What’s next for brands? Seven lessons from 2012.

As we’re awaiting the final results of our end of year study to gain a more in-depth understanding of the Zeitgeist, we’ve been discussing what’s next for brands in 2013 based upon our learning from CultureQ over the past Summer and Autumn.  As always, we’ve been reviewing the data from our research in the context of socio-cultural and political events. The highly anticipated IPO of Facebook, the largest in the technology sector and the second biggest offering ever, kicked off Summer. Surely, there was no clearer symbol of Facebook’s market dominance. Anticipation quickly led to speculation about the integrity of the offering, Facebook’s revenue strategy, and many of the company’s policies and strategy, and the public became more cynical about the extent to which Facebook values the people it connects. Consumers are growing notably more frustrated and less forgiving of brands they judge as taking more than they give Although participants in CultureQ respect brands such as Facebook as leaders, they are growing notably more frustrated and less forgiving of those they judge to be taking more than they give. Facebook is one of the few leadership brands that our participants did not also name as a top favorite brand. Increasingly, people’s favorites offer a mutually beneficial relationship that recognizes their contributions to brand development as well as their role in bringing a brand to life. Engaging with users as people rather than just consumers is especially important for brands that want to connect with Millennials. As summer wore on, Chick-fil-A aptly demonstrated the danger of a brand being associated with views that are misaligned with many of its...

Good Brand Citizenship, in the wake of Hurricane Sandy

October 29th 2012. No power. No cell phone reception. No water – we’re on a well. This is our situation in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. It could have been so much worse. Whole communities across the North East of America have been devastated, thousands of houses arbitrarily rearranged, businesses forced to close, not to mention cars and transport links submerged as Sandy did her worst. And at her most uncompromising she took multiple lives. The number of people who lost everything in the storm is still somewhat unclear but growing. On Wednesday I began to slowly reconnect with the outside world through email. (Thank goodness for the beneficence of the local gym, which has become the temporary home we share with countless other families from across our community.) As I fired up my laptop, hundreds of unread emails leaked into my inbox. As I scanned their headings and abruptly selected the delete command it struck me how many of these messages did not acknowledge the events of the past 48 hours, let alone empathize with the people who have suffered in some way. The message was, it’s business as usual; 10% off for outerwear, a great deal on hair color, coupons for holiday gifts, and so the list went on. Does a certain outdoors apparel brand really believe most people in the affected States will be whipping out their credit cards and ordering snow boots when they haven’t got water, some have lost their income, or their worldly possessions? For me, one email stood apart from the rest: J Crew had sent it’s heartfelt condolences to the affected...

Spotlight on Google: don’t be evil

Quick, answer this question: How many miles is the earth’s surface from the moon? Time’s up. Did you get around 238,857 miles? More importantly, how did you get that answer? Chances are you Googled it. Google. The noun that became a verb. Have a question? Google it. Can’t find directions? Google it. Need anything at all? Google it. Rarely has a company held such a ubiquitous influence over society. Hitwise, which measures internet traffic, reported in July 2012 that Google accounted for 65.70 percent of all searches in the United States. Google’s contribution to the mobile world, Android, has nearly 52 percent of the market share for smartphones. (Apple is around 34 percent.) Gmail has around 425 million users as of June 2012. Google Books seeks to digitize all known books and magazines. In 2008, Google even invested in a DNA sequencing company. The list goes on and on, and a quick read can make Google seem rather ominous, like an empire seeking a monopoly on all industries. After all, Google controls what information we receive, how we receive it, and how we share it, a daunting idea that would horrify the Orwells of the world. Yet, based on much of our CultureQ research, Millennials view Google as just the opposite. Overwhelmingly, Google is seen as a socially conscious, responsible, helpful company. How did this come to be? The oft-quoted motto of Google is “Don’t be evil.” Perhaps it’s just that simple. The pre-internet age of industry operated under the idea that companies could create destinations for users, to “control” consumers, in a sense. Unlike those old-media companies, Google...

