Brands have always been multi-factorial, multi-faceted beasts. They’re becoming more so. We’re seeing more opportunistic co-operation and co-creation as walls fall down between brands and customers, as well as between competing brands. Any ‘throne pretenders’ face two challenges. One is positioning. The other is power.
It is getting ever harder for brands to build strong positions in our minds. They have always needed to make a stand. Now they need to excel at it, way beyond paid media and deep down into what they really are. They have to be authentic, focusing on their strengths, including the genuine convictions of the people who steer them – while admitting imperfections and limitations. To do this, they need to perfectly align all brand components – product, environment, behaviour, and communication – which means better integrating the departments that manage them. This is how today’s knowledge and organisational silos will disappear. They also have to strengthen their ability to listen and empathise. Brands are doing more research and analysis in-house, with new means and channels provided by a world of always-connected devices. In future they will need to get more involved in major social, political and cultural changes, taking sides and making ethical stands in a much stronger fashion than they do now. Brands that oscillate, pretend, evade, and postpone will lose.
A transfer of power from brand to customer is taking place, with technology and access to knowledge levelling the playing field. Brands need to evolve from profit-maximisation engines into relationship management systems. These systems will have to be more data-driven and less controlling, because owners and customers will jointly create brand equity in peer-to-peer arrangements. Brand loyalty will likely continue to decrease, particularly in the case of commoditised products and services, where purchases require low buyer involvement. However, where brands manage to build unusually strong connections with their customers (and thus avoid commoditisation) loyalty will increase. The source of such strong connections will be the personal touch, so these brands will usually be the creation of small organisations. At the same time, large organisations will excel at building brands that thrive at low or non-existent loyalty levels.