The era of relevance is here. What brands should do about this?
This article is part of the series of chapter from KONTRA trends 20’s.
Each of us is exposed to a constant stream of advertising and information. Facts and fake news rob us of our attention and we look for something real, imperfect and, above all, consistent with our world view. What’s the truth? Anything that is in line with my own worldview.
Social implications: The formation of clans (clanning). Content algorithms of social networks and a plethora of worldviews create small and tightly knit clans, sometimes composed of both real and virtual identities. These clans together share views, attitudes or lifestyles that they consider to be genuine.
Marketing implications: The brand must help its consumer answer the question: Who am I? Clan leaders, both real and virtual, are becoming extremely influential and valuable to brands and organizations looking to create engaged customers or followers. If a brand wants to reach a clan, it needs to prove its authenticity and bring something to the clan — whether it’s a benefit to the world, to the clan, or a specific benefit to the members of that clan. Product personalization and creating personalized brands in collaboration with clan leaders will be two key methods for brands to reach the desired audience. Don’t try to infiltrate the community. Create a white-label and let the community brand your product themselves. Advertising clichés and marketing hyperbole are no longer enough. If advertising is to work, it cannot rob the (pop) culture, but it must actively contribute to it.
Many Faces of Growth
For decades, companies have had one main goal: financial growth — the faster the better. People are now challenging organizations to define their success by more than just financial growth, which has long been the established standard of prosperity. Companies today must pursue a wider range of business objectives, balanced by the fact that profit is essential for longevity. This opens the door to opportunities to imagine entirely new ways of creating and sustaining business value. You can build a successful business by delivering value in a much broader arena than the product itself.
Capitalism is evolving. People are increasingly aware of how their purchases affect other members of society and available resources on the planet Earth. The covid pandemic has only accelerated this trend as the crisis has been reshaping our priorities. The importance of profit growth will diminish as people demand products and services that are meaningful and socially and environmentally beneficial for themselves, the community around them and the world.
Design is no longer about the individual, but about “us”. User-centered design will gradually give more space to design that takes into account the lifelong and holistic aspects of a product, service or organization. “Brands with a long-term view of the future that care about the planet and society — and the causes of the issues that matter to people will win ,” as the authors of Fjord Trends at the consultancy firm Accenture have shown.
This opinion is also supported by Klaus Schwab, founder and the chairman of the World Economic Forum: “First and foremost, we desperately need to change our overall economic framework. For 75 years, the world marched to the beat of a drum called “gross domestic product”. Now we need a new tool. GDP gained traction when economies were primarily seen as a means of mobilizing war production. But we expect today’s economies to serve a very different purpose: to maximize wealth and sustainability.”
We should recognize how the role of business has changed over the last 50 years. In 1970, when Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman advocated “shareholder primacy”, businesses were either unaware of their wider social impact or too small to change socio-economic conditions. In a world of global supply chains and multinational corporations with technological dominance, this vision cannot be sustained. As the recent Business Roundtable declaration makes clear, we have entered the era of “stakeholder capitalism” (the model adopted by the World Economic Forum in the early 1970’s). “Business metrics will need to change and companies should already have developed a mindset that is consistent with meeting ESG (or Environmental, social and corporate governance). These standards now need to be included in financial statements and annual reports,” adds Klaus Schwab.
The obsession with perfection manifests itself in many ways. From Instagram filters to fancy visual identities, undying positivity and mindfulness, minimalism — you can never go wrong with it and it will always be perfect — to the rating system in athletics (where one in 1,000 will reach the number 10) or star ratings on Google or AirBnb (where an average of 4.5 will get you taken off the list). And like any mainstream, there is an embryo of an anti-trend hiding in the very center of the mainstream trend. Every mainstream person is inherently predisposed to carry a cancer cell that can eventually proliferate to kill its bearer. Mainstream’s own anti-trend.
Perfection is necessary because it creates a social norm, and therefore a ceiling to climb or boundaries that we must not cross. Imperfection, on the other hand, allows us to creatively soar and break through that glass ceiling. Brands are very good at telling us what is perfect. They are able to get the message in particular to women. On a long-term basis, they have produced moments and experiences so perfect that no one can identify with them. Someone clever said that happiness = expectation — reality. If we stop expecting perfection, we begin to create just that pleasant tension where reality can almost always exceed expectations.
