Branding is crucial to any business and has evolved over the years as society and consumer values have shifted. Branding today is far more encompassing than when cattle were marked for ownership, but is equally if not more important than ever.
Back in the Day
The concept of branding originated from the Old Norse word “Brandr” which means to burn. Owners branded their cattle with hot iron rods for identification purposes. Each mark was unique and easily recognizable – characteristics common to logos today.
Soon thereafter, mass amounts of trade goods were produced and distributed on a larger scale, creating the need to “brand”, or burn marks (logos), onto crates to distinguish one from another. The marks represented a company and its features and/or benefits.
While logos and visual representations differentiated brands from each other, the sheer influx of companies producing products was overwhelming. To stand out, companies turned to emotional connections to win consumers. Brands began to tap into basic human heart strings demonstrating how their products could better consumers’ lives by making them covetable, happier, more popular, etc.
For example, Nike doesn’t simply sell sportswear; they sell an authentic, winning lifestyle. The iconic logo and slogan (“Just do it”) evokes motivation and action and reaches into the hero within. When quality and function weren’t enough to win the consumer wallet, brands evolved to create an emotional bond.
Branding has gone from the practical need for ownership and identification, to a beacon of quality, to an emotional bond between company/product and consumer. Today, the stakes are higher, and the rules are changing once again. Brands are developing a value-based relationship with their customers. Consumers want to buy from brands that care about the same ideals that they do, stand for something, and ask for and accept their feedback and input. Today’s companies have put their “why” at the center of their brand. Why do they do what they do, and why should their buyers care? That’s what today’s marketer must tackle to build a brand that consumers will love, follow, and be loyal to.
The exchange of goods and services has reached a new dimension; there are increasing expectations for businesses to be environmentally, socially, and ethically responsible. Research shows that millennials (those born between 1980-2000) will carefully choose companies that mirror their own values. There is a plethora of reading material on how to market to millennials because they’re a unique generational group. They control over $200 billion of purchasing power, are digital natives, and are accustomed to a constant influx of information and advertisements. As a result, they know how to filter through the noise in search of authenticity. The transparency of the web means consumers are privy to everything from a brand’s pricing, to its product quality, to its business practices.
Ethics matter to millennials; according to Adroit Digital:
• 38% of millennials will switch brands if a company is found to have bad business practices.
• 33% are concerned about eco-friendly products
• 32% care about fair business practices.
Living a sustainable life is top of mind for consumers, and they will choose brands that will help them achieve that. A sense of social responsibility is strong in millennials; 48% choose to use brands that are active in supporting social causes. Popular examples of brands that do so are TOMS, a footwear company that donates a pair of shoes for a child in need for every pair purchased, and Warby Parker, an eyewear company that distributes glasses to those in need. Of course, the opposite is also true; if millennials think a company is unauthentic, they’re more likely to take their business elsewhere or worse, go out of their way to show disapproval online and in social channels.
In addition to aligning with their values, millennials expect brands to provide a consistent experience across channels (omni-channel experience), follow through on promises, and provide informative content. The latter explains why content marketing is so important because it drives home the idea that if brands want consumers’ attention, they have to provide value in return. Authenticity will lead to trust, and 40% of millennials are loyal to brands they know and trust.
Unlike consumers of the past, millennials aren’t satisfied to merely consume – they also want to participate. Communication has gone from one-way, to two-way, to group-way:
• 44% want to have an open dialogue with brands through social channels.
• 52% of all respondents said to remain relevant, brands need to listen to consumers and be willing to change based on their feedback.
Branding has come a long way from the days of marking cattle. To survive and thrive in today’s society, companies must ensure their “why” is defined and speaks to their audience, provide content that resonates and adds value, and practice open communication and collaboration.
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