The world is changing. From London to Shanghai, Lima to Lagos, businesses are experiencing seismic shifts in the way they operate. The fourth industrial revolution has fundamentally altered how we live, think, work and relate to one another. Technology is transforming every area of our lives. The way we shop, the way we learn, even the way we find love. There are now more SIM cards on the planet than people, with 7.8 billion counted in 2017. Breakthroughs that had long seemed to be the stuff of science fiction are now just around the corner, from drones to self-driving cars.
At the same time, the world is getting smaller. Increased mobility and the fast-paced flow of goods, people, and ideas has meant that the concept of ‘local’ has changed. Brands that operate in just one country are becoming the exception. The rise of social media and the fact that everyone has a platform, has meant the boundaries between brands and consumers have blurred.
We are at the dawn of a world where all points converge: digital into physical, consumer into producer, global into local. What was once separated into silos is now integrated, comprehensive and seamless. And it’s all happening at truly breakneck speed.
But what does this mean for brands? Forces of convergence and divergence act upon the world in which brands operate and brands that wish to survive must be conscious of these forces - even master them.
The result of these shifting sands is that brands now operate in a much-changed context compared to the one they were invented in. Saffron’s co-founder Wally Olins described this best in his 2004 book On Brand, explaining that brands originally emerged as signs of product quality and barely existed outside of packaging:
“Once upon a time brands were simple household goods – soap, tea, washing powder, shoe polish, boring everyday products that were used up and replaced. The brand was a symbol of consistency. At a time of product adulteration, unreliable performance and variable pricing, it stood for standard quality, quantity and price. The brand’s image projected and sustained the product.” (Olins, 2004)
Today, of course, much of this has changed. Brands are now used not only to express standardised quality but to express the authenticity and relevance of entire organisations, as well as what differentiates them. Where the product was once the only proof point of a brand, it is today only one of many. Where there was previously limited and mostly local competition for a brand, it is today endless and global in origin. Where previously they were limited mainly to the FMCG sector, brands are now used universally, even for highly complicated and niche B2B businesses, all manner of service businesses, even for nations and cities. They also need to perform across a dizzying array of touchpoints, and in more countries and cultures than ever before.
Brands that can keep abreast of these rapid changes and harness them for their own gain stand to reap the rewards. They will be the ones making waves in the industries they compete in, leaving those that are slow to change in their wake. Those who are slow to change will be left behind can expect a bumpy ride.
CHECKLIST: HOW TO HARNESS THE FORCES OF CHANGE
• Brand used to be a simple stamp of quality – today they represent much more, which means all businesses should have a brand strategy.
• Brand is not limited to commercial products. Cultural institutions, political parties and cities are also brands.
• Whether you are growing internationally, transforming your business or adjusting to new market conditions, brand is a tool to inform your decision-making and should be focused on driving positive business outcomes.
• Your brand must be authentic, relevant and differentiated. • Employ a strategic partner to help you define a brand idea and strategy for your market of sector.