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How Do Brands Deliver the Future? Innovate

Innovative is the most overused word in business. However, it is also the most important business concept. Without innovation, a business cannot survive. Last year, Inc. magazine published the top ten overused company buzzwords. Guess where “innovative” ranked? It was number one! Search the word “innovative” on Google and you get over 2 billion results.

In today’s world of disruptors, digitalization, Artificial Intelligence, and the Internet of Everything, every brand is looking for the ultimate innovation to keep them relevant and profitable. Every CEO understands that innovation is key to their brand’s future. Yet, it is often elusive. Every day, formerly popular brands become obsolete.

A brand can either ignore reality or start looking for new opportunities outside their comfort zone. Thomas Friedman, author of The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century says, “the most important attribute you can have is creative imagination – the ability to be the first on your block to figure out how all these enabling tools can be put together in new and exciting ways to create products, communities, opportunities, and profits.”

Shawn Hunter the author of Out Think: How Innovative Leaders Drive Exceptional Outcomes, defines innovation as the implementation or creation of something new that has immense value to others.

“Creativity isn’t necessarily innovation,” Hunter told Business News Daily. “If you have a brainstorm meeting and dream up dozens of new ideas, then you have displayed creativity, [but] there is no innovation until something gets implemented.”

Innovation is Putting Ideas into Action

Creativity is the process of developing unique and novel ideas. To find out more on this topic check out 9 Creative Ideas for Great Branding. Innovation is the process of putting new ideas into workable, physical actions that create measurable financial results and brings value to the brand and its customers.

It’s easy to generate ideas. The hard part is implementing the ideas. There will be many reasons why an idea can’t be implemented such resource limitations, timing, expertise deficiencies, process and production issues, costs, and leadership. Most big ideas cannot be implemented without many small, successful ideas.

A company’s internal culture sets the stage for their ability to create great ideas, but that is only the start. Most companies don’t know how to move an idea into reality.  Physically implementing an idea requires many disciplines across many different silos. A clear system must be in place to turn new ideas into overnight innovations.

Innovation Starts with a Problem

Many new innovations are inspired by a problem such as declining sales, customer changes, shifting trends, new technologies, or competitive actions. The trick is listening to what customers are thinking and understanding the opportunities or issues. Brands need to closely watch the marketplace (locally and internationally) to understand shifts in attitudes, trends, and technology drivers.

In her article, The 10 Things Innovative Companies Do To Stay On Top, Julie Bort says that successfully innovative companies get their best ideas by listening to their customers. In Everything Connects—How to Transform and Lead in the Age of Creativity, Innovation and Sustainability, Faisal Hoque and Drake Baer emphasize the importance of engaging customers throughout the innovation process. “Listen again to the customer to help them imagine; use prototypes to elicit feedback; listen to customer acceptance/buying criteria; listen to what could go wrong, but don’t let the devil’s advocate take control.”

Innovation is a Constant Process

New ideas can be easily implemented by setting up an internal start-up team that works on a concept from start to finish. Another popular way is to buy out promising innovation companies and combine them into the big brand powerhouse. David Friend, CEO of Wasabi Technologies, says “It’s hard to have a corporate culture that juxtaposes caution and process on one hand with nimbleness and innovation on the other. So, it’s a good idea to separate the two functions inside the company so that both are fostered.”

In the Harvard Business Review, Gary Hamel, London Business School professor, and Nancy Tennant, past chief innovation officer innovation at Whirlpool, suggest that innovation requires a systemic view. “It’s not about individual tools and tactics, but how each of those methods fit together to accelerate the product innovation cycle.”

Technological companies like Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, and Google (FAANG) have figures this out from day one as they continue to innovate and introduce new brands in a timely fashion.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said: “Invention comes in many forms and at many scales. The most radical and transformative of inventions are often those that empower others to unleash their creativity — to pursue their dreams.” Apple’s career website says every sentence at Apple starts with ‘what if…?’: “Everyone here is an innovator, or an innovator-to-be. That’s how we create the kinds of products and experiences that few ever imagine…innovation comes from everyone in every role at Apple.” Netflix’s Culture Manifesto states: “You thrive on change” and “You challenge prevailing assumptions and suggest better approaches.” Facebook strives to make “innovation a daily habit” by encouraging its employees to constantly introduce new ideas. Google promotes a culture of innovation through its eight principles of innovation that help empower employees to innovate.

Innovation Needs to Be Fast

Jeff Bezo is focussed on swiftness; He strives to meet his customers’ every need in hours not days. Every day he asks one simple question: “Are we a Day 1 or Day 2 Company?” A Day 1 brand believes that every day is a new day; experimenting, inventing, and innovating are the norm. Day 1 brands are passionate about surpassing customers’ needs and aren’t hostages to the process. Day 1 brands stay ahead of the curve, have high-speed decision making skills, and believe that 80 percent confidence is enough. They detest bureaucracy, waste, and outdated attitudes and practices. Agility isn’t just a word but an attitude that embraces a start-up spirit regardless of history or size.

