A Fluid Situation
The most pervasive change that has occurred in the world of brands over the last two decades is the extent to which brands have become more fluid.
In a democratized, 24/7 internet world where fake news and trolling can spread rapidly and explosively, brands must work extra hard to protect themselves from potentially sudden and devastating harm.
How can brands do this? How can they future-proof themselves while staying relevant to their changing customers?
Below are four ways to future-proof your brand and insulate it from potential reputational harm.
1. Become more transparent and authentic
While communications are the most obvious way in which transparency is observed and authenticity is judged, it is important to note that brands must ultimately “live” (i.e., behave) more transparently and authentically, or else the opposite perception can take hold.
Brands that are transparent about what customer data is collected and how it is used, will be better off than those who do not, especially if an issue arises in the public domain.
Consider how Facebook is still reeling from their data and privacy breach issues. Not only is there still a trust gap, but Facebook is having trouble attracting top executive talent because of it.
GDPR went into effect last year, and most marketing executives have been diligently working on coming into compliance with these more stringent privacy rules.
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Another way to build authenticity around your brand is to integrate more of the customers’ voice in the brand dialog by asking customers how they are using your brand at different touch points and on different channels.
You can also create hashtag/@ mention campaigns.
Drawing your customers into how you communicate with them makes it far less likely they will “go off” on your brand, especially if you are responsive and open in dealing with issues and concerns.
In fact, you will actually be building a group of brand defenders who can come to your brand’s aid (and help future-proof your brand) in its darkest hour—generally faster and more effectively than you.
2. Apply advanced technology
We live in an age of constant technological advancement where new tools are revolutionizing how we market brands.
From marketing automation and customer relationship management to big data mining and machine learning to straight-on artificial intelligence, those brands that embrace these new tools and techniques which make it possible to carry on a deeper and more responsive brand dialog with individual customers will become (or stay) the dominant brands of the future.
Start small, but start.
3. Judiciously balance global brand consistency with the flexibility to activate the brand locally
We know from long and painful experience that having no brand standards is just as detrimental to brand success as is having overly rigid and formulaic brand standards.
The most effective brands continually balance fixed global brand elements (which, at minimum, should include identity, look-and-feel and typeface) with the malleability to tailor other brand assets to optimize local success.
Such brand optimization can range from messaging and marketing communications to product designs and formulations.
It seems like it is the human condition that extreme views always try to dominate where balance and moderation usually characterize the most effective path forward.
This is true for just about every human endeavor, including branding.
4. Continually align brand experience with brand expectations
The path a customer takes from awareness through purchase and subsequent ownership and use of the brand can be straightforward and simple or convoluted and complex, depending on the industry and sector.
Regardless, you should work to ensure that customer’s brand experience is as smooth, easy and rewarding/enriching as possible.
Make sure you map the customer journey and manage it as much as possible for a superior experience.
Remember, that a customer’s perception of a brand is not based on the sum-total of their experiences with the brand, but rather the mental average of the most extreme experience and the last experience (psychologists refer to this as the Peak-End Bias).
It means that managing a customer’s brand experience (using psycho-sensory brand-building techniques) is not as hard as it could be, as long as you can ensure a peak positive experience and strive to replace any recent misstep with a positive experience.
In order to future-proof your brand, you must remember it’s an endurance sport that requires constant attention and effort.
Those who stay engaged and keep their focus on building, maintaining and reinforcing strong brand experiences for their customers.