Today, the world is changing at a dizzying pace: social norms are anything but normal, and consumers' views are getting more polarized by the second. In such a noisy environment, it can be daunting to try to cut through with a message that still speaks to your audience.
Though these are unprecedented times, brands shouldn't lose sight of who they are in an attempt to keep up. Instead, consider how to respond to the challenges of today's climate while maintaining a purposeful eye on where your brand fits in the marketplace.
At BrandExtract, we've helped companies craft brands that can withstand the changing tides for almost 17 years. Below are three of the biggest challenges for brands in 2022, and the main ways companies can address them.
Challenge #1: Consumers Defy Categories
In the olden days of marketing and advertising, companies sorted consumers into neat stereotypes: mothers, teens, working professionals, boys, girls, etc. By filling up each "bucket" of people with a message, traditional strategies marketed to these rigid stereotypes for decades.
Nowadays, consumers sense stereotypes in branding, and they reject them: a 2018 Kantar study shows almost half of all consumers feel that women are portrayed inappropriately in advertising. We now live in an era where each person is their own bucket, and any attempt to speak to broad stereotypes will fall flat.
In many ways, such a cultural revolution is an amazing thing: it allows us to communicate with people as people, and not as stereotypes. Successful branding today relies on stories that people can actually connect to, rather than on simple generalizations. But it also poses a challenge for growing an audience.
One mistake many companies make to address this issue is trying to be everything to everyone all at once. The problem with this is threefold:
- It muddles your brand identity
- It cheapens the value of your message
- It often comes off as inauthentic
Instead of trying to represent everything to all people, narrow down what makes your company and your brand unique. Pour all your messaging into the core need that your company fulfills, and the audience will form around that need.
Even though the days of marketing to stereotypes are long passed, that doesn't mean you should throw out your brand's identity with the bathwater. Consumers will always respond better to a brand that knows what it is, so speak directly to that "one thing" that your brand provides.
Challenge #2: Sustainability is Essential
It's no big secret that sustainability is a hot topic, and it will only grow hotter as industries adapt to address the social and environmental changes around us. While this is especially relevant to industries like energy, construction, and transportation, the need for sustainable practices and products is already beginning to affect almost all brands.
The traditional annual financial report no longer displays the level of transparency many stakeholders have come to expect today. Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) reporting is becoming a leading management tool to communicate tangible data about how a company's practices are aligning with its brand values.
Brand integrity is a huge factor for consumers as well: In a 2019 Clutch survey, 75% of respondents said they "are likely to start shopping at a company that supports an issue they agree with." Your brand's values can be even more important than the product you're selling, and transparency through ESG is one way to build and display that integrity.
It's important to remember that ESG encompasses both environmental and social aspects of your company. Sometimes, that requires a balancing act to make sure your social values align with your environmental ones. Focusing on one without the other can result in conflicting values that betray your brand's integrity.
Depending on different companies' size and scope, they may play different roles in the sustainability conversation. Generally, companies fall into three main categories:
- Companies that can do what they do more sustainably and smarter
- Companies that can enable a transition to a better future
- Companies that can change their entire model to improve the future
Some companies can make adjustments to their existing value chain to make sure they're doing business responsibly and more efficiently. Others (often B2B companies) can enable other businesses to operate sustainably. And many other companies might find that an entire re-evaluation of their strategy is necessary to ensure that their values are aligned with ESG.
Taking a long, hard look at how exactly your brand can represent sustainable values will go a long way towards developing your brand's perception and its social license to operate. In a world where the public is quick to judge whether a company meets their personal values, make sure to stand out with intentional thought about sustainability.
Challenge #3: Aligning Corporate and Brand Strategies
As a result of the previous two challenges, many companies today struggle with a conflict between their brand's strategy and their corporate strategy for maximizing value. If a company is incorporating ESG into its brand's messaging, but doesn't reflect that strategy in its practices, it suffers from a core delivery problem.
Much like an awkward teenager, many brands try to "fit in" with changing cultural norms by rapidly adjusting their identity. The problem is that who a brand is doesn't always match what their corporate strategy is doing, and the general public can pick up on that tension.
Reconciling corporate and brand strategies takes planning and vision. Rather than getting caught up in the latest trends, strong brands cut through the noise by defining:
- Who they are to their audience
- Where they fit in the world
- A corporate strategy that ties the two together
A brand is a promise, and delivering on that promise through an aligned corporate strategy is key to developing trust in the brand. That means, once again, it's crucial to know your "one thing" that your company can deliver on, and construct your brand around it.
By not over-promising, you can more clearly communicate what your brand has to offer, and deliver it with consistency and quality. Being true to who your brand is will prevent confusion and develop stronger brand trust and recognition.
A Few More Insights
To learn more about the importance of brand strategy, explore how it can drive business growth, and stay up-to-date with the ways brands are innovating in 2022, reach out. We’re happy to have a conversation.