Only Innovative Brands Will Survive

Well established older brands are generally less nimble. They have well established processes, systems, policies, and governances that allows them to provide customers with a high quality, consistent, brand experience. All these controls impede innovation. Therefore, they often focus on small product innovation. Major transformations cause too much upheaval and risk.

Retooling a company for innovation is a formidable task. In 1999, Dave Whitwam, then chairman of Whirlpool set a new culture of innovation where every job and very process would change. He anticipated that this journey would take five years! Today, five years is a life-time for some brands and a death sentence for others.

Gary Hamel and Nancy Tennant defined five key innovation elements for a brand:

  1. Upgrade Innovation Skills;
  2. Define Innovation;
  3. Establish Comprehensive Metrics;
  4. Hold Leaders Accountable;
  5. Retool Processes for Constant Innovation.

Moving a great idea into an innovation isn’t easy and many times they fail. Just ask Google about failed innovations (50 failed Google products). But, failure hasn’t stop them from launching many successes new brands in the last 12 months like the Pixel Smartphone, Google Home, Pixelbook, and Nest Hub Max.

We can all learn from the FAANG corporate culture and begin to transform an idea into an innovation quickly and efficiently. For a FAANG brand, innovation isn’t just an overused word, but a way of doing business daily.

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Five Digital Brand Trends: Opportunity or Threat

The digital world continues to transform businesses and brands. Agile brands that can anticipate the future and take advantage of digital opportunities will win. The brands that hesitate or procrastinate will lose. Here are five digital trends that can either be an opportunity or a threat to your brand.

Audio Branding

There are over 75 million smart speakers in homes worldwide and this number is growing exponentially. According to Amazon, “tens of millions” of Echo devices were sold in 2018. They are currently collaborating with auto industry partners (such as Audi, BMW, Ford, Lincoln, Lexus, and Toyota) to ensure that Alexa is available on the go. Do voice assistants like Alexa, Siri, Cortana, and Google Assistant know your brand? Voice-powered applications are expected to explode.

“We are at the point of a big transformation,” Patrick Gauthier, Vice President at Amazon Pay, said during his keynote at Money 20/20 USA. “With voice we are going to see different complementary experiences emerge.” Gauthier said he expects smart speaker technology to play a bigger role when it comes to providing product information or executing recurring transactions.

If I asked a question about your brand, what would Alexa say? Does your brand have a recognizable voice like your logo?

Brand Intelligence

The hot concept in 2018 was artificial intelligence (AI) and it will continue to get hotter in the years to come. Real personalization is becoming possible thanks to the improved sophistication of artificial intelligence and refined logarithms. With big data, GPS, and other tracking devices, brands are able to anticipate their customer’s every desire. Consumers are expecting brands cater to their needs in real-time. Of course, there are some legitimate concerns that brands need to understand like Security & Privacy – another digital trend.

Limited availability isn’t good enough anymore in today’s always on and in the palm of your hand world. AI can help while you and I sleep.

When you connect a chatbot to the technology, you have super-charged customer service. It can provide important information to potential buyers while collecting insights to help the brand improve. A chatbot will consistently deliver your branding messages and can access all the available data to ensure that the customer gets the best personal experience. Grand View Research says that the chatbot market is growing at an average rate of 25 percent annually. With over 45 percent of customers preferring a chatbot over to a real person, it’s no wonder many brands are turning to a chatbot! Make sure your chatbot voice reflects you’re demographic and brand and be mindful of gender, personality, and accents when developing a (literal) brand voice. With the power of AI, your brand will be able to anticipate customers’ needs and provide better brand solutions 24/7.  

How smart is your brand and how smart does it need to be to compete?

Visual Branding

We are quickly turning into a visual society. Since 2014, the number of Americans who read for regularly pleasure has fallen by more than 30 percent. Research by Pew Research Center and Gallup indicates that the number of adults not reading any books has nearly tripled between 1978 and 2014. During the same time period, TV consumption rose. Robert Passikoff, president of Brand Keys, says that nearly 75 percent of all communications today are visually based. He predicts that number will go up to 90 percent in the next three years.

Younger people are moving away from the boob tube to YouTube. The world’s 2nd biggest search engine today is YouTube where more than 1.8 billion registered users watch about 5 billion videos daily. The average viewing session is about 40 minutes, up 50 percent year-over-year. The site has a massive collection of 1,300,000,000 videos and that number growing at about 300,000 new videos per day. Netflix continues to capture eyeballs with over 137 million streaming subscribers as of Q3, 2018. Today’s challenge is developing mass consumable content that is worth watching.

According to Nielsen’s data, streaming video-on-demand services are now used by two-thirds of U.S. households. That figure increases by 10 percent year-over-year. How do brands get in on the action? The traditional 15, 30, or 60 second commercial doesn’t fit the new entertainment models. To get your brand message noticed, you will have to produce your own content. Red Bull is a content-creating monster, blending their advertising with entertainment programing such as documentaries, music, and sports events. Their secret is capturing fantastic moments with breathtaking background scenery like mountains, oceans, outer-space, and the great outdoors. Their message says anything is possible with a Red Bull.  

