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Four key branding trends in 2017

Some of the key trends in branding for 2017 are mirrored in our local landscape, says Cluster Creative's Tim Dove.

Humans are enamoured with the latest trends – what’s the hot new fad, what do I need to keep my eye out for, what will help my brand succeed, what does the latest research say and how does all this impact upon my brand, business and bottom line. Landor’s president of North America, Stuart Sproule, summarised his thoughts for 2017: “We are seeing the most complex brand landscape ever. Consumers want the latest in technology, more personalised experiences, more opportunities to interact – all in a more simple, streamlined process.”

Some of these key trends in branding for 2017 are mirrored in our local landscape – let’s delve into each.

Rise of the robots

Probably the largest changes we’ll see this year, and in years to come, revolve around the rapid increase in the use of technology for brand interactions and customer experience. It has been referred to as the fourth industrial revolution and will permeate our lives deeply. One could argue that it’s more in-line with larger, more well-funded companies than New Zealand’s SME landscape, but in a recent presentation by Isuru Fernando, IBM’s leader on Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Cognitive Computing in New Zealand, he demonstrated first-hand the influence that AI can and already is having on our lives through Watson, its cognitive system.

ANZ Global Wealth has implemented the Watson Engagement Advisor to help its financial planners improve the advice they can deliver to customers. It’s aimed at improving the advice process to cut down the time it takes for customers to receive a statement of financial advice from weeks to one session. IBM has a range of Watson products and APIs that can be integrated into your business to “bring the power of cognitive computing to your organisation.”

So while chatbots, messaging platforms and the integration of AI are gaining more traction the key is how to best utilise this technology so that your brand experience is improved and is an extension of your brand.

Power to the people

‘The customer is king’ has never been truer. With the continued rise of social media, the prevalence of smartphones and the ability for a single customer to generate global, often negative attention to their experiences, they hold the power like never before.

None have demonstrated this clearer than United Airlines recently. That debacle demonstrated outdated corporate policy, which might have been fine in previous decades, won’t be tolerated anymore. The lack of understanding their consumer, the customer experience and empathy reportedly cost them approximately $800 million in brand value.

But it doesn’t need to be all bad. Deeply understanding your customers' needs, being authentic and engaging with them in open and honest communication means you’re more likely to have brand ambassadors than brand detractors. One of the newest stores in Ponsonby, GoodFor, has demonstrated this by opening a packaging-free ‘whole foods refinery’ aimed to drive health and sustainability in a ‘supermarket’ space. Allbirds, the Kiwi-owned ‘world’s most comfortable shoe’, has generated an insane amount of good press globally and is another great example.

Just be yourself

The days of being clever and patronising are over. Gen Y sees through it all. It is well known that they want less and they crave authenticity. And Gen X is listening too. This is where we see the top brands heading. Big brands are investing more time in R&D, user experience testing, brand research and brand strategy, to clearly understand their authenticity. While for smaller brands with no budget it’s simply about the super-honest, warts-and-all approach conveying deeply who they are and what they stand for. As Simon Sinek, Start With Why founder once said, “people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it”.

We see the most successful brands, regardless of size, are thinking deeply and heading towards authenticity and singularity.

GöteborgsOperan is one recent and beautiful example of this – a simplified concept, powerful execution and it feels very authentic using the musician to effectively create the brand.

Locally, companies such Lululemon and Adidas work tirelessly at creating authentic customer experiences through their plethora of free community exercise programmes, Run Clubs, Summit Club getaways and connecting with local ambassadors who all ooze their brand and way of living.

I would like…

One of the buzzwords at the moment is customer experience and the increasing personalisation of this experience. To be fair this is a growing trend not a new one and is the culmination of the previous points around more informed consumers, a desire for authenticity and holding more power in the brand exchange than ever before. It’s not about your brand and products being forced upon consumers, it’s about putting the customer, the individual, at the centre of the exchange and how you can best deliver your brand experience around them, so it feels personalised to them. Why? It increases engagement, which research shows increases customer spend. Understanding fully the customer journey, the interactions along that journey and how brands can deliver quality, hopefully personalised, experiences is key.

According to Walker’s Customers 2020 report – researching what the customer experience might be like in 2020 – “the pace of innovation continues to accelerate, companies will put more emphasis on the experiences they deliver to their customers to create a competitive advantage”. As a differentiator, Walker sees this growing in importance while the product itself, and price, become less important to customers.

Apple has always been a leader here with consumers falling in love with the brand before they’ve even finished unwrapping it, feeling like it’s a one-to-one, personal exchange. More recently the 2017 Ethical Fashion Report, revealing the truth behind the brands you love and how they treat their workers, reported New Zealand brands Kowtow, Liminal Apparel and Karen Walker taking the top local spots. Dr Amabel Hunting, AUT industrial design and innovation lecturer, believes “if you look at the future of brands, consumers are not going to care about how they market themselves, they are going to look at what companies are doing for the world.” She continues: “[Millennials say] 'If a company is not accounting for the social side and they are not accounting for the environmental impact, then that is not a brand I am interested in’.” A trend that affects the bottom line is one to keep a close eye on.

In summary, all of these trends have relevance for New Zealand businesses and brands of any size. Owners and managers need to take time out of the business, out of the trenches, to deeply consider such aspects – how they can deliver more for their customers, be it through technology or a more personalised customer journey, or how to connect in authentic ways so they can gain competitive advantage and differentiation in their often cluttered marketplace.

Tim Dove is the strategic director of Cluster Creative, an award-winning brand transformation agency, who work with clients locally and internationally to elevate those brands into more valuable entities – for their customers, employees and stakeholders.

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