It was a very good night for Wolff Olins last night at the Fast Company’s Innovation by Design Conference and Awards show. Our work snagged 2 spots out of 1,200 submissions, 54 finalists and 9 awards given.
There’s now a widespread belief that talking about brand in the conventional sense slows everything down, and that all those brand strategies, brand models, brand onions and brand guidelines just get in the way.
And we’re finding in our work with clients that the old ‘positioning + visual identity’ formula no longer helps – it doesn’t answer the most pressing questions of the CEO and CMO. If you’re trying to kick-start growth, or digitize your business, or reach the next generation of customers (and talent), why waste time exploring your positioning, or tweaking your logo?
Increasingly, we’re finding that it’s better to think of brand not as cause, but as effect. Obsessing about your brand won’t somehow cause growth to happen. But doing the right things will create growth, and a strong brand will follow as the effect.
Let’s take Airbnb as an example of a brand that’s grown out of doing the right things. Committed to changing the way people travel, Airbnb offers an alternative to traditional accommodations. As a result, a unique experience based on active participation between travellers and hosts comes to life – and adapts accordingly. In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, Airbnb was able to quickly adapt its platform for good, waiving all of their fees on properties near hurricane-affected areas and urging their renters to temporarily reduce or waive their charges too. A long-time opponent of the service, New York City’s Mayor Bloomberg announced that he supported the effort.
In this case, Airbnb’s connection to its community, and its nimbleness and willingness to experiment in public, show that a strong brand isn’t just something in your CMO’s head. It’s something in the minds of your consumers, and all the other people your organization touches. It’s theirs, not yours. It is the effect of what you do, not the cause.
So, what should you do?
For another clue, it’s worth looking at what may be the most important brand news of the past year, even though it isn’t in a conventional sense a brand – Microsoft’s new user interface.
It’s a user interface, but more than that, it’s also a design philosophy (Bauhaus inspired, in favor of purity, against pastiching stuff from the analogue world, as Apple often does).
And more than that, it’s a whole approach to interaction (a different, much more liberated, more enjoyable way for people to experience Microsoft).
Imagine if all big brands thought this way – thought of themselves as, literally or metaphorically, a user interface. Or even better, a user interplay, where ‘user’ doesn’t just mean consumer, but also colleague, neighbor, investor, supplier, partner. We don’t mean they should have a good user interface (of course they should), but they should be a good user interface.
If we think this way, and think about what we do as effect and not cause, we must do three things. And all three are about design.
1) Abolish positioning. Think purpose.
Don’t try to manufacture a place in the world. Don’t obsess about the competition and differentiating from them. Instead, as with all good design, start with the question ‘why?’. Why do we exist? Why would anybody need us? Why is what we do useful? Why would people pay (in time or money or whatever) for it? Why is it valuable (in all the senses of that word)? In other words, define a sense of purpose – the difference you want to make, socially and commercially.
Think, for example, how powerful GE’s sense of purpose – imagination at work – has been in creating growth. Or how Google’s greatest inventions have come from its commitment and encouragement of experimental behavior among its employees. The high-growth businesses of the future will all be, at heart, purposeful. And purpose is the source of value-creativity.
2) Forget identity. Think experience.
Don’t start with name, logo, tagline, sonic identity, or any of these things. Instead, design whole experiences for people – joined-up experiences across all the things you do. Think user interface, in the biggest sense: not the skin around the outside of your organization, but the layer where you interplay with people.
Think Microsoft. Or a really great retailer like John Lewis, consistently the UK’s favorite. Or a fast-growing start-up like India’s IndiGo airline. All understand that growth comes from experiences that are, simply, useful. And experiences aren’t things you create and then transmit to people – they’re things people shape for themselves.
Thinking ‘experience, not identity’ means looking at your organization from the outside in, not the inside out, and seeing people as creators, not consumers.
3) Stop controlling. Think changing.
Don’t try to maintain a status quo, don’t police your brand. Instead, keep experimenting, keep connecting up with new people and new organizations. Let things grow from the roots: revolutions rarely start from the top.
Don’t try to pin down the future: prototype it. Replace ownership with sharing, and control with creativity. Look at brands like Airbnb and Zopa, the world’s first peer-to-peer money lending service, to consider how you can connect your customers directly to each other and have them create mutual value. Tomorrow’s high-growth businesses will be constantly experimental and completely boundaryless.
And when you get all this right, the effect is a (contemporary) brand.
This is increasingly how we think and work at Wolff OIins. It’s essential if we’re to do genuinely game-changing work. But it’s a million miles from the corporate identity design world we sprang from.
Yet at our heart – more important than ever – is the spirit of design. All great design grows out of a purpose. All great design makes an experience that goes beyond mere product. And today, great design can’t be static: it’s evolving, experimenting, perpetually in beta. Which makes it more exciting than ever to be in the new world of brand.