Another possibility is product placement within the content. Procter & Gamble had a deal with the ABC show Black-ish where the company was written into the plot. While Procter & Gamble was successful, product placement carries risks. If too many companies choose this path, viewers might reject sub-par content.

By 2021, mobile video will likely account for 78 percent of total mobile data traffic. In many cases, these videos will be amateur in-the-moment content. What is your brand’s plan to tell your visual story?

Brand Security & Privacy

With the recent news about the misuse of personal data on Facebook, consumers are becoming more cautious about sharing their data. We have heard of government databases, retail (including hotels) credit card data, and credit reporting agency databases being hacked and breached. We are all too aware of the sad consequence of people’s identity being financially threatened and clever phishing schemes fooling people using a small piece of stolen information. First Data’s 2018 Consumer Cybersecurity Study revealed that 34 percent of digital consumers experienced a PII compromise within the last year.  

Trust in any brand is only as strong as the protection of PII against hackers. Consumers will continue to evaluate the value of sharing PII. As online technologies continue to advance, we will see more breaches and consumers threats. Brands will need to one step ahead of threats to keep consumers data safe and secure.  What is your brand strategy to keep your customers’ PII safe?

Brand Advocates & Reviews

Reviews and ratings continue to be the digital word-of-mouth for most brands. Not every customer experience will be perfect – mistakes happen. But a brand’s reputation is most vulnerable online. Customers have an array of online avenues to voice their frustrations using review and rating sites, comment boxes, social media, and blogs. The goal for all brands is to have five stars but the true test of a brand is when they don’t. How did the brand respond online and in real time? How good is your customer service?

While people may hesitate to do business with a brand with negative reviews (depending on the severed of the problem or the number of reoccurring problems), having only positive reviews diminishes their credibility and is also a problem. Responding to the issue and showing empathy will help build a better relationship with current and potential customers. One potential solution to negative reviews is to have two-way reviews: the customer can review the business and you can review the customer.

Reviews are the foundation but influencers are the new brick and mortar. They are a higher-level, credible source for your brand. There has been a trend of shifting credibility away from celebrities towards consumer’s peers – real people building content. Moms influencing other moms is a great example.  Social analytics company Shareablee’s research (2017) shows that digital creators who have between one million and 20 million followers outperformed celebrities and micro influencers (less than 250,000 followers).

According to a Gartner report (2018), “Influencer marketing is at an inflexion point. Brands promoting products via influential individuals is no longer a secret – consumers know they being marketed to, while still consuming influencer content.” 

To ensure brand engagement, selecting the right influencer(s) is paramount. You want to make sure that your influencers have similar values and have transparency and authenticity as core values. Building a long-term relationship allows the influencer to become a natural advocate as they build brand insights and content that reflect positively on your brand. But even better is unsolicited user-generated content by loyal brand fans in the form of photos, videos and positive reviews.

 Does your brand strive for five stars and inspire customers to share it in real-time?

Digital Transformation

No brand can escape the digital world or its trends. It’s better to embrace digital transformation and its tools than to lose to the competition. But never forget that the personal touch is the most powerful tool a brand can have. Consumers still trust people and people still want to be with other people. Celebrate these facts with your brand and combine it with the latest digital tools to put your brand power into the consumers’ hands (literally) and you will have one of the most loyal brands in the world.

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9 Creative Ideas for Great Branding

Creativity is at the core of every successful brand. It is continuous reinvention driven by new ideas and new ways of doing business. Apple, Netflix and Amazon are great examples of iconic brands that continue to evolve. Creativity is the catalyst for innovation. How do you build a creative culture to ensure your brand is always on the top? It starts with an understanding of creativity. Then, talented people must know how to be creative and have the freedom to do so.

Pixar is a wonderful example of a company with a creative culture; the innovative animation giant has created 14 blockbuster movies in a row. Pixar President Ed Catmull, coauthor of the book Creativity, Inc., points out some basic observations:

  • Talent is rare;
  • Management’s job is not to prevent risk but to build the capability to recover when failures occur;
  • The working environment must be safe to tell the truth. Everyone must constantly challenge all of our assumptions and search for the flaws that could destroy our culture;
  • Always remember that the ultimate goal is ‘making the product great’.

Creativity isn’t elusive or exclusive. According to a joint study by Harvard and Insead, 85 percent of creativity is a learned skill. All we need to do it learn it! But that is easier said, than done for most of us.

To get started, here are nine creative ideas to help build an environment to sustain a great brand:

 

1. Connect the Dots

Maria Popova, the creative genius behind BrainPickings.org, says that creativity is the ability to connect the unconnected – it is the melding of existing knowledge into new insight about the world around us. It’s the ability to connecting the dots between unrelated ideas. Sir Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group incorporated this concept into the company’s philosophy of growth. They call it the ABCD process: Always Be Connecting Dots.

Steve Jobs said “Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things.”

 

2. Curiosity

Psychologist Todd Kashdan said that curiosity “appears to be a fundamental motive in facilitating industry and creativity.” Curiosity goes hand-in-hand with creativity. B. F. Skinner, psychologist and author, said “When you run into something interesting, drop everything else and study it.” Visit a bookstore or library and wander the rows of books and maybe get inspired to read about something different. Buy a magazine from a section that you rarely view. Watch a movie or TED Talk on a topic you know nothing about. Take a course on a new skill set that you are interested in but know nothing about. Start asking the ‘whys’ and ‘hows’ of everything around you.

