Sometimes there seem to be more solutions than problems to solve. Hundreds of airlines, musicians, and tablet manufacturers want to fly, entertain, or serve each of us… Yet few of them communicate their message as engagingly or consistently as Richard Branson, Bono or the late, great Steve Jobs.
Brands are not what they used to be. Millennials define personal values and hold on to them amid a flux of changing politics and fashions. They want to know if their spending will further their values. This criterion often leads their consumer research. Given identical or close alternatives, they choose the ones they feel reflect their worldview. An appealing, consistent and evolving brand matters more and more in an era that allows customers to research products and services in detail and glean dozens of peer reviews.
Take for example crowdfunding. It was made possible exactly because customers look for personalized products and online services. Surprisingly for many entrepreneurs, consumers tend to support creative, even personal brands; brands that communicate frank and engaging ideas instead of merely promising to solve problems.
Slogans are fine, but brand inspiration matters more
Today’s consumers see beyond brand logos, slogans, and advertising. What they seek is not just corporate identity, but a deeper corporate image that appeals to them. A Cone Communications survey finds that 90 percent of global consumers would boycott companies accused of behaving irresponsibly. Even more customers insist that the companies whose brands they support should be active on the social and environmental fronts.
An engaging slogan can boost brand awareness and increase sales temporarily. But a comprehensive corporate image takes a long time to build. Once built, however, global communication can knock it down within days, if not hours. Investing heavily into the daily marketing typical of consumer goods and services, pays off. But investing into inspirational brand values can help a company leapfrog its way to the top of the ladder.
One cannot create inspirational brand identity through massive public relations effort alone. Journalists are blasé about cunning attempts to boost brands through media releases or social media stunts. Genuine values are created by companies who look minded to do more than making profits whatever else happens.
Underestimating customers’ ability to distinguish between PR and an honest corporate message is betting on the wrong horse.
Modern brands need strong cultures
Modern customers support companies that reflect their own identities and values. Once younger buyers have identified themselves with a brand, they intently watch out whether it continues to reflect their values, or whether it is wavering. They also have the tools to explore other brands in the same market. What they are looking for are brands with strong individual cultures.
Some companies play up to this through transient or superficial brand messages. This offers only short-lived advantages, however. What wins are corporate values demonstrably reflecting civic priorities and messages disseminated in a natural manner. The Cone survey also reveals that 84 percent of consumers seek what they term responsible products whenever possible. Rattling the tools of old fashioned marketing is no longer enough: companies need to come across as permeated by earnest ideas beyond grubby money.
Forget “15 minutes of fame”: Brands are under constant global scrutiny
Building a sound product and putting it up against the competition is not enough today. The market calls for meaning, and moreover one aligned with its values.
Market values sincerity more than polish.
Today’s customers can check any company’s core values more easily and quickly than ever before. Any market participant is more naked and more under the world’s scrutinizing microscope than ever before.
Everyone is a news anchor these days. In a genuinely anarchic world online environment, the slightest hint of news or reviews on brands or corporate dealings can have unexpectedly powerful effects. Yesterday, hushed boardroom rumours could ruin or save a company’s stock market standing. Today, not-so-hushed online rumours can devastate or invigorate a company’s entire world consumer market standing. Either scenario can prompt either a rapid, bright and solid response – or signal the end of the road for the company concerned.
Customers increasingly regard companies as they do with politicians. Current positions and principles matter more than past grandeur. Brands and values need to stay abreast of the market consistently. Each failure to reaffirm declared company values removes some of the shine off even the best brand.
Brand evolution as a way to growth
Missions and values cannot be cast in stone. Industries advance and products and services change; not to mention the world. This makes updating companies’ mission statements and brand messages crucial. Reacting to the news of the day is best left to politicians and massive multinationals; it is more a matter of gradual evolution alongside one’s customers.
More than a hundred startups launch daily. There is no chance of each making its fledgling voice heard in the crowded, noisy global souk. Yet many manage to hit the right tone with the right group of customers. It helps if they have a good hunch on who their likely audience is and what its likely communications channels are. But it is critical for them to articulate the right brand message.
In 1988, “Just do it” worked miracles for sales and brand recognition by appealing to a Baby Boomer generation elaborating its values and absorbing the emerging promise of globalisation. Most likely conceived as a transient marketing move, it unpredictably hit the bulls-eye of the first global customer generation. Three decades on, it is a matter of debate whether Nike ought to stick with the slogan. It is still liberating and provocative? Or does it cut an arrogant and brashly selfish message with the Baby Boomers’ Millennial children?
Even great empires have waned and disappeared once they spent their pervasive values and inspirational promise. Granted, ranking the glory of Macedon alongside a brand is comparing the sublime with the absurd. But the message is clear.
The message should always be clear.