New Realities Test How Brands Are Managed

A Buddhist concept often called “The Law of Impermanence” states that all conditioned existence is transient, evanescent and inconsistent. When you consider that brands are never finished, a parallel is clear. We live in a world of motion. Changing customer attitudes, shifts in what they desire, and trends sweeping entire industries and cultures push and pull on brands. The challenge for brand managers is to find a balance between delivering the consistency customers need to recognize and trust the brand while acknowledging and responding to external pressures.

Several shaping forces have emerged in recent years that pressure brands. Politically, there’s Brexit, North Korea, trade disputes, and a global refugee crisis. Culturally, #metoo is spotlighting outdated stereotypes and gender equity. There’s the question of whether the tech giants are too big, what they’re doing to protect user privacy, and finally, how easy it is to manipulate people with fake content on their platforms. Not every brand has successfully navigated this swirling maelstrom of change.

We can look to two brands in particular for examples of what not to do. Just after Trump’s election, in the wake of global women’s marches, Audi released a spot supporting gender equality, but drew ire when it was found they had no women on their board. Recently we’ve seen Gillette fall into the gap of meaning by overestimating the brand’s own importance in people’s lives.

Contrast that with recent events at Microsoft. Many tech workers in the US have been uneasy about how their employers work with the US Government. A group of employees petitioned Microsoft executives to terminate a contract with the US Military around the development of their augmented reality product, HoloLens. CEO Satya Nadella responded by saying, “We made a principled decision that we’re not going to withhold technology from institutions that we have elected in democracies to protect the freedoms we enjoy.” Earlier in the year, another group had petitioned the company cancel their agreements with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Brands Must Be Fluid

Brands In Motion is the title of a study by Waggener Edstrom Communications that challenges the classical definition of positioning as being a fixed destination at a fixed point of time, with something they call “Brand Motion” which accounts for the shifting environmental factors from the customer’s point of view. The findings, released just a few months ago, highlight four interesting “realities” facing brands today.

1. Stability Is An Element Of Motion. In uncertain times, people crave stability. Globally, more than half of the respondents in the study believed that businesses and brands can provide stability, saying that stability extends beyond products and services to important issues. This is why consistency is still critical even in a world of change.

2. Cutting Edge Is Transcendent. The study reveals “strong positive correlations between consumers seeing brands as cutting edge and thinking they’re out for the common good and having pleasurable experiences with their products and services.” Whether your brand is enabled by technology or inspired by it, being viewed as cutting edge often helps boost the brand.

3. Good Product, Good Purpose. While many customers want products that balance functional benefits with emotional and societal benefits, the study found more customers being drawn to functionality, and it’s about time. For the last few years, so many brands have tried to hustle customers on their virtuous purpose, forgetting how important it is to deliver a quality product first.

4. Love You Today, Shame You Tomorrow. The fickle nature of the crowd means customers will love you just as fast as they will hate you. In 2018, despite consumers across markets loving 60 percent of surveyed industries, they would still shame a brand in 94 percent of situations, as opposed to 97 percent in 2017.

The realities of brand management today point to the ultimate paradox; brands must change to stay consistent.

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Branding Strategy Insider is a service of The Blake Project: A strategic brand consultancy specializing in Brand Research, Brand Strategy, Brand Licensing and Brand Education

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