 

3. See Things Differently

In Maria Konnikova’s book Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes, she emphasizes the importance of observing your environment on a deeper level. Leonardo da Vinci observed that many people look, but few people see; mindful seeing is the foundation of direct experience and the foundation of direct knowledge. Writer Joan Didion kept a notebook with her at all times, and said that she wrote down observations about people and events as a way to better understand the complexities and contradictions of her own mind. Try to be in the moment.

 

4. Expand Your View

Involve individuals and ideas from all walks of life to help collaborate. Google provides lunch every day for all their employees but there is a catch – everyone from all departments and levels must participate. They share their current projects and discuss new ideas. According to Caitlin Adair, from Google’s head office, their café and micro-kitchens create collaborative space for employees to “discuss, brainstorm, meet and relax.”

Google goes to great lengths to provide employees with fun perks such as beach volleyball courts, mini golf courses, and adult playgrounds. The goal is to create an environment that lets employees feel relaxed and comfortable with vocalizing creative, even wacky, ideas. Businesses need to do their best to foster a safe, creative space where unusual ideas are celebrated and where creativity is nurtured.

 

5. Experiment – Appreciate That It’s a Process

Creativity is a process that is developed over time. We have to embrace that and give it time.

All facets of life have sped up except the human brain. Technology has reduced production time down to seconds but thinking still takes same amount of time today as it did 300 years ago. Great ideas come from anywhere at any time. If you sit someone down and tell them that they need to produce a brilliant idea in ten minutes, your chance of success is extremely low. 

The first iPhone didn’t just happen. It took many hundreds of versions before it was finally released. Some of them were terrible versions that Apple never showed us like the rumored click wheel iPhone

“Creatives fail and the really good ones fail often,” Forbes contributor Steven Kotler wrote in a piece on Einstein’s creative genius.

“There is a deep and meaningful connection between risk taking and creativity and it’s one that’s often overlooked,” says Kotler. “Creativity is the act of making something from nothing. It requires making public those bets first placed by imagination. This is not a job for the timid. Time wasted, reputation tarnished, money not well spent – these are all by-products of creativity gone awry.”

Don’t be frustrated that you didn’t come up with a brilliant idea in five minutes. Creativity takes time – sleep on it, and get others to sleep on it. The more brain power, the better.

 

6. Shake Things Up

Sitting around a table brainstorming isn’t thinking out-side-the-box. Get up. Move around. Change your perspective, literally. Physical movement has been shown to have a positive effect on creative thinking. Add other stimuli like toys and music to help stimulate your brain. 

Facebook‘s Mark Zuckerberg conducts meetings on foot – walking around the Facebook campus. Creative thinking improves while a person is walking and shortly thereafter, according to a study co-authored by Marily Oppezzo, a Stanford doctoral graduate in educational psychology, and Daniel Schwartz, a professor at Stanford Graduate School of Education. 

Experience new things. Take different routes to and from work. Use your left hand for the things you would normally do with the right hand. Avoid anything that makes life monotonous or mundane. Promise yourself you will do something different today.

 

7. Play

Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO is believes that creative thinkers need time, space, and permission to play in order to do their jobs well because playfulness helps us get to more creative solutions. Check out his TED Talk as he talks about the powerful relationship between creative thinking and play – with many examples you can try at home (and one that maybe you shouldn’t).

 

8. Problem Solve

Creativity ultimately helps a successful brand solve a problem. Nick Woodman couldn’t get any great action photographs of himself surfing in Australia. This problem inspired him to develop the GoPro camera. Doctor Joan Fallon noticed that many autistic children had a deficiency in a certain kind of enzyme for processing protein. She started Curemark and raised $50 million to develop a treatment to solve the problem. Today, she is taking her unique technology and tackling problems like schizophrenia and other neurological conditions. Maybe Ingvar Kamprad couldn’t get a table into his trunk of his small Swedish car, so he took the legs off and then started IKEA.

As Steve Jobs said “You have to be burning with an idea, or a problem, or a wrong that you want to right. If you’re not passionate enough from the start, you’ll never stick it out.”

 

9. What ‘If’ Questions

To help change your perspective, use a simple question to reframe the opportunity. Its like the “what else can you do with a brick” question.

Think outside the box by taking an existing object and asking clever questions to twist the very concept of it and make it new and different. Steve Jobs started off by making the iPhone a super “slick” phone. With a few “what ifs” added into the equation, Apple transformed the cell phone into the smartphone that dominates the world today. Here is some potential “what if” questions:

  • What would happen if you take away or eliminate one element or ingredient of the brand?
  • How could you change or improve the brand to use it in a different way?
  • If you could turn the brand services into a physical product what would it look like? Or if you could turn a brand product into a service what would it look like?
  • If you could get your brand quicker or more conveniently to your customer how could you do this (in X months)?
  • If you wanted to offer your customer something free that no one else offers what could it be?
  • If you could change one thing in your company (process, systems, structure, etc.) what would it be? How quickly could you do this?
  • What do you wish your brand could do better if you had the resources to change it?

