The time-honored tradition of starting the new year with bold and brash forecasts is a complicated endeavor. Just when you finish extrapolating from the immediate past, a curveball from an unexpected direction knocks you to the deck. As Yogi Berra famously said, “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.”
Here though, from my creative and strategic branding perspective, are a few developments that should be noted, and which will surely have an impact in 2011.
Brand-Minded Businesses Widen the Competitive Gap
First and foremost, the business recovery is gaining strength. Corporate America is sitting on piles of cash, and companies are beginning to invest in business-building activities, from hiring employees and launching innovative products to investing in new plants. Don’t be surprised if forward-looking firms use their cash reserves for opportunities in developing markets such as Africa and Asia, which are starting to report significant growth in many consumer sectors.
What’s also apparent is that the organizations that continued investing in their brands over the past 18 months are well-positioned to widen the gap from their competition. Building a strong and vibrant brand through elegantly simple and unexpectedly fresh stories and experiences is a process that can never stop. As the economy continues to grow, brands will have striking new opportunities to deliver their narratives, providing both customers and employees with a clear understanding of a brand’s relevance and how it fits into the marketplace, community, and the world.
The Digital Way – Quick, Easy, Simple, and Intuitive
In today’s digital world, consumers expect and demand easy access to information. If it’s not quick, effortless, or intuitive to communicate or gather any kind of fact or opinion on a digital application, consumers will simply find another one that more effectively meets their needs. And believe me, the alternatives are out there, and just waiting to be discovered.
Year of the Employee
2011 looks to be a banner year for employees, and I’m not referring to higher bonuses or the increased value of 401(k) plans. Companies are increasingly recognizing that their workforce – from C-suite executives to the mailroom clerks – is their most important audience. In today’s rapidly changing and complex marketplace, organizations need every member of their staff to be innovative in tackling business problems, passionately committed to serving their customers, and driven to succeed. They also need to be aligned with the company’s purpose, which is the difference an organization seeks to make in the world and should shape everything it does and tries to accomplish. Clearly identifying and stating the company’s underlying values, principles, and ideals is especially important for global enterprises with employees spread out around the world. This approach will further empower employees to create a “network effect” in spreading that purpose – and their passion – both online and off.
Illuminating Brands Through “Lit Environments”
From a design perspective, brands will continue to move far beyond static information delivery. Communicating key messages in dynamic, “lit environments” where the use of sound, motion, light, and video is the start and not the end of the creative process, will become ubiquitous. The results will be found in the rich visual and aural – and, in many cases, digital – brand expressions that engage, motivate, and energize both customers and employees.
The End of Disingenuous Branding
Let’s all hope this is the year that brands finally learn to limit their promises to those they can keep. Loudly claiming superiority in one business or another (think clean energy) is a strategy that is doomed for failure. Companies ought to recognize by now that trying to define their brands under false pretenses never works, and only serves to create cynical, skeptical consumers. The truth eventually comes out, and no amount of sleek advertising or crafty public relations campaigns can fix it.
After all is said and done, it will be interesting to see if 2011 meets my expectations. But I’ll be ready for a fair share of surprises and bolts from the blue. And you should be too.