What makes a brand a favorite?

Our latest CultureQ study, which was conducted over the summer, is focused on understanding the attributes that distinguish a favorite brand from those of a category leader, and a good brand citizen. We’ve been speaking a lot about favorite brands in our office over the past few weeks and couldn’t resist giving you a preview…. Not surprisingly, trust in favorite brands is high. People turn to a small repertoire of brands that make up their inner circle and that they instinctively rely on. Participant journals strongly demonstrate that people’s relationships with favorite brands are principally based on highly emotional criteria that in many ways replicate the underpinnings of close friendships. People actively advocate for their favorite brands and a large number consider cheating on them “unimaginable.” In contrast, relationships with leadership brands are based in more functional criteria aligned with the product, (ie durability, innovation) best in class business practices, and to some degree ubiquity. Overall, the difference between favorite brands and leaders is the difference between love and respect. As with people, brand leaders are not always loved - and sometimes people even hope someone else will step in to replace them - but they are always respected. Favorites are loved and respected because of what they mean to people and because of how they are deeply integrated into day to day lives. Favorite brands are distinguished by the following criteria: 1. Clarity: favorite brands: Represent an inspiring philosophy Focus on making people feel special and unique Possess a beauty and simplicity of presentation & in their delivery 2. Context: favorite brands: Make everyday life easier and less...

Brand Citizenship: 7 principles for integrating CSR initiatives into brand development

Insights from our Q1 CultureQ study led us to acknowledge that many people (aka consumers) believe brands have a responsibility to progress society. So, we recently posted this as a question (Do you think businesses or brands have a responsibility to help advance society?) across various social media sites to learn what people in the marketing communications and related industries think. Everywhere we posed the question, we got close to 100 highly animated responses. Clearly, the subject is one people feel incredibly passionate about. The following unedited snippets demonstrate the diversity of views and strength of opinion surrounding this new role for brands: “The responsibility of business is to advance itself. Every action since Roosevelt has exemplified this.” “A business is a reflection of the leadership behind the product or service being sold. And people have a responsibility to advance society.” “Any entity that exists by feeding off another is required to live within the ecosystem. Any entity that lives off another without contributing to the wellbeing of the ecosystem is a parasite and can live only as long as its host survives. Doing good is good for business.” “CSR motives are not necessarily altruistic - in fact seldom so. It’s just good business sense.” “Anybody who ignores society cannot build empire.” “Brands advance society in everything they do without ever having to take responsibility for all of it. Every business moves society forward in billions of tiny steps.” “At the very least they have the responsibility NOT to hurt it.” “Let’s not confuse “advancing society” (what Microsoft has done) with “doing nice stuff” (which is what the Gates...

The seven new rules for brand leadership

“The US tax system needs an overhaul.” “A policy rethink could control the sub Saharan population boom.” “The World Bank’s leadership selection process no longer reflects today’s sources of innovation and economic growth.” These are some of the sound bites from recent press.  Clearly there’s an underlying theme - a call for reform.  At Onesixtyfourth, we found this especially interesting given the results from one of our recent CultureQ studies. We conducted the study with 763 news-engaged and earlier technology adopter Millennials and Baby Boomers in the US and UK.  Our original intent was to understand how attitudes were shifting as the old year turned into a new one.  What emerged from participants’ responses, however, was a far more profound perspective on our evolving social climate and the new rules for brand leadership. It’s time for the role that brands play in society to shift The over-riding message from participants – it’s time for the role that brands play in society to shift.  Unlike in the past, however, Madison Avenue and marketers are not driving this change.  Consumers, in other words people themselves, are appealing to brands to acknowledge the social significance they have and take on the role governments and political leaders are no longer effectively fulfilling. They are asking brands to use their influence, know-how and power to help shape a better future. 7 New Rules for Brand Leadership So, what are the new rules for brand leadership? Rule 1. Be Visionary: engage people through a clear view on how you inspire every day life. Rule 2. Be Courageous: take considered risks that propel society forward and...
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