This isn’t the definitive list of questions but using these and others is a powerful tool that can help you to think differently.

 

Without Creativity There is No Innovation

You need a safe and collaborative environment to implement any of these ideas effectively. If your brand is about sticking to the rules and follow ridged processes with a mentality of “it won’t work here”, the brand’s life will be shorter. Today’s world demands new innovations. To get to an innovation, you need a great idea. Great ideas come from being creative.

Understand there is no universal recipes for creativity. You need to try these ideas and others to develop your own approach and figure out what works for you and your team. If it was easy you wouldn’t be reading this article. But remember everyone can be creative if they are in the right frame of mind. As American author Elizabeth Gilbert said “If you’re alive, you’re a creative person.”

Being creative in and of itself isn’t terrible productive or profitable. The unique idea must create value. In essence, creativity helps stimulate new and unique ideas. If they are good, they can be turned into an innovation that people will line-up to buy.

Creativity is subjective and impossible to measure. Innovation is measurable. When a unique idea is put into action, you can always determine its success or failure. Sometimes you have to go through a number of ideas before you get to a successful innovation. A true brand innovation is one that meets or surpasses your customers’ needs.

A creative culture is also a culture that sees the glass as half-full. Instead of just complaining, employees must feel empowered to actively look for better solutions. Having the permission to be creative and innovative is very powerful.

Successful brands have passionate people who willingly unleash their creativity everyday and understand how it keeps a brand relevant and loved by its customers. Creativity is a beautiful thing.

 

This is a remake of a previous article A Brand’s Ultimate Weapon – Creativity published April 12, 2015.

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Brands Make the World Go ‘Round

Brands have played an intrinsic role in our lives. Some brands have mimicked culture, while others have created and driven it. Brands have lifted the world from poverty with economic growth and human development. In 2017, the world’s 500 largest companies employed over 67 million people, while producing $30 trillion in revenues and $1.9 trillion in profits.

Brands have brought the world to our doorsteps. Brands have taught us about global values and uplifted our spirits. Brands make the world go ‘round. They have poured billions of dollars into our communities. And, as the saying goes, with great power comes great responsibility.

 

Brands: Force of Good

Can you image a world without brands?  It would be a world made of lifeless commodities and generic products, void of any personality, aesthetic, emotion, or aspiration. Brands have brought us together in joy, happiness, and pleasure (and yes, also in anger, hatred and desperation). Brands have been the catalyst for change and new innovations. They have inspired arts, technology, government and social causes. Brands are the true global consciousness of governance and consistence of quality, regardless of race, geography, politics and religion. They are a true friend that remains loyal, delivering on their promises around the world. Brands have also made a lot of money, having a positive impact on society as the wealth of nations increase around the world. The assumption is that brands understand and respond to the needs of their consumer, and that will in variably deliver value to them and shareholders. Everyone wins.

 

Brands: Force of Evil

Critics argue that greedy global brands, with their huge appetite for natural resources, are destroying forests, ruining oceans, and polluting our environment. Human resources are also being taken advantage of, with low pay and poor working conditions. Brands are seen as the source behind the plastics pollution pandemic and linked to rainforest destruction and the extinction of wildlife. Brands are the motivation behind the endless consumption of society. Brands have created a disposable society of the one use, throw it away mentality.

There is no question that some brands’ ethics and motives aren’t acceptable.  Unfortunately, it often takes a disaster or WikiLeaks to inform the public of any atrocities. Today, unacceptable conduct is quickly responded to with financial pain in the form of boycotts and brand-damaging messaging.

The billion dollar tech brands like Amazon, Apple, Google and Facebook have captured unprecedented market share in the new digital world. These brands and others like them all collect large amounts of personal data and, in some cases, misuse this data. Apple’s iPhone, for example, tracks users about 129,000 times each year.  These brands have the ability to map your entire behavior, becoming so accurate and so detailed that they know your next move before you do. Share this information with a third party, and you have a political mess.  Misuse of information will continue to be a threat by unethical brands.  

Good brands will be seen as those that nurture the planet and promote human wellbeing, while bad brands will be seen as those that exploit the planet and its people. At the end of the day, the consumers will decide which brands win.

 

Brands: Drive Prosperity

In 1949, Harry Truman said that “more than half the people in the world are living in conditions approaching misery.” It was around that time that Minute Maid Orange Juice, Sony, H&M, 20th Century Fox Television, Burger King, Adidas, McDonald’s, and Visa made their brand debut. Shortly after, Wal-Mart, Nike, Mastercard, Intel and the Gap made their presence felt around the world. World War II was finally over and the Bretton Woods Agreement had been signed, opening the world to a new global system of free trade.

