Brand building. Meaning creation. If you’re a marketer, then you strive to understand, shape, and leverage your brand’s meaning equities. You want your brand to mean more…so that it has more value to customers and shareholders alike.
No wonder everyone scrambles to understand how the world is changing and implications for creating—or eroding—brand meaning. Brand choices are made based on life patterns and goals. But change is the nature of things.
Based on my work as a qualitative researcher and cultural observer, here are some of the top trends in brand meaning I’m thinking about right now. Maybe you should be thinking about them, too.
- Myselfie. What was Ellen really up to at last year’s Oscars? Flaunting? Creating? The adrenaline rush? Manufacturing laughter? Ellen is branding herself as a curator and catalyst of pop culture. She is not alone. Consumers are looking inward like never before, creating a self, putting that self out there, and buying the brands that reflect, illuminate, and inspire the self. If your brand is touched by tech—and whose isn’t?—you need to know how this works: this very personal connection among people, culture, brands, tech, and self.
- Mind-sightedness. The flip side of #1, mind-sightedness is a particular flavor of emotional intelligence that allows people to read others’ moods and feelings. There is an outer-directed drive to assess and claim one’s place in our bigger-than-ever world. Today’s consumer is expert in reading others, based on the brand lexicon. A brand that has no emotional connectedness is useless and the exact opposite of irreplaceable. To be valued, your brand must embody an emotion that people can read and feel proud of. Mind-blind brands are, in essence, isolated brands that have no real place or identity in the world. Could yours be one?
- Accelerating time. Tick. Tick. Each moment has the potential for a burst of energy, insight, vitality, and meaning. These days, it’s less about taking the long view and more about having abundant frequent bursts of connection. Don’t wait. Make your brand happen now. And now. And now. Just be sure that those moments add up to a coherent flow of time, experience, and meaning.
- Reimagining risk. Many consumer choices are grounded in that profound emotion that we all race around so frantically to avoid: fear. The world can be brutal, but the brutality is abstract. Terrorism. Global weirding. Another Recession. Brands can be a way of resolving the tension between threats and innate human optimism. Which fear can your brand trigger—and then resolve?
- Be real. As the world becomes increasingly virtual, consumers yearn to keep it real. Especially when it comes to spending. They want to know where the money is and how it works at any given moment. The desire to double-check and validate is a new flavor of anxiety in today’s virtual world. They even want to authenticate value itself. How does your brand help anxious spenders assess and verify your brand’s value?
- Be kind. Remember chivalry? It’s more alive than ever, albeit in an evolved form. Striving to be honest, benevolent, wise, and fair-minded is replacing the previous generation’s ardor for power and status. Consumers don’t want a white knight to rescue them. Instead, they want to appreciate and be appreciated by a genuinely nice guy. Is your brand a little too stuck on itself?
- Binge living. Okay, so now we can watch five seasons of Breaking Bad or Downton Abbey on any schedule we choose. And we can do so while eating Häagan Dazs or Chobani. Likewise, what I do every day at 7 a.m. isn’t what it used to be. Each new habit get ingrained and reinforced, as sure as the neurological networks and pleasure centers of the brain, body, and heart get ignited. Any addiction changes us. How can you align your brand with the binge behaviors that really fit with and reinforce your brand’s meaning?
- Transparent trust. Of course, marketing is manipulative. So is love. The trick is to be trusted. Which may not mean telling the truth. After all, Keats didn’t catalog how much liquid the Grecian urn held or what it was made of. It was the urn’s deeper truth that he helped us see and fall in love with. His desire to entice through poetry was sincere and completely unsubtle. The world will rat out your brand’s indiscretions, so you might as well come clean… yet in ways that are staggeringly appealing and seductive.
- “Stay with Me.” Bob Dylan releases his 36th, a new album of Sinatra standards. Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett are up to something at the Grammys. The adorably amorous Italian of a certain age flings the performance-enhancing little blue pill that turbocharges the new Fiat 500x crossover; his lady friend’s engine purrs while she awaits him and his mojo. Pop culture today spans, delights in and honors the generations. Venerable classics are transformed, becoming fresh and surprising. How does your brand leverage the best of its past to invigorate the future?
- Just for me. And so we come full circle, back to the individual and the self. A world personalized, based on both my own narcissism and my concern to be part of the community. Sometimes I want a big brand, just like everyone else’s, and sometimes I want the scarce one, with an obscure legacy of craftsmanship and little-known story. What your brand really is and could be, to whom and when, is a constantly changing truth.
Strong brands mean more—to everyone. And they mean more brand growth and profitability. Please let me know if you want to talk more about what that “more” might mean for you and your brand.