The future of branding (or “choices”)

The future of branding will not be defined by the platforms available, and nor will it be defined by what marketers can do on those platforms. It will be defined by how we make “choices” and the factors that influence or are going to influence our decision-making.

The traditional brand funnel is dead. A consumer can straightaway start preferring a brand when he or she may have become aware of it in the previous minute. Loyalty will continue to evolve in its definition — consumers will have a “loyal set” of brands instead of having “singularity” in loyalty. The concept of “moving up the ladder” in terms of purchases moving from mainstream to premium to luxury will no longer remain linear. The devaluation of global currencies and e-commerce have already damaged the luxury industry’s ability to exude an aura of exclusivity. Consumers will happily buy a mainstream brand and a luxury brand to satisfy different needs in different occasions (and this will become more of a norm rather than an exception).

Our knowledge and discretion on the underlying (but relatively invisible) aspects of brands will exponentially increase. Advertising (or any other forms of marketing) that is deemed insensitive to wider cultural and social values will be quickly shot down. Failure rates of innovation will continue to be high, as organisations will struggle to differentiate between “real” and “imaginary” opportunities. “Global brands” as a concept will dismember into a concept of “a brand with distinct set of national identities”. The power of reach and consumer engagement will shift completely to e-tailers (with physical retail’s ability to influence pricing and brand choice diminishing).

All these trends will continually define and evolve our ability to make choices in multiple ways:

  • “In-the-moment” advertising will make us aware of brand choices previously unaware of and so will the need for specific brands for specific occasions (e.g. what Foursquare is endeavouring to do)
  • “Singularity” in brand loyalty will diminish and will be restricted to categories with sensitive needs (childcare, medicinal health, financial transactions, high-value choices etc.) — in other categories, consumers will have a portfolio of brands they will move around in and this portfolio will shrink or expand as need be
  • The traditional definitions of ‘mass/mainstream’, ‘semi-premium’, ‘premium’ and ‘luxury’ based on price and ease of availability will disappear — consumer perceptions of ‘mass/mainstream’ to ‘luxury’ will be defined more by the brand’s offer and its mode of communication (and not by price and exclusivity, which will both lose their influencing prowess)
  • Consumers will shun brands that have controversial marketing practices — either due to a wider sense of purpose or belonging or because of self-guilt or because of the collective herd mentality or because of the gradual erosion of the capability to take a personal standpoint (our crutch of wider support from a physical or online group will keep on strengthening)
  • Decision-making will continue to be fractured and streaky — the amount of influence and the number of channels exerting them will significantly increase leading to a decline in self-belief
  • The proportion of impulse vs. planned decisions on brand buying will tilt towards impulse — will predictive analytics / recommendation engines constantly pushing “suggested buys” and physical retail getting proliferated with “expanding ranges / discounts / promotions / freebies”
  • A significant number of product categories will reach commodity” status and will never recover, with decision-making completely driven by price-related aspects — telecommunications, traditional TV subscriptions, retail banking etc. to name a few (with the likes of Just Eat, Hungry House and Deliveroo inching towards that definition)
  • Consumers will re-define “emotional” and “functional” advertising — emotional advertising without a direct / indirect link to brand purchase will give less and less ROI, while functional advertising with a strong brand link will strengthen ROI
  • The need for “adaptability” of advertising content will merge into a decision around frame size and platform modes — the same 30 sec TV ad will be repurposed for a 5 sec or 10 sec version for Facebook, Snapchat, YouTube etc; as our viewing habits become a hotchpotch of mediums / channels / platforms, the concept of adaptability will lose its strength
  • Digital advertising’s glamour as the next big thing will decline quickly — when there is no “newness” there is no “glamour”; with digital spends overtaking TV spends globally, digital will become the next TV, albeit with significantly higher waste levels and low ROIs — mobile advertising will emerge as the next big thing in developing economies, but it will be even more wasteful medium for brands
  • Transformative forces around consumers’ modes of purchase will impact decision-making and consequently, brand choices — brands unable to jump on to cashless or innovative payment systems will lose out on consumers (even when they tick all the other boxes) — brand choice will not only be determined by what you sell by how you sell it
  • Industries significantly disrupted by digital will slowly find their “mojo” back through traditional mediums that have a direct link to digital platforms
  • Regulatory changes driven by new business models will thrust decision-making back to the end-buyer in multiple categories wherein intermediaries used to have a strong influence — the insurance industry is a prime example, which will be followed by real estate, corporate banking, healthcare and personal investing
  • Own-branded stores (both physical and online) will see an increase as manufacturers seek out direct-to-consumer selling platforms that bypass the need and/or the influence of retail
  • There will be a slow and painful death of human interaction and advice on decision-making around brands — physical retail will be dominated by self check-out tills, chat bots will drive customer service in online retail, “advice-on-demand” will emerge as a new business model and so will “help-on-demand”, and the art of selling will get restricted to niche products
  • Consumers will not question the difference in pricing between comparable brands, but the basis of the difference
  • Over-exposure to digital information (and its lack of readability and enjoyability) will jump start the resurgence of traditional information platforms (books, magazines, newspapers and easy to use digital readers)
  • Increasing exposure to world food and associated trends will continue to widen our food repertoires, leading to useless innovation, which will continue to be the biggest waste of organisational resources
  • Consumers will subject global brands to ‘nationalistic tests of survival and endurance’ — the concept of ‘glocalisation’ will evolve into the concept of ‘a global brand with a unique set of national identities’
  • Consumer reliance on ready-made, available solutions for the smallest problem (or need) will continue to create businesses for problems that don’t exist — they will keep on suffering from high failure rates (akin to what happens when there are 20 curry houses in the same street)

As the way we make choices evolve, so will its impact on how brands are built. Branding as a discipline will need to look beyond how brands want to be. Branding will be defined by what consumers are looking for brands to do. This is a tectonic shift in power and decision-making. The freedom to exercise choices beyond the rigidity of traditional marketing models, will significantly influence brand-building. As the word “digital” loses its sheen and glitz, brand builders would need to think of brands as entities that have resilience, ever-lasting relevance and ‘mould-ability’. Being genuine will have more power than having a purpose, meaningfulness will have more power than availability and problem-solving abilities will have more power than a sense of euphoria.

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