Poverty rates started to collapse as the world shifted to free markets in the 1950s. The world’s population was around 2.52 billion and more than 70 percent (1.81 billion) lived in extreme poverty (making less than $1.90 per day). Experts attribute two-thirds of poverty reduction to economic growth and the other third to greater equality. By 2015, the world’s population had tripled (thanks in part to the Boomers) to 7.35 billion. During the same period, extreme poverty dropped by 60 percent to less than 10 percent of the total population. Over this 60 years of incredible economic growth, we saw the globalization of brands cover the world.  Even with the explosive population growth we saw illiteracy rates drop and life expectancy increase. This progress wasn’t caused by time but by brands investing in countries, communities, and people. Everyone profited.

 

Brands: Empower Women

World War II was also a turning point for women, especially in North America, where they played a significant role in the workforce and paved the way in breaking down psychological barriers. Julia Kirk Blackwelder, author on the topic of feminization of the workplace, said “the war so profoundly altered labor demands and women’s expectations that women entered the workforce in even greater numbers after the war.” In 1950, 34 percent of women were part of the labour force and by 2016 there were almost 57 percent.

Brands clearly understood the major shift in the consumer landscape. In the 1960s, brands were under scrutiny from feminist groups for how women were being portrayed in brand advertising. Over time, a greater emphasis was placed on the independence of women in owning a car, having a career, and participating in major purchase decisions.  These images of doing “men’s work” helped instill and grow confidence within women who became the target audience of many new brands. However, there is still room for improvement in the area of pay equity, discrimination, and sexual harassment.

 

Brands: Generic Alternative

Generics are copycat brands that are generally cheaper and come with no-frills packaging. In some cases, generic brands offer products of similar quality while in others the difference is much more noticeable. Generic ketchup isn’t Heinz, cola doesn’t taste the same as “real thing” and the Goophone smartphone isn’t iPhone. The generics are all about price with no branding or promotional support.

As with most things, you get what you pay for. The branded version is all about loyalty and building a relationship based on quality, craftsmanship, and supported services. Brands are always anticipating future customer’s needs. They are more expensive, but the added profits goes towards further research and development. Brands care about innovations and continuous improvements to keep them relevant. Generics only care about selling you as much of their product as possible, with no attention to your future needs. Generics don’t invest in communities nor new technology; their goal is to make as much money as possible without spending anything more than the absolute minimum.  

Brands continue to evolve. Generics come and go while brands create new technologies, industries, business models, goods, and services. A new version of the iPhone is anticipated and expected as an annual event. New technologies can make older ones obsolete, shutting down old production systems while displacing workers. These rapid changes can also destroy traditional work and social relationships that once played an essential cultural and economic role in the lives of a community or country. The Apple iPod and Amazon Kindle Reader had a profound effect on the music industry and the book industry, respectively. Currently, Airbnb and Uber are creating havoc in the traditional hotel industry and taxi industry. All of these changes come with serious trade-offs that aren’t necessarily clear if the future is a better place.

 

Brands: Control Commerce

Karl Marx predicted in The Communist Manifesto that local business would be wiped out by large multinational brands and the local culture would be lost forever. Karl Marx’s prediction has come true. Go anywhere in the world and you are guaranteed to find a Starbucks, McDonalds, KFC or Pizza Hut. And thanks to ecommerce you can access almost any brand, with delivery right to your door

The reason multinational brands became mega brands and wiped all the local presence is because consumers supported them.  Customers will line up for days to get the newest model of the latest product, and spend their entire paycheck to proudly display the brand logo. But do brands really want to make the world a better place, or do they just keep us working so we can continue to buy their products and keep them profitable? Through their mammoth marketing machine, mega brands create consumer aspirations and desires that lead people continuously into debt. No local grocer is a match for a large multinational brand like Wal-Mart, with its global resources of outsourcing, data & digital management, and low-margin high-volume sales model. It doesn’t matter how many years the local grocer built their business, one customer at a time, with personalized service.

We have, however, seen a resurgence in local premium products like craft beers, spirits, soda, natural energy drinks, ice cream and coffee. So maybe we are finding the balance getting the best quality at the best price while wanting elevated quality, and supporting local.

 

Brands: Define Culture

People build culture and also brands. More than ever, brands are shaping our lives. We are addicted to our smartphones and the social networks we live on. Thom Braun, author of The Philosophy of Branding, says “…brands and branding are fundamental to the way we experience modern life—and the way we give ‘meaning’ to it.” It’s no surprise our top brands are the ones we interact with on demand.

We can’t live without brands. In some cases, they define who we are. Brands are no longer just objects in our disposable lives—they are giving us meaning, as brands weave their stories with ours. Author Paul Auster said “If we didn’t have stories to tell each other, I don’t think we’d be able to understand the world at all.” In the book Storytelling, Branding in Practice, authors K. Fog, C. Budtz, P. Munch and S. Blanchette state “It is, therefore, no coincidence that an ancient tradition like storytelling should appear in a new form-as a tool for brand building…”

Brands are starting to shape culture to remain relevant and break through the clutter. Brands are trying to champion a societal need and change a social attitude or behaviour, with the ultimate goal of making the world a better place (and selling more product). Nike’s support of Colin Kaepernick’s racial injustice cause is a case in point. As the ad said “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything. Just do it.”

 

Brands: Bigger Responsibility

Thanks to digitization and globalization, popular brands are getting bigger by the second.