Truthfulness is authenticity you can prove
The search for authenticity in today’s world continues to grow. Just look at the statistics of the most prestigious photo agency Getty Images. Not only people, but also creative and art directors in advertising agencies are starting to feel that the product itself has stepped into an area far away from what people really care about.
Top selling photos and search data indicate a huge demand for content in this area. This year, “Christmas” came up as the number one global search query on Getty Images. Searches for “Hanukkah Celebration” increased by 229% over the last year. Searches for “real family” increased by 678%, “real people” by 218% and “authentic moment” by 122%. Searches for the expression “Diverse Christmas” — continue to grow by up to 227%, “Diversity” by 145% and “Inclusive Community” by 314%.
We see brands taking a realistic approach and using different castings. For example, last year’s Lidl campaign called “Christmas You Can Believe In” uses familiar anecdotes to depict what Christmas can look like for those who celebrate it. Similarly, Tesco has resorted to showing different ways of celebrating Christmas in its ad “This Christmas — Nothing Is Stopping Us”. Another example is Nationwide “12 Voices of Christmas” which features real and diverse personalities from across the UK. By showcasing experience of real people, brands present the real world, and that allows the brands to get engaged in conversation and get connected with their customers.
But many brands are simply unable to prove authenticity. It turns out that if you want to be authentic, you must not lack a great deal of empathy. For example, the recent Pepsi ad has lacked it:
The era of relevance
Marketing has entered a new era. Eras of Relevance. Traditional marketing approaches need not be sufficient to sustain a successful business in the long term. The traditional 4 P’s (product, place, price, promotion) are a good foundation to start with. But you can’t fully rely on them. New players have arrived and they play on a higher level: Purpose, Pride, Partnership, Protection and Personalization.
Customers need much more than dull products or mindless services. Just think of yourself! I think most of us are looking for connection, authenticity and high quality more than ever. This phenomenon may be a result of the rapid pace of digitization.
We have so many options. In the end, only companies that can provide relevant and high-quality offers will remain successful. Don’t you think so?
But how did we get here? A brief history of marketing is all it takes.
Mass Market. In the 1960’s and 1970’s, mass production enabled the penetration of mass markets. Everyone was focused on production and scaling. The slogan of this era was: more! The more a company produced, the better it did. Nothing matters. Customers were not really taken into consideration, the individual was just a number in the pile.
Segmentation. In the 1980’s, marketing research tools emerged and marketers began to apply them more frequently. That allowed for market segmentation.
Customers. In the 1990’s, new technological developments enabled a new market approach. At this time, the relationship between the company and the customer was the most important. Marketers focused on how to increase the lifetime value of the customer.
Loyalty. In 2010, advanced customer relationship management enabled a new market approach. At this time, customer retention was an indicator of success. Marketers mainly focused on customer experience and relationships, but individual factors were still neglected.
And finally…relevance. And here we are in the 20’s of the 21st century. The year 2020 was a year of unpleasant surprises. Nowadays, the digitalization of everything enables applying an individual market approach. It’s pretty hard to attract customers when they have everything available everywhere. In the coming years, marketing should focus on customer experience and personality. Products and services must be relevant to individuals.
So the main problem with the traditional 4 P’s concept is that customers are put in compartments. There still are certain “static customer archetypes” (e.g., a conscientious mother buying products for her children). And these categories are considered to be customers. The relevance of offers to the customer is therefore completely neglected.
Even though I’m a conscientious mother in a supermarket, I might buy a bottle of vodka because I was invited to a party. So it really doesn’t help that marketers put me in the “conscientious mothers” box.
Okay, but how to market and measure relevance? How to implement “being relevant” in your marketing strategy?
Look at other five P’s of the marketing
The answer lies in the next five P’s. To achieve success, you should include the other five P’s in your marketing strategy:
Brand mission (Purpose). Your customers should feel that you (or your company) share their concerns, needs or values. To show you an example of a practical implementation of the five P’s, let’s look at a company called Alo Moves. They offer online yoga, fitness and meditation courses. Alo Moves provides a safe online community for people who want to exercise at home. Their purpose aligns perfectly with the values like health, balance and finding a safe space for customers online.
Pride. Your customers should be proud of and inspired to use your products or services. The experience of being part of the Alo Moves community and having exclusive access to the classes of famous teachers creates pride. People who are in this community are very proud and inspired to be a part of it.
