As one year comes to a close and another commences, we take a brief look back to acknowledge just how much shifted within a year…and not just on the national stage. All politics aside, our company embraced change through a new creative director to further accelerate our creative engine. We highlighted a global event in the Rio Olympics and its attendant struggles for relevance and connection. We saw a blueprint for the future of banking with the Future Branches Conference and conversation and commentary around digital disruption in banking. We saw revolutionary ideas like blockchain, pop-ups and the sharing economy disrupt what we thought we knew about money, retail and business. Finally, we took a long hard look at how brands can be built to last through a three-part culture series.
Ushering in a new year, we see all the signs and signals pointing to another year of disruption. Whether it’s new technologies or enhanced expectations, disruptors help to create an environment that is ripe for fostering innovation and engagement. In this shifted landscape, brands and companies rethink their approaches and reevaluate experiences across the three pillars – brand, environments and culture. Brands are expected to enhance their offerings to mean more; places are the environment where customers and companies mix and mingle; and culture is the glue that binds it all together to create an unified brand experience. We’ve taken a look at developments on the horizon and are excited to share what we see.
The biggest brand trend we expect through 2017 is the continued migration toward customization. In fact, a recent Bulldog Reporter article outlines a study by OneSpot and the Marketing Insider Group, finding that 78% of consumers report increased purchase intent with personally relevant content. Further, 42% of consumers want less to do with a brand if its content is not personalized for them. That means that no matter what channel a customer experiences a brand through, the content must be customized. Adam Weinroth, CMO at OneSpot, goes further, “Findings reinforce the need to make personalization a strategic priority for brands to remain relevant. Digital marketers who leave this irreversible trend unaddressed are missing a tremendous business opportunity and placing their brands and business results at risk.”
“No matter what channel a customer experiences a brand through, the content must be customized.”
Not surprisingly, the research finds that some powerhouse digital brands – Google, Facebook and Amazon – are doing the best jobs at customizing a personal experience for their customers. Amazon, with its robust recommendations, including ‘Inspired by Your Shopping Trends’, ‘New and Interesting Finds’ and ‘Top Picks for You’, consistently wins the customization contest. While some people may feel a bit of discomfort with all of that data-gathering and tracking, the end result is an easy and fun shopping experience that feels as curated and cozy as an online shopping experience can be. It’s like shopping with a friend who knows just what you like and says, “Ooooh, look at this!” Gone are hours of poring over pages of results, since the most intuitive findings filter to the top and are usually right. And, if you use something like the Honey Chrome Add On, you can always be sure you’re getting the best deals.
In terms of place, what companies and brands will continue to perfect in 2017 is a deeper understanding of how environments’ role has evolved in the brand channels. Whether it’s a retail store, a pop-up shop, a bank branch, or a restaurant, how customers interact with your brand in the real world impacts what those customers think of your brand. Regardless of newer, flashier channels like digital, in-person experience is one of the biggest drivers of brand love. In fact, as we outlined in 2016, RetailNext reports that 94% of total retail sales are still generated in brick and mortar stores. David W McCreight, chief executive of the Anthropologie Group, was quoted in our piece on environment innovation within retail, “…[Anthropolie is] a destination spot where people ooooh and aaaah over distinctive wares that they have never seen before. This visual feast full of luxurious and unique items creates an environment that envelopes shoppers and makes them want to linger longer and stroll among the lovely items for 30 minutes or more.” Physical still matters, and some would argue, physical matters more than ever, with competitors from all sides nipping at your heels. It’s one channel that brands can truly differentiate themselves by pushing creative boundaries and bringing their brand to life. But it’s not just the physical channel existing in a vacuum.
“The physical environment is one channel that brands can truly differentiate themselves by pushing creative boundaries and bringing their brand to life.”
Physical must synchronize with all other brand channels – so digital, social and physical working in tandem to deliver the same enhanced customer experience. This is what we call channel alignment, and it’s a strategic approach that really matters. One brand that consistently tops lists for in-person experience year after year is Starbucks. They practically own the category, creating and capitalizing on the concept of “third spaces.” But Starbucks goes one step further by aligning all of their communication channels to deliver an experience. The company’s mission and passion for people comes through with every click of a mouse and every custom drink served at the shop and at home. Starbucks does this by innovating communication channels and transforming physical spaces into destinations that deliver – not just great coffee, but a customized experience.
In 2017, we expect brands to expand and enhance their culture programs because culture matters. In our extensive culture series in 2016, we outlined why culture is the crucial underpinning of great brands. “Great products and services are a critical way brand loyalty is built from the outside, but these external factors are only one part of the equation. Many of the greatest brands are realizing the untapped potential of internal audiences to build brand love from the inside out.” After all, who better than the people who represent a brand to sing its praises to consumers? Culture is not just whether you like your boss and co-workers and whether it’s fun to go to work. Culture is where brand promise either thrives or dies on the vine. By investing in the people behind the brand, companies are providing a fertile ground for the company’s values to be planted and sown, really lived by employees. That in turn, is communicated in a million little ways, every day to customers, and the feedback brand loop continues.
“By investing in the people behind the brand, companies are providing a fertile ground for the company’s values to be planted and sown, really lived by employees”
According to Forbes, “A happy employee is a productive employee. And we all know what increased productivity leads to: a better bottom line. According to Great Places to Work companies with an excellent work culture outperform their competitors on the stock market by nearly two-times.” So, it’s not just the right thing to do for your team members who devote 8 plus hours a day making your company great, it’s the right thing to do for your brand. The best companies embrace culture as a core value and do what they can to inspire and empower workers, giving them a common cause to rally around and an environment that fosters cooperation, collaboration and camaraderie. These cultural attributes don’t just happen by accident. The best brands understand they are in the role of creating culture. So as we prepare for a stellar 2017, take a page from the brand playbook and customize, communicate and cultivate.
Cheers to a Brand New Year!