While Amazon is on track to collect half of US online sales by 2021, according to an analyst. But the bigger play is still in the brick and mortar, where Wal-Mart dominates the retail landscape with 11,700 locations in over 28 countries, over 2.3 million employees, and annual sales of over $500 billion. With this clout, they can dictate their terms and define the products with a network of 3000 diverse suppliers to keep their 270 million weekly customers happy. If you visit their global website they say “We want to use our size for good.” Let’s hope so, because they are very big!

Coca-Cola consumes about 289 billion of water (a fact on their website) to produce their 40 different products. To put this in perspective, that is about 115,600 Olympic-sized pools, almost one week of the entire water flowing over the Niagara Falls, or almost one year of water consumption by Torontonians. They claim that it takes about 2 litres to produce 1 litre of product. While agriculture accounts for 70% of all water consumption in the world, Coca-Cola recognizes that a sustainable approach to water is essential to its business. Coca-Cola committed to fully replace the water it uses in its finished products across the globe, a goal it set for 2020 and met in 2015. Now they need to tackle climate change!

McDonald’s has more than 36,000 restaurants around the world and serve 69 million people every day. According to Bloomberg, McDonald’s sells four million kilograms (nine million pounds) of fries every day. To feed this appetite, the entire Madison Square Gardens would need to be filled with potatoes to the ceiling just to supply a year’s worth of fries. McDonald’s employs about 1.8 million people in 119 countries and has become so central to global trade that The Economist values foreign currencies against the dollar using the price of a Big Mac. One in eight US workers has been employed by McDonald’s at some point in their career. McDonald’s has helped put a lot of people through college.

 

Brands: The Future

The world’s challenges like climate change, obesity, population growth, and dwindling natural resources are so complex that they require collaborative solutions that go well beyond any one brand or government. The world’s mega brands have a responsibility to address social concerns beyond their own backyards something no government is able or prepared to do. Global brands have the resources and ability to make lasting change with oppression, religions, politics, and social injustices. They can define and uphold universal values that all humans can embrace. Every day they must answer to their customers (and shareholders), because it is the customers who choose to buy their brand and keep them relevant. Every day they must not only keep their brand promises but also nurture the planet and promote human wellbeing. The world would be a very different place without brands who truly are making the world go ‘round.

 

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Rethinking Personal Branding

In 1997, Tom Peters coined the phrase “Me Inc.” This sparked the idea that we should strategically build our own personal brand and hone in on our unique selling proposition (USP). Peters recognized the competitiveness of the marketplace. Since then, online presence has quickly penetrated every person’s life. Social channels consume valuable time, always demanding more content to satisfy the millions of eyeballs. The personal branding concept has grown exponentially.

Almost 3,000 books have been published on the topic of personal branding. A Google search returns over 2.5 billion pages. There is no shortage of resources but, in the grand scheme of things, do you really need a personal brand in the first place?

Shelly Lazarus, former CEO of Ogilvy & Matherwould argue that a human isn’t a product, so they are therefore not a brand. She has emphatically stated that “I hate it when people talk about personal brand. Those words imply that people need to adopt identities that are artificial and plastic and packaged, when what actually works is authenticity.”

A Slave to Personal Branding

Once you have built your presence on LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and your blog, you are obligated to feed the channels with consumable content. Good social presences also engage with other content and solicit likes and comments. We become slaves to the online—curating images, developing witty insights, capturing video expositions and quipping quotable proses. Twitter suggests you create three tweets a day, complete with eye-catching imagery, to engage your audience.

But most people have a real job, and it doesn’t include being a self-publisher. As a brand builder, I used to think building your personal brand was a must. Today, I am not so sure.  As the pendulum swings, I am beginning to question the idea of branding an individual. Neatly packaging each of us into a formulaic design, carefully crafting our look and tone of voice, and hunting for the right followers. It’s beginning to feel like a controlled environment, where we must conform to the needs of business, social channels and HR recruiters searching for new human capital. I understand the need for the perfect online resume that highlights our strengths and hides our weaknesses but, as Lazarus says, we aren’t a product.

Do we need to control how we present ourselves online? Absolutely! But do we need to spend important family time to build our personal brand? No.

Life is too short. Life is about living in the real world, not about gathering likes, comments, and shares. Anthropologist Ilana Gershon and author of Down and Out in the New Economy: How People Find (Or Don’t Find) Work Today, states that personal branding doesn’t actually increase a job seeker’s chances of landing a position.

Humans Aren’t Brands

We are trying to take a complex, multidimensional, living and breathing human (with emotional needs and wants, personality traits, and values to boot) and fit them into a simplified, rigid, one-dimensional product brand. Using regimented branding techniques to enact personal branding doesn’t do any person justice.

Gershon says that people trying to brand themselves “are using techniques designed to associate an object with a personality, techniques that had to be radically simplified to be effective precisely because objects don’t engage in the world in the complex ways that people do.”

And seriously, do we need 7 billion personal brands? We already have too many product brands!  Many personal brand experts have taken the traditional product branding discipline and parlayed it into a business of packaging people into brands. This has become one of the biggest self-help topics on the internet, thanks to LinkedIn and bloggers. No surprise, all the social media channels profit from this craze. Sounds more like a money-making scheme than sound advice.