By 2020, advertising as we know it will no longer be the primary marketing vehicle used to build brands. Advertising will instead focus on driving transactions. Rather than a tool of marketing, advertising will predominantly become a tool of sales.
Replacing the role of advertising in brand building will be a slow process, but by 2020, the way we build brands will have transformed significantly. Instead of relying on advertising to drive extrinsic perceptions, brands will be focused on new methods designed to create more powerful intrinsic value.
Why Advertising Will Become A Transactional Tool
Automated, digital, transactions-driven advertising will be the single biggest advertising growth arena of the next ten years. The combination of big data (including social data) with ubiquitous smartphone usage and an intense focus on advertising ROI will create a hyper-aggressive, transactions-focused battlefield.
By 2020, smart devices and high-speed connectivity will have become pervasive among almost all consumer groups. Media consumption will have continued to fragment, turning today’s remaining mass audiences into a set of smaller, more atomized and more on-demand groups. And while this new environment will bring significant threat, it will also provide significant opportunity. For in this digital environment, consumers will continue trading their personal information for free access to services, providing more detailed, deeper data sets than we can imagine today.
What will not have changed is the pressure on businesses to deliver results, hit sales targets, and deliver growth. By 2020, these pressures will be intense. Product cycles will have shortened still further, competition become fiercer, markets more volatile and consumers more informed and empowered than before. In this environment, making the sale will be imperative.
As a result, an understandable desire for ROI will be manifest in tomorrow’s advertising solutions. Tracking which advertisements drive the most sales to which people, when.
By 2020, the winning advertising methods will be those that compress the time between the advertising impression and the transaction being made, and do it in a highly measurable and predictable way.
We will see advertising that is contextual to our actions and designed to encourage a specific transaction. Searching for a lawnmower? Here’s a deal for that. Eating at the same restaurant regularly? Here’s a deal for the one next door. Friends who like a certain store? Here’s a discount for you to try it too.
Contextual, automated, transactional advertising will be the perfect tool for the discounter but less so for the brand builder. An unintended consequence of the ROI imperative being that the coming era of advertising will act to compress prices, displace brand loyalty and reduce brand premiums.
In this new landscape, businesses will make a concerted effort to shift the risk profile of their advertising spend. As focus shifts toward measurable sales effectiveness, a new set of advertising players will emerge that are paid not by % of media spent, but instead by % of sales generated. They will be accountable to the sales team, data driven and more interested in efficiency of sales than creative excellence.
The New Brand Building Reality
While advertising is likely to become highly transactional, brand builders have much to be confident about. Just as technological and social shifts will provide new opportunities for the deals-driven discounter, they will also provide significant opportunities for the brand builder. Businesses that are focused on building and sustaining a brand’s premium will find themselves enabled by a new and more sophisticated set of tools with which to engage their customers.
By 2020, those same technologies that are driving discount advertising will be giving marketers and business leaders a more sophisticated understanding of their customers. They will be able to parse vast volumes of customer data, and monitor and hold significant social media-based relationships. The knowledge and insights thus generated turning marketers into key actors in the delivery of innovation and the creation of new layers of brand value.
In specific terms, we believe that by 2020 we will see three major areas of brand building innovation take over the role that advertising plays today.
1. Total Experience Management
Much as Total Quality Management transformed manufacturing in the 1980’s, Total Experience Management will transform brands in the 2010’s. Today’s brand experiences are highly fragmented and as a result are a significant source of competitive weakness (as any trawl of social media will demonstrate). By 2020, this will have changed considerably. Instead of focusing on individual touch points, brands will instead be considering the rich ecosystem of experiences they create. They will look at the integration of their brand ecosystem under a common “operating system” as a means of enhancing customer value. By thinking of the total experience, and usefulness, of the brand from the customer’s point of view, brands will create superior experiences across not just a single touch point but across the entirety of the branded experience. The beginnings of this transformation are already apparent in the way that technology brands such as Apple, Google and Microsoft are connecting their branded ecosystems together under a common user experience framework.
2. Marketing Products
Marketing products are products designed to deliver a marketing benefit, rather than something you intend to charge people money for. They exist to expand the ability of a brand to create utility, and value, around its core offer. For many brands, the core offer is often quite commoditized and as such unlikely to change significantly moving forwards. Under these circumstances, a marketing product seeks to create additional layers of value and utility that can ‘lock’ customers in to your brand rather than have them switch to a competitor. Tied directly into the brand experience ecosystem, by 2020, marketers will be using their social monitoring of customers to find new areas of value that can be built up around the core product or service offered by the brand.
A today’s world example is Nike+, which effectively uses technology to connect a community of running enthusiasts together, and in the process lock these runners into the Nike brand ecosystem. The innovation happening around the shoe, rather than directly within the shoe itself.