Partnership. Your customers should feel that you have a relationship with them and work well with them. Alo Moves makes people in the community feel like they in a partnership. Their needs for high quality yoga and meditation classes are met. The company regularly provides new video content and supports the community with up-to-date advice.
Protection. Your customers should feel safe and protected when doing business.
Alo Moves provides a free 14-day trial. The company sets the rules upfront — after the free trial, you can continue using the content for $20 per month. No surprises about the prices, just the truth. We offer you that you must pay this amount. Customers can cancel their subscription at any time!
Your customers should feel that you are constantly personalizing your products and services. They should feel that their needs and priorities are of paramount importance.
In the videos, the instructors speak directly to you. The quality is high, so you can feel like you’re sitting in a private yoga class, at an incredibly cheap price. There is a new category of exercises where you can learn precise skills, such as handstand.
With relevance quite logically comes the need for personalization. Across all sectors, this is already happening. Let’s look at just a few examples:
Clothes as well as footwear are suitable for personalization because no two bodies are the same. Online retailer MTailor relies on smartphone scans to make bespoke shirts, suits and jeans.
Jewelry: Customers looking for unique jewelry can pay and have it made to order using 3D printing technology. “People want jewelry to be personalized,” says Gregory Kress, head of New York-based 3D printing company Shapeways. “Many jewelers who sell unique products on Etsy then head to us to make them here.”
Medical implants: Artificial bones, joints, and skulls are often customized to the recipient, but 3D printing already makes body parts faster, cheaper, and — in the case of replacements for metal parts — better fitting. “There are more than 100 types of implantable and other medical devices that are 3D printed and F.D.A. certified,” says Stefan Randl, head of healthcare R&D at Evonik Industries, whose polymers are used in 3D printing biodegradable and permanent implants. “The long-term vision is to be able to undergo 3D printing directly in the hospital: The surgeon would perform a CT scan and print the implant right in the operating room.”
Pharmacy: The technology allows for personalization of powders and tablets where ingredients can be adjusted based on the patient’s age, gender, weight, genetic factors and previous reactions to different dosage levels.
But there’s one thing missing from all of this. Authenticity.
Do it yourself
Why is authenticity important? Consider Aaker’s model of brand equity, according to which brand equity consists of brand loyalty, brand awareness, perceived good quality, brand associations, and other brand- related property values. Organic and authentic influencer marketing creates positive brand associations without additional help, can increase the brand’s perceived good quality and improve the brand awareness. This can be considered as passive income for the company. A typical example is IKEA.
There is compelling evidence that shows the power of co-creation with influencers in strengthening the bond between an organization and its customers. For example, a study carried out in 2012 shows that IKEA consumers are willing to pay a higher price for an IKEA storage box that they would assemble themselves, as opposed to an identical one assembled by someone else.
Putting together your own IKEA furniture has several important effects. The first among them is a feeling of a community belonging and your own effort that you have to put into the product. As a human being, you can identify yourself with the product. Another one is personalization — no one else will put this very piece of furniture together the same way you do, it’s unique. It’s not necessarily about the shape of the final box, but the process you used to get there. Are you going to lay all the parts out on the floor first? Or are you going to take them out of the boxes when you need them? We each have our own process for building an IKEA wardrobe.
Personalization is about the product helping us become someone. When your sweetheart has been urging you for months to buy a new wardrobe, you buy it. But in the case of IKEA, you build it. Why? For the sake of our shared happiness.
When members of famous cults were asked what drew them there, one answer prevailed: a sense of a common (shared) reason for being. Now imagine that your electricity supplier, your operator, your greengrocer and your football club are all offering you the same.
Right to Upcycle
Anti-consumerism is a natural reaction to the merry-go-round of capitalism. It is now manifested in the slogan “You can’t buy a life, you make a life” of the British DIY store chain B&Q, in response to the wave of products that make you “become someone else”. It is a reaction to the fact that buying enough products to create a real identity is not easy, even impossible. They made the same call after the first year of the pandemic, with an eye on further lockdowns: “Don’t worry winter, there is hope. We have planted it.”
B&Q thus appeals to all those who like stories with an open ending, as explained by marketing director Chris Graham in Creative Review. Along with the launch of the Build a Life platform, they also launched a new paint and equipment brand called “Lick”. You can see its branding communicating a strong call to action in the article. “You can’t buy a life, but you can make a life” is a typical example of the Authenticity trend
“No man ever steps into the same river twice, because it is not the same river and he is not the same as he was.”
