The marketplace is constantly changing. More so than ever. And faster than ever.
Thanks to the influx of new competition, the growth of technology, the rise of social media, and the constant use of multiple screens, brands are facing new challenges everyday.
Gone are the days of just attaching a celebrity to your products and then counting your money from an Aspen, Colorado hot tub. Be Like Mike. Brooke Shields and her Calvins. Or more recently, Beyonce and Pepsi.
Consumers today need to identify with your brand. They want to be part of something bigger than themselves—they want a community. If they’re going to trust you with their money, by golly, they want to feel good about it.
Brands must rethink their brand strategy to succeed. And many are starting to do so.
I’ve scoured the marketing landscape, read more industry pubs than you can imagine, and picked the brains of our clients, our vendors and even our competitors. From all of this I’ve outlined the top 5 brand strategy trends of 2015, as follows. Ignore them at your own peril.
1. Connect With Your Consumers
According to research at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, the average consumer makes a decision about your brand’s website in 1/20 of a second. Gulp.
First impressions count. Today’s brands have to connect with their consumers. If not, your competition will.
How do you connect? Find your story. Figure out what you stand for, and what you don’t stand for. Find a common interest or a common cause for your consumers to rally around. Be more human and less corporate.
It starts with trust. Your story has to be based on truth, and it has to pass the “smell test.”
One of the best examples of brand connection is the #Likeagirl campaign from Always, Proctor & Gamble’s feminine hygiene brand.
The old world television ads of mothers and daughters walking on the beach bantering about personal hygiene do not fly with today’s consumers. They aren’t based on truth. You know what is? Female empowerment.
Always called it a “self-esteem crisis” among young girls, and they wanted to do something about it (while promoting their products).
I especially love the #Likeagirl campaign, because when clients tell me that their brands are boring and couldn’t possibly find a story that connects with consumers, I remind them that nothing’s quite as boring – or as taboo – as a female hygiene brand. If Always can do it, stop whining and get to work.
Companies who connect with their community will have a strategic advantage over those who don’t. Find, mold and perfect your story today.
2. Think Mobile
In 2014, mobile Internet usage surpassed desktop Internet usage.
Re-read that sentence, please.
Mobile is quickly becoming the primary screen where consumers view your brand. Content, design, thought leadership and social media must all conform strategically to mobile. No more waiting.
Responsive design is imperative, but it’s not enough. Mobile is beyond smartphones and tablets. Mobile is now a wearable device like Google Glass, Apple Watch (I want one) and fitness trackers (I have one).
Smart companies will strategically take full advantage of all devices their consumers are using and customize their consumers’ experience. A great place to start: don’t think about what your brand wants —think what the consumer wants. Then, find a way to make them happy. Then, and only then, do you introduce your brand.
3. Give Your Customers the Power
Today’s marketing landscape has shifted the power of public relations to consumers. Call it “citizen journalism.”
Consumers’ perceptions of brands are no longer only created by big name publications. Consumers rely on their friends, families and coworkers to learn about brands. Think about the last time you went on vacation. More often than not, you probably picked the brains of your coworkers, friends and family, then ventured over to TripAdvisor.com.
Citizen journalism is the new journalism. Consumers write about products, brands and companies through social media, blogs and reviews. They have a voice and a say, and it is trusted.
This is key: consumers share brand information because they care about their friends, not your brand.
Sorry, but it’s true.
Citizen journalism (also known as “social proof”) earns consumer trust faster and goes viral quicker than your public relations articles ever will. Successful companies will empower their customers to define their brand and rely on citizen journalism though social media channels.
A great example of letting your customers tell your brand’s story is New Balance’s #SEEMYRUN campaign. To launch their new Fresh Foam product, they sent new Fresh Foam shoes to “brand champions” in exchange for video and images of their runs. Then, on National Running Day, New Balance launched a responsive Fresh Foam microsite with the user-generated content, along with the #SEEMYRUN hashtag.
What’s your engagement strategy? Are you empowering your customers to share their experiences?
Social proof is earned, not bought.
4. Create a Culture of Innovation
Companies must continually innovate to meet their consumers’ changing needs. To do so, companies must know the changing needs of their consumers before the consumers even realize what they need.
This isn’t easy.
The old days of org charts and three-hour lunches won’t cut it anymore. Companies must have their fingers on the pulse of their customers and their industry. Companies must be proactive, and to react immediately if the time calls for it. This takes a bit of guts.
An example of a brand with “guts” is Chipotle. Instead of going the usual quick service restaurant route of “quick, easy and profitable,” they chose a mantra: Food With Integrity.
Is this something their internal team, customers and prospects could rally behind? You bet.
Is it believable? It better be.
Chipotle understands that trust is king. So it tells its story with “food with integrity” as its foundation. It finds the very best ingredients (and tells you how), and it respects animals and the environment (and tells you how).
Their power: transparency.
5. Listen to Your People
The highest growth companies create a culture of respect. They believe in an open door policy.
They listen more than they talk. They are the keepers of their brand, yes, but they’re open to criticism and new ideas for unlikely places.
It starts with your associates. Companies must encourage associates to bring ideas to the table. Companies must create a safe environment for risk-taking, and create a mistake-and-conflict-handling process.
One lonely suggestion box tacked to the wall won’t cut it. It didn’t for Starbucks.
To design it’s café experience, Starbucks flew in every single store manager from around the world. That ain’t cheap. Starbucks not only wanted their associates’ opinions, they wanted their buy-in. This buy-in would then trickle down throughout the organization.
3M implements “15 Percent Time,” where it encourages its associates to spend 15 percent of their time experimenting with their own ideas. (Guess where the Post-it Note came from!)
Your associates are on the front lines. They are the ones talking with customers every day and perfecting products every day.
Listen to them.
So there you have it. The top 5 brand strategy trends of 2015, providing you with a solid starting point to clarify and strengthen your brand right now. And “right now” is key. All five trends can be implemented today. So print these trends out and tack them onto your wall. Tuck them under your pillow at night and dream the dreams of Procter & Gamble, New Balance, Chipotle, Starbucks and 3M for a successful 2015 and beyond. Sweet, profitable dreams.
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Elizabeth Cagen is Director of Strategy & Operations at Stratabeat, a marketing strategy and design agency. With more than 10 years of marketing experience, Elizabeth has developed digital strategies for market leaders such as Intel, Staples, Merck, America’s Test Kitchen and Brooks Brothers during her career.