3. The Content Ecosystem
By 2020, the simple reality is that every brand will be a media brand, requiring everyone to consider how they produce, distribute and manage their content ecosystems. In tandem with brand experience and marketing products, brands will be focused on the overlap between content that informs a customer about products, services or propositions, content that educates them in its use or in the things they can do, and content that entertains them around the core proposition of the brand.
Often this content will be socially, or third-party driven, necessitating new skills in curation, editing and presentation.
Increasingly by 2020, informing, educating and entertaining audiences will happen through channels that are controlled by the brands themselves, rather than channels they pay to advertise on, and where customers have chosen to actively seek the emotional benefits that brands provide.
By 2020, advertising will have become a major driver of transactional sales. It will be automated, data driven, contextual and ubiquitous. A disciplined focus on effectiveness will have created new models of advertising agency.
This advertising will be ubiquitous and hard to opt-out of. Instead, brands will be built through new tools built through Total Experience Management, marketing products and content. The brands that do this will increasingly become opt-in, controlling their own channels to the consumer. Customers will go to these channels, actively seeking the emotional benefits these brands provide.
Karl Heiselman is CEO of Wolff Olins. Paul Worthington, strategic advisor/former head of strategy at Wolff Olins also contributed to this piece.
Our CEO Karl Heiselman is at Kyoorius Design Yatra in Goa, India this week. The event is India’s foremost annual design conference and is now in its 7th year of inspiring designers from all over the world. Tomorrow, Karl will talk to over 1,300 delegates and faculty from over 22 design schools in India about the importance of rethinking design as a driver of business.
Later in the day, he will also be part of a panel “Is branding relevant today?” with Bill Lunderman, VP of global design at Colgate Palmolive (pictured above) & moderated by our friend Debbie Millman, president of Sterling Brands.
Thanks to Wolff Olins Dubai’s Sagarika Sundaram (@ohsagarika), you can follow onsite updates on Twitter via @WolffOlins and #kdy12. Also be sure to check out Kyoorius’ page on Facebook to stay in the know of more conference happenings.
The world’s magnifying glass is on athletes rights now, which makes them particularly attractive to brands. All that attention translates into an incredible amount of eyeballs, from consumers who are rooting for and energized by the competition at the Olympics.
Brands spend a great deal of money to get athletes to rock their brand, in whatever capacity. However, it’s a tough thing to pull off—you need to be cautious and pick an athlete that embodies and exemplifies the defining characteristics of your brand.
But here’s a different model of athlete endorsement I love: This year, you can’t ignore the visibility of Dr. Dre's ”Beats by Dr. Dre” headphones. Knowing that many of the highest profile athletes now appear on screen and at the starting blocks in headphones, Dr. Dre's company created customized headphones for the event and also provided standard models to athletes from all different teams. Such a useful gift has ensured a ton of visibility in the arena, on TV and in social media. Unlike a traditional single celebrity endorsement, Dr. Dre’s ‘ambush marketing’ efforts rely on his product’s innate usefulness to spread the buzz. It’s an undoubtedly bold move that shines a spotlight on the strict restrictions the Olympics places on brands that aren’t official sponsors.
While the value of celebrity endorsements can be argued over, it boils down to a quality that’s at the core of successful brands and people: purpose. If a brand can express its purpose through a celebrity endorsement in a creative and positive way, the long-term gains are well worth it.
We’re excited to see how today shakes out for Facebook.
Facebook’s brand has faltered a bit in the eyes of investors in the months since its IPO. While they’re remedying this by appealing to advertisers (introducing real-time bidding for ads and amping up mobile strategy) Mark Zuckerberg has to keep in mind the most important element of his business – its brand – if he’s going to maintain Facebook’s status as the social network for the world.
He’s made it clear that he wants to remain focused on operations and product development, rather than growing sales, but so many people are wondering whether or not he’ll even show up for Facebook’s earnings call today.
If a company’s leader isn’t engaged with the brand, then why should its customers and users engage with it?
Today’s game changing business leaders recognize that brand is the connective tissue between all that a business does and what it stands for, from image and product experience, to internal culture and purpose. After the earnings announcement, we’re looking forward to seeing how Facebook can use brand as its compass — to steer the business in the right direction.
Of all the emerging markets, Brazil has the edge. It has the energy – the design, the fashion and the architecture, enabling it to throw off the insecurities common to emerging markets and establish itself at the forefront. And what a front it is.
Ahead of the ABC Design Conference in Sao Paulo next week (9th – 10th May) where Wolff Olins CEO, Karl Heiselman, and Creative Director, Marina Willer, will be sharing the stage. We take a look at brand Brazil, going beyond the clichés to understand the culture that shapes Brazil today.