Imaginative and prescient 2020: Lead Manufacturers With That means
What happens to our world
The world we knew before changes before our eyes – it affects the way we perceive it and how we derive meaning from it. The ongoing social and cultural changes we are experiencing today are redefining our view of our own place in society, our sense of identity and everything else in our lives, including brands and companies.
The changing foundations of meaning that we see today – where everything is questioned and reconsidered – have a strong impact on how brands create value in the real world. As the context changes and we no longer know exactly what things mean, it is also difficult for brands to create relevance – to signal their value.
The professor and cognitive scientist at the University of Toronto, Dr. John Vervaeke speaks of this time as a "cultural breakdown" that has led to a continuing crisis of meaning in our society, in which brands and companies are an integral part.
Building and maintaining values in such a world is a daunting task for any brand. If we no longer know what things mean, society will fall apart. And when the cornerstones of value, trust, and social importance are damaged or destabilized, the idea of doing business and building brands becomes inherently challenging and questionable.
The 2020 vision
From 2020 we will move in a new direction of personal relevance, driven by our increasing focus on the power of identity. This new era of branding and marketing is essentially important. The core of consumption is the signs, symbols and cultural values with which the brand signals values to customers. For this reason, the role and meaning of the meaning and creation of an independent and distinctive symbolic territory that brands occupy in people's minds will only increase in the next decade.
The consumer paradigm is now changing from claim to identity, from possession to user base and from purchase to being. We are experiencing a 180-degree shift in the dynamics of the market and consumer culture, which has the potential to redefine the entire future consumer model. It's basically about shifting the focus from brands to people. The dynamic is no longer about people looking up at brands as carriers of praise, image and social aspirations. It's now about brands looking up at people and embodying their values in a relevant way to help us better and more creatively express who we are: our individual authentic identities.
Authenticity, transparency, diversity and inclusiveness are not trends – they are social signals that indicate the newly emerging state of being, where we are, how we feel and who we are and the image that we see for the mere perception of other people that produce one way or another. Authenticity is an absolute key to creating value at a time when identity is our primary form of human expression.
The value of the cultural context
Culture and cultural relevance are the new core products for brands and organizations that have to be created and maintained in order to maintain and increase their value and added value. This is because the value your brands create is irrelevant without relevance within the broader cultural context in which your company is embedded.
No brand is an island. You can't manage a brand in a real world vacuum and call it brand management. Brands increase their value and retain their relevance, especially in the context of the real world – because they are embedded in the larger ecosystem of values in our culture and society. This is where their value comes from. It doesn't just come from the inside out, although yes, brands are the containers of value, but also from the outside, since the world we live in affects how we express our values and where the value shifts next.
Brands in the truest sense of the word are the dynamic ecosystems of symbolic and cultural value. To properly manage brands, we need to take care of the symbolic meanings they convey in our world and understand how they form meanings to signal different values and virtues to those around us.
Brands are in the business of exchanging meaning
People appreciate the importance. We do not consume brands for their logos, products or services, we consume them for what they mean to us – what they represent in relation to our own desires, values, feelings and mental images that we have about the world, in which we live, create. The more meaning you create as a brand, the more value you have and the more meaning you can exchange with your customers.
The more meaning you can share with your customers, the stronger you can create mental, emotional and cultural ties between your brand and your company and the greater the context of culture and society in which your customers live.
Embedding your brand in the vital context of culture and society through the symbolic territories and the strength of the mental connotations your brand has in people's minds is the right way to create a stable strategic position and lasting value that really based on shared values and beliefs.
Measure what's important
We need to create new metrics to ensure that we don't measure what makes sense, but what makes sense. We need to make sure that we measure what's important, which is inherently valuable to brands and their customers. To measure something just because there is no longer a reason. We are buried in data today, what we urgently lack is the meaning. You can't measure meaningfully, which will help you create more value for your customers in the long run when all of our metrics, reward systems and KPIs are linked to quarterly results. To measure what makes sense, we need to fundamentally re-evaluate the systems we use in organizations to create long-term value. Otherwise, brands will never come out of the short-term vicious circles that kill their symbolic value.
How to create marketing effectiveness
For this reason, the efficiency of marketing is currently as low as never before. With the hunt for the next shiny new thing and harnessing the power of the channels, we have successfully divided, fragmented and decontextualized the entire value chain of marketing communications until our messages became completely meaningless. You have to create value (and meaning) first, then you can deliver it. Obsession with HOW we deliver content, WHAT we want to say is a sure way to get into the land of senselessness where the majority of global brands are located.
Brand managers and strategists need to take a look behind the scenes and be inspired by the living and breathing world of culture to create more value for their brands. We need to make sure we know what we want to say, what meaning we want to create for our customers (since we have already found that people consume the meaning behind brands and not just brands) and what values we want to convey in the word. It is all a game of meaning, in which the exchange of values is the focus. Technology is a good servant, but a bad master. We have to know the difference.
