Brand New Branding

Recent reports from the U.K. reveal a significant rise in retail sales during January. What’s interesting about this fact is that the retail industry didn’t achieve these higher sales by making compromises. The special offers weren’t any more special than last year’s; there weren’t any more clearance sales than at the same time last year; and the weather was no better. Still, shoppers decided to do their thing and buy more.

Australian retailers experienced exactly the same trend, with Christmas and January sales booming. And, not surprisingly, signals indicate that the same trend is happening on the Internet, not just in Europe, but all over the world.

Now, if we didn’t have a special association with September 11, I would honestly have no idea why sales, weaker than ever in December, suddenly redoubled in January. But perhaps the reason for this is obvious.

Consumers have started to change their behavior. This behavioral change, reflected in higher spending, demonstrates a shift in the global population’s general outlook on life. The values that drove consumers a year ago have undergone a shift that parallels the global community’s altered life values.

In the article I prepared three weeks ago, “Instant Gratification,” I discussed the observable post-September 11 fact that people desire to live their lives now, while they can. And this paradigm shift has its manifestations in even the most superficial of commercial contexts: reluctance to save up points in frequent flyer accounts, the tendency to use gift vouchers straight away, and so on. The consumer now wants instant gratification. And January sales figures illustrate the fact that the need for instant gratification has taken another step. Saving money may no longer be a personal aim. Its accumulation may no longer be a source of happiness. People wish simply to enjoy their lives.

If this is the case, how will it affect the millions of e-commerce sites desperately vying for customers? Well, first of all, it’s my belief that the virtues of the hard sell are now doubtful. Hard selling will recede for a while. On the other hand, consumers will seek a brand’s solid values — such as trustworthiness, reliability, and quality. Consumers want meaning in their lives, and brands will need to contribute to this need by promising and delivering enhancements in the quality of life.

Consumers no longer demand a plethora of reduction coupons, special frequent flyer offers, and the rest of the promotions battery. These techniques don’t enhance the quality of life here and now. Consumers want to see instant value from brands.

So next time you take a look at your brand, your site, and your communications, keep all this in mind. Will your consumers feel your brand is adding an instant, positive dimension to their lives? Will they feel your brand is adding value to their lives? If you feel this to be within your brand’s capacity, it’s likely to appeal to an audience that is currently on the lookout for new values, new meaning in life, and new brands. These are people who are prepared to question everything that’s gone before in their lives, including the brands they’ve patronized over the years. And this questioning has been prompted by world events: once-solid, immutable icons, values and brands have been destroyed or brought into disrepute.

Good luck with your brand’s transformation. But remember: Consistency will be the key factor in the success of your branding over the next couple of years. It will go a long way to ensuring your customers come — and stay. Why? Because consistency fosters trust, and trust is the essence of strong brand building, both off- and online.

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