but mapping the customer journey is only the beginning. There is no doubt that done well maps highlight clearly the moments that matter more than others. They will tell you the pain points and what other ways you need to service customers to be truly customer centric. Unfortunately the same logic will also apply to any of your competitors. What they will not be able to express is who you uniquely are and how you would distinctly deliver this moment. This is the role of brand. Transforming a pain point into an experience in a way only you can. As we move beyond services and products into a world of experience it is more important than ever to understand who you are so you understand how to deliver distinctive signatures rather than generic category truths. Think like Gatorade who deliver personalised hydration from unique ‘swamp logic’ or Nike who deliver authentic ‘enabling of athletes’ across platforms through clear brand signatures that could only come from them.
2/ Build self-reinforcing narratives
In a world where a business, through its people and platforms, co-creates its value with its customer your brand needs to be the thread that can tie this all together. Customer says, Employee reacts and Business changes. You need to look beyond basic behavioural drivers and understand the promise that all three sides are buying into. Your own organisational history will give you a great deal of insight into how to build a brand that can serve three masters. You were started for a reason so spend some time distilling how this meaning applies to the business, its employees and customers. Think like Southwest who has built a self-reinforcing system around the central idea of ‘spreading the love’. Think like Wholefoods who hold an entire ecosystem together through an enduring focus on ensuring everyone shares in the values created by eating and living well.
3/ Find the heroes of your tale
Every story has a hero. Equally your brand needs one. You need a basis of inspiration that is grounded in reality. It used to be enough for your brand just to say it, now you have to show it. If you do not have a compelling founding myth this can be challenging but there are actors who can be the anchor point of your story.
You can focus on the transformational CEO. Think Steve Jobs returning to Apple or Indra Nooyi at Pepsico.
You can focus on the product as hero. Think Tesla and Dyson and how they build heroic products that are tangible proof of what the founders both believe in. It could be the culture from which your brand was born. Think like Qantas whose product, services and experiences are shaped through its uniquely Australian characteristics. How can you both lead on safety, style as well as a laid back approach to travel? Qantas have nailed this. It can even be the culture you create. Think like Airbnb who have constantly sought to answer the question, ‘How do you build trust between strangers so you can share the world one neighbourhood at a time?’