Bridging the gap in meaning between brands and society
However, since we have the wrong metrics to measure what is meaningful and valuable to brands in the long run, the symbolic separation between brands and organizations on the one hand and culture and society on the other hand gets bigger and bigger from year to year. The pace and scale of change, as well as the cultural complexity in which we live today, misuse companies and lose a significant amount of value because of their rigid metrics, they are inflexible and cannot proactively adapt to the performance in today's society ,
This is a very big problem because cultural irrelevance is one of the main reasons why global brands cannot grow successfully today and can retain and increase their value and equity. We need to find new strategic mechanisms that enable us to capture and analyze the development of culture in real time and measure the importance of brands to keep them alive, relevant and profitable. Fortunately, semiotics and cultural anthropology are the methods that are already available to us to do just that.
The four most important gaps in meaning that need to be closed in 2020
The gap in meaning is the symbolic separation between reality and fiction. It makes brands look good on the surface, but if you look deeper, you'll find something is wrong with what they actually mean. This is a symbolic misalignment.
Over the years I've studied brands, I've identified four major gaps in meaning that affect most global brands and organizations today. They are the following:
1. The cultural gap
This is the gap between what brands and organizations say about their cultural relevance and how exactly they are able to portray and reflect society as it really is. This was evident in the 2017 ad criticized by Pepsi Kendal Jenner, which kept the message of global unity awake and deaf and vague.
What creates this gap is the inability to control the cultural complexity of our time and to distill the cultural meaning and meaning to inform the strategy. What can be improved is greater cultural intelligence and empathy, which gives brand strategies and creative ideas a more differentiated social meaning.
How can the cultural gap be closed this year?
Ask these questions: What is the changing cultural meaning of the concept I want to communicate? How does this evolving meaning affect my brand, my company, my service and my business?
You need to understand the codes of culture and how they affect the meaning of the brand. Culture is implicit in everything you do, whether you are aware of it or not. It is the world of symbols in which all brands and value systems are embedded.
2. The context gap
This is the gap between what brands intend to say and what they actually say in the real context, since the context that frames a message repeatedly removes its intended meaning. We could see that this work severely disadvantaged H & M with its accidentally racist product photo in 2018, on which a little black boy was wearing a hoodie that said "coolest monkey in the jungle". It also had an impact on Dove when the promotion of her “different body bottles” started as a brand whose entire legacy and cultural justice was based on the idea of real beauty and feminine empowerment that female body types cannot equate with shower gel bottles.
What creates this gap is the inability to predict how the physical context will change the intended meaning. It's about understanding things and planning in context.
How do I close the context gap this year?
Ask these questions: What do you want to say? And what does your communication really say? Are you communicating your intent or is there a meaningless separation?
Always think of the context in which your message is consumed when its ultimate meaning changes. The same thing that is communicated in a different medium and framed in a different context means something different.
3. The gap in trust
This is the gap between what brands say and what they do. The much-vaunted Fearless Girl was the unfortunate example of this loophole, as the company that launched it was fined $ 5 million for not paying women and minorities as much as men. Something similar seems to be true for P&G, who invest in progressive masculinity with Gillette and at the same time levy a pink tax on their female Venus razor products.
What causes this gap is the inability to keep the company promise and do what you say, which leads to symbolic duality and betrayal of brand values. What improves is the integrity of words and actions and the courage to be honest and act transparently.
How can the gap in trust be closed this year?
Ask these questions: Does our marketing have integrity? Is it relevant and useful for our audience? Does it inspire courageous action, trust and loyalty?
To maintain and increase the value of a brand, you must strive for integrity in everything you say and do. Corporate values must be noticeable in your customer experience. If you need to restore trust, be honest. It is the backbone of all of our human relationships.
4. The social impact gap
The last is the gap between the role brands are aiming for and what they can credibly consider relevant to their customers. The recent Gillette campaign showed a major interruption in this department because its ad looked like Gillette was positioning itself as a social watchdog to monitor the future of masculinity. An otherwise uplifting message was formulated in an incredibly condescending manner, which made the social impact and attitude of the brands very questionable.
What creates this gap is a misguided purpose and a deceptive belief in the brand's own hero role in the world. What is getting better is understanding what creates real social meaning and triggers massive action for the benefit of people, not brands.
How can the gap between social impacts be closed this year?
Ask these questions: How can our brand values best be translated into an independent role in the world to inspire and empower people to get the most out of them?
Understand what role you play in the world today. Learn to use your brand as a platform to strengthen what you stand for in society, not just the bottom line. Here you give your brand a real meaning, not just an illusion.
Leading in 2020 with sense
If you are planning your branding and marketing activities this year, you should make meaning the core aspect of your branding. It is only worth it for brands to create meaning, because it is consumed by your customers. As long as you create it, you should make it a good one. And make it aware, your audience can tell the difference, I promise you. True essence and authenticity of values scream from the inside out. If you are authentic and meaningful, your customers will notice it without having to be loud.
Contribution to Branding Strategy Insider by: Dr. Martina Olbertova, founder and managing director of Meaning.Global.
The Blake project can help: Please send us an email to learn more about our meaning workshops.
Branding Strategy Insider is a service from The Blake Project: A strategic brand consultancy that specializes in brand research, brand strategy, brand growth and brand building
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