Playing to Our Vanity

The personal brand success metrics are based on the number of followers and likes. The metrics, unsurprisingly, were set by brand marketing experts. Although being liked can contribute to your sense of self-worth, social media following has little impact on career success. “It’s a reward cycle, you get a squirt of dopamine every time you get a like or a positive response on social media,” explains psychologist Emma Kenny. According to the Omnicore Agency, the Facebook “like” button has been pressed over 1.13 trillion times.

Okay. So we are addicted to social media and the desire to be liked. In the real world, networking and human interactions are positive and healthy for our survival as a social animal. Trying to emulate this positive effect on social media isn’t as easy nor as healthy, says Holly Shakya and Nicholas Christakis, both professors in the science of social norms. In 2017, they studied the relationship between social media use (primarily Facebook) and well-being. They attribute the negative experience of social media to unrealistic curated content from others’ lives, leading to negative self-comparison. Add to this the addictiveness of always interacting; a constant need to be online. They conclude that “online social interactions are no substitute for the real thing.”

Our Digital Footprint

The reality is that we all must present a digital self or resume if we want to work in this digitally transforming world. We can try to ignore the fact that recruiters and employers search online as part of the hiring process but, at the end of the day, if we don’t take control of our digital footprint, others are free to do so. Creating a digital existences of one’s self immediately shifts you from being free-wheeling and shooting from the hip to having to be more strategic, more thoughtful and more vulnerable. It doesn’t mean that you can’t have a point of view or a strong conviction, but everything you do and say is on the record for everyone to see and analyse. All of your actions and inactions will define you. Your professional persona quickly becomes your authentic self and vice versa. We are expected to conform to our employers’ values and act as advocates to support our companies’ business goals. Our personal lives are no longer offline or off the record. Over time, it becomes impossible to shift from your professional persona to your personal self without jeopardizing your credibility or your true intent. You are better off to align the professional with the personal self from the start.

Standing Out Beyond a Commodity

Many years ago, most products were undistinguished commodities based on supply and demand, without any intrinsic value. Then came brilliant marketers who took a commodity like water, built a brand story, and got people to spend more money on a litre of water than a litre of gasoline. Will personal branding protect our intrinsic value as we compete for jobs against artificial intelligence? After all, the job market is changing faster than we can enhance our skills and build our resumes. Having a post-secondary degree used to translate into better job prospects, but degrees hold far less weight today.

By 2030, the McKinsey Global Institute estimates that 30 percent of the world’s human labour will be displaced by intelligent agents and robots. Similarly, Oxford University predicts that 47 percent of total US employment is at risk due to computerization. That could mean over 800 million people requiring rebranding as they attempt to switch job categories. The potential upheaval of the workforce creates a greater urgency to differentiate ourselves from technology (and each other) if we wish to survive. According to a Jobvite survey of recruiters, 95 percent of those polled think that the job market is going to get more competitive, and job seekers that stand out are likely to benefit. Does this mean personal branding may become paramount for our survival and keep us from becoming a human commodity without a job?


Branding Limitations

The perfect brand is everything a human being isn’t—consistent, predictable, rational, logical, and dependable. Some of the greatest attributes humans have are emotions, feelings, and thoughts. We get bored easily and our moods shift like the unpredictable weather. We grow and learn from our experiences and our values continue to evolve.

Being a brand limits us significantly. We can build different online personas, but these become a challenge to manage over time. The easiest way to build an online brand is to step away from our individual quirks and move towards a business entity, like a consultant with clear attributes and benefits. Your brand may be your name, but it becomes more of a business entity bigger than just you. Better yet, just focus on ensuring your LinkedIn profile is always up-to-date and portrays all of your redeeming qualities.

Life is Short

Indra Gardiner BowersCEO of i.d.e.a, says that “Life goes fast and the time you spend cultivating your so-called brand is not going to make you happier, more fulfilled, or more valuable. What will do that is focusing on being a good human being, doing your work well, acting with integrity and truly loving the people in your life who deserve to be loved.”

Be cognizant of the time and effort in continuously feeding the system with your thoughts, comments, sounds, and images. Don’t waste your life curating it. Eric Ruiz, writer and Partner Marketingat Netflix, reminds us that the sum of our tweets, images, and online thoughts are only a small part of our reputation. The most important aspect is the hardwork (actions and decisions) we perform five days (or more) a week. He says “A personal brand is worthless if it’s not backed up.”

To Tom Peter’s credit, the world was very different 20 years ago. Today, search engines like Google allow anyone to find out everything there is to know about you. Where you live, where you work, what you are interested in, what you post, and what you have shown interest in (likes and shares) becomes commonplace knowledge. The moral of this story? It’s important to take control of the image you portray in the digital world, especially in the workplace. Your personal image strategy is an essential career asset, as it functions as your online resume as a living digital record of who you are. Be cognizant of what you post online and think carefully about future audiences for your content, but don’t get so wrapped up in the online world that you forget to participate in the real one. Like most things, balance and common sense is key.