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From our Depsters January 28, 2020

The value of brands in the digital age

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Times are changing. Since 2000, 52% of the companies in the Fortune 500 have gone bankrupt, been acquired or have ceased to exist due to digital disruption. The widely accepted traditional brand values of “consistency and recognisability” have become shaky. Predictability is slowly disappearing in a world where change is becoming the norm and consumers have copious amounts of information at their fingertips. Social responsibility is also increasingly important. Brands must respond to these constantly changing trends and to do this you must embrace the unknown.

Human-centric, convenience and context

Imagine you go on a trip tomorrow. You probably used a digital platform to book your dream cabin right on the beach (via Airbnb). And you were able to do so from your phone while sitting on your couch. When you arrive at your destination, you decide to plop yourself on the couch and watch your favourite movie (via Netflix). You decide to go out for a beer and thus have a taxi (Uber) take you there and drop you off. Local money? You don’t need any as you pay for everything by simply tapping your phone (Apple or Google Pay). And all of this probably sounds pretty normal to you. However, ten years ago, this entire process would have gone very differently.

The success of these particular brands lies in the deep understanding they have of their customers. They put human experience, convenience and context first. They do this by making smart use of creativity, technology and data, a winning combination. 

Letting go of predictability

You can expect today’s audience to have seen it all before. And they frequently use adblockers and/or refuse cookies so that they are not bothered by more irrelevant content when possible. Instead, people want to be triggered by unexpected content that also appeals to them. In this digital day and age, no one wants haphazard content and ads that do not apply to them. People crave something which is relevant to them on a personal level. And, unfortunately, due to adblockers, brands are always one swipe or click away. Thus marketers must rise above the noise. The new value of successful brands lies in embracing the unknown, letting go of predictability and constantly surprising one’s target audience by combining functional and human experiences. 

The era of woke marketing

Consumer look for brands who fit their principles and confirm their values. This has given rise to woke marketing, a strategy which entails making changes to your business model without losing one’s authenticity. It also often focuses on prevailing emotions in society such as loneliness, sustainability, equality and privacy. For example, Ikea does this by focusing on sustainability. The Swedish furniture company aims to be “a climate-positive business” by 2030. However, to make this happen, the brand has to make changes to its business model. Take, for example, their new concept of furniture as a service, a furniture leasing trial which could change how the brand does business but is in line with their sustainability goals. What’s more, this also feeds into the consumer trend of the sharing economy which places less value on possession and focuses on use when needed. Thus, people will then be drawn to Ikea not only for their easy to assemble furniture but also because the brand matches their values. 

No matter how you go about implementing change, you must stay loyal to your brand. If your goal is a positive change, oftentimes honesty plays an important role. For example, Gillette understood this when they launched their “Best a Man Can Be” campaign. By doing this, the company went against the stereotypical image of a man by portraying them in a different light. This campaign showed the brand’s willingness to change which resulted in an increase in customer loyalty and made their brand more future-proof.

Ultimately, honesty and transparency bode well with consumers. Thus, if you make a mistake, own up to it. Tesla embraced this policy and even made a joke out of their broken, unbreakable Cybertruck glass by designing a shirt with an image of the broken window. Now that’s owning your mistakes.

Today, consumers control if and how they interact with a brand. If you want them to become loyal brand advocates, woke marketing and honesty are the best policies. Shoppers don’t just care about brand authenticity, they demand it. Fortunately, data and smart technology such as AI allow you to quickly predict and respond to trends. Every trend has a point of origin, so with the right collaboration (think influencers, trendsetters, agencies) you can even create your own 

#takeaways

So, how to proceed? Brand experience in a digital age comes down to the following three takeaways:

  1. Surprise people with human and functional experiences – even if it takes some margin.
  2. Remember your core values and make sure they reflect in any change that you make even if it doesn’t lead to a direct increase in turnover
  3. Be authentic – even if it hurts.

For most major brands, this will require a complete transformation of their organisation. And a change in corporate DNA will feel like a big barrier for many. At the same time, this is an opportunity to discover new audiences and markets and get rid of your dormant competitor too quickly. The digital era boils down to survival of the fittest.

This article originally appeared on Frankwatching (in Dutch).

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