Change for life
We are living through one of the most dynamic periods of change since the Industrial Revolution. Unremitting political, societal, technological and economic trends are shaking up the way we live, and pressurising modern business to react, innovate and grow in ever shorter cycles.
Exacerbating the change challenge is years of lacklustre GDP growth in the world’s mature economies. In short, finding growth has become ever more challenging, as markets become more competitive and societal and technological disruption continuously move the growth goalposts.
In this shifting landscape, businesses need a medium that clearly communicates their purpose and a platform they can use to stay relevant, meaningful, and valued. Whereas consumers need ways to manage increasingly complex choices and to determine monetary value as well as fitting with their personal values. Brands offer a powerful and practical solution to help both businesses and consumers to simplify, adapt and drive growth.
Brands in action
Brands are a critical part of how people choose a product, service or business. A brand is where business strategy and everyday life intersect. Every interaction with a brand should in some way communicate its purpose and values, creating long-term memory structures that become ingrained, driving recognition and positive perception. How consumers use brands to navigate choice, demonstrate loyalty and determine value is well understood and can be combined with financial data to determine the financial value of brands.
However, brands are not just critical in the war for customers, they increasingly play a vital role in the war for talent. They are ultimately a human construct, they start with humans on the inside and are delivered to humans on the outside. Companies with strong and compelling cultural values and employer branding on the inside of the business fundamentally attract better people and enjoy a growth advantage over time. Brands with a strong sense of purpose draw people in, aligning people inside the organisation while driving momentum outside.
“84% of executives believe a shared purpose contributes to successful change and transformation.1”
Attracting the millennial generation, as they mature in the workplace in ever greater numbers, also requires more sophisticated employer branding, and a more purposeful approach to creating motivation and meaning in the workplace. The best and brightest will have many offers of work, so softer, more emotional benefits are increasingly coming to the fore.
“60% of millennials seek employers with a clear purpose.”2
The more things change, the more they stay the same
There is a paradox at the heart of branding. A tension between the authenticity and consistency that enables brands to endure over decades and the rapidly changing world that brands inhabit. The world’s strongest brands are masters at adapting, evolving and extending their offer, whilst retaining the authentic truths in people’s minds that they have built up over many years.
Managing brands to enable innovation and growth in an era of rapid change is a masterful art, especially when technology is enabling companies with disruptive business models access to the largest markets in the world.
The technology start-ups of twenty years ago are now powerful brand owners and growth engines in their own right. Five of the top ten most valuable brands in the world are technology brands: Apple, Google, Amazon, Facebook and Adobe. With two of the fastest growing brands, by brand value, being Facebook and Amazon.
Interestingly, the technology upstarts of yesterday, are investing more in their brands and creating powerful purposes that guide not just their customer propositions, but give their employees a deeper connection to making a positive impact on the world outside.
“Give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together” Facebook Mission Statement
Grow, grow, grow
There is no magic formula for growth, because not all growth challenges are the same—whether an organisation needs to scale before leaping forward, or it may need to break a new market in order to expand, or whether it needs to reinvent its purpose in order to find new relevance; the challenges of brands and growth are many and varied.
However, the world’s best brands do share a set of behaviours that enable them to adapt, evolve and grow. To remain relevant in the face of change and to ultimately capitalise on change, not only to grow, but to thrive.
The first of these behaviors is an obsessive curiosity about people and what makes them tick. Taking the time to truly understand the people you are serving and the people that you are employing is critical for sustained growth. The brands that are consistently driving business growth aren’t just understanding the needs of their stakeholders today, but also anticipating their needs tomorrow. Data and technology are changing the ways that brands can serve customers in the immediate moment of need, and in the future.
Secondly, the best global brands have a stunning clarity in their purpose. Clarity is vital to build simple, compelling messages which will win the war in terms of communication in our highly fragmented world. But clarity of purpose and values has a critical role to play inside the business in terms of aligning employees with brand purpose, and ensuring that the business is connected to the promises that it’s making to its customers. Clarity and commitment to the brand on the inside, delivers better experiences for customers on the outside. And that is a growth advantage.
Thirdly, the best brands in the world use creativity to design new products and services and to relentlessly improve the business and the customer experience over time. Creativity has tended to be pigeonholed as a visual design or advertising discipline in large organisations. It’s clear that the best brands excel in their ability to fuse business strategy and creativity to create ideas for growth with a strong commercial foundation and business case.
The management consultants have cottoned onto this powerful trend and for the past few years have been buying creative consultancies. Leading brands are bringing the logic of business and the magic of creativity together to create new opportunities for growth.
And finally, despite constant change, the most critical ingredient for growth is consistency. Consistent messaging, consistent quality and a consistent obsession with finding new ways to excite and delight both customers and staff.
Great brands deliver growing financial returns over long periods, which brings us back to the paradox of consistency in a world of change. Brand management, done with flair and imagination, provides the reassurance, stability and reliability that people are looking for, whilst creating a springboard for the business to continue to adapt, evolve and grow.