The above observation was made by the Greek philosopher Heraclitus, who lived two and a half thousand years ago — long before anyone cared much about how to manage their brand. But what applies to people and rivers also applies to brands and their environments: The context in which your brand exists is always changing and brands inevitably evolve over time. Byron Sharp’s acolytes would do well to acknowledge the truth of Heraclitus’ statement: Sharp’s belief is that brands grow through the constant use of the same brand elements — color, logo, typeface, strapline, jingle — and by repeating them they then create “distinctive memory structures that bring the brand into people’s minds.”
But that’s not exactly how brands will grow.
The clan is everything
On Monday 16 January 2017, Juventus unveiled its new club crest and brand identity at the Museum of Science and Technology in Milan. To say that their new identity represents a major breakthrough would be an understatement.
The club that was founded in 1897 became widely known as the “old lady” of Italian football (ironically: “Juventus” is Latin for “youth”). Its previous badge reflected the brand’s status as one of the oldest and most respected clubs in world football. The redesigned brand represents a radical breakthrough. It symbolizes the new ethos of the club “The Future, Now”. It doesn’t look like a football club at all. The design is extremely bold and minimalist. Some people love it. Many hate it.
However, Juventus president Andrea Agnelli was adamant during the presentation:
“Change before you have to.”
The new brand is not just radical. It’s also an incredibly smart move. It is designed to transcend football, helping the club extend its identity to hotels, education, entertainment, and even energy suppliers. It anticipates the type of organization Juventus aspires to become, and communicates the boldness of its vision. Despite the constant blather about “bravery” and “disruption”, only a few organizations have the confidence to project such a clear vision of their own future. Juventus was able to understand that it had to step out of its category and create its own category in order to start growing as a brand in other areas.
And what will help Juventus do that? One of the most dedicated clans in the world. Its fans, who will now sleep in Juventus hotels, purchase electricity from Juventus and subscribe to Juventus newspapers. The Juventus logo changed from that of a football club to that of a clan (which it has always been), thereby sealing Juventus’ decision to fulfill its potential.
The best answer is usually asking the right question
Lifestyle brands and their branding have not ceased to exist. What has changed, however, is the role that lifestyle brands play in our lives. Previously, brands used to be sentinels that would inform us about what we should do at specific stages of life. We used to apply a certain soap to fit in with a certain crowd. Maybe you shaved your legs to pass as a proper woman.
This actually reveals a much deeper truth — a vast majority of us looks around to find institutions providing for guidance on how to make the right decisions for living. What we seek in them is the meaning of all those inevitably approaching life milestones — adulthood, having children, marriage, serious work, etc. Each of these things can be influenced in some way by your lifestyle.
And brands have taken notice and started to associate the lifestyle they represent with each of life’s moments. Culturally, we’ve moved from a position where we used brands to label ourselves (like “the modern woman who shaves her legs”) to a moment where brands help us reveal ourselves (What does it say about a woman if she shaves her legs? And what does that say about the man?).
As consumers, we are more mature and we are looking around for institutions and brands that will be vocal enough to help us clearly define our stance on a particular life situation.
The New York Times got it. They understood that their readers would be mainly people with smaller children, located in big cities. So they decided to find stories that readers can relate to and offered understanding rather than a product. The whole series is called “Modern Love” and helps people understand how they can look at love in the 21st century.
Using the New York Times as an example, you can easily understand how lifestyle brands work. They position themselves in the human moments in which we need help. Some of them do it by helping us be more aspirational — like Nike. It sells leggings so you can be fitter, faster — and in the case of the female world — sexier.
Yet there is another way. An example of this is the Outdoor Voice brand. The company started building a brand around “happiness” while everyone else was building it around extreme performance, physical endurance and sexuality.
The brand tries to promote happiness in many ways including crowdsourcing many of its designs, deliberately focusing on everyday activities instead of extreme sports, and presenting unretouched ads for women with real bodies and real cellulite.
That’s why the company grew by 800% in 2016, rivaling the sales of most luxury brands.
If you want your brand to look real, stop telling people what to do. Give them the courage to do what they feel is right in the situation. Stand up for what they and their community want. The value of the product is no longer the only thing you sell.
Adam Ondráček is a communication strategist and founder of KONTRA disruptive studio. You can find their work and more content at wearekontra.com.