Do We Still Need Brands?


Consumers are blocking ads, brand value is falling, and most people wouldn’t care if 74% of brands disappeared completely. Evidence suggests people have completely fallen out of love with brands.

So why is this the case and does it mean brands should stop prioritising their image?

Empowered Consumer

The simple reason why brands are being unseated from their position of power is because the consumer has never been more empowered than they are today.

Vying for brand loyalty has always been tough but now it’s a fierce battle; the surge in digital ad spend means that the next best product, and price, is just a click away. A Media Dynamics study on ad exposure revealed that consumers see an average of 5000 advertisements and brand exposures per day

There are so many alternatives for customers that the brand selling to them is sometimes seen as least important, it’s more about the service the brand provides or the price they’re selling products at that makes one company different from the rest. Add to that the fact that consumers now connect with brands on multiple channels, it is increasingly difficult for marketers and advertisers to win attention.

Convenience Over Emotional Appeal

These circumstances mean the services brands provide today needs to be customer-first. Companies that are most successful prioritise user experience over emotional benefit and rapid innovation over long-term margins. Just look at Uber disrupting the private hire industry or Airbnb changing the face of travel. Spotify is an example of a company that prized access over ownership for the first time.

Consumers increasingly prefer products and services that provide on-demand, top class user experiences over emotional appeal and big ideas. Uber, Airbnb and Spotify have seen huge success because they have been able to provide a dynamic customer experience which solves the problems existing companies haven’t.

As a result of these rising expectations, companies and industries constantly face disruption. There’s always a growing company that can offer a service better than an already established player. This in turn forces every brand to continue raising their game in terms of customer experience, and consumers benefit from the heated competition.

Brand Image vs. Customer Experience

Ultimately, successful brands today are less dependent on their brand image alone and more on a customer’s direct experience of their product or service. So while the value of brands may be declining, the value of customer relationships is on the rise.

As Scott Cook once said, “A brand is no longer what we tell the consumer it is, it is what consumers tell each other it is.” Providing an exceptional customer experience is therefore paramount for brands to facilitate brand loyalty and ensure that consumers are sharing positive brand experiences.

Brands that Stand for Something

Brand image will always be important but it is wearing a new guise. Consumers have always wanted to be associated with brands that stand for the same things as they do individually, however now brands are expected to act on those promises. They need to do what they say their brand stands for because branding has entered an era of accountability. Young consumers are looking for brands that live the story they tell.

Tony’s Chocolonely is an interesting example from the Netherlands; the brand is on a mission to achieve 100% slave-free chocolate. In 2002 the company’s founder discovered that the world’s largest chocolate companies were buying chocolate from cocoa plantations that used child slavery, despite the fact that they signed an international treaty against child slavery.

To fight the cause, the founder turned himself into a ‘chocolate criminal’ by eating the illegal chocolate and taking himself to court. The company went from strength to strength and in 2013 sold its first ‘Bean to Bar’ chocolate bar as a result of the support it had earned for its course. Customers are not just buying into the chocolate but the cause the brand was created to solve.

Navigating 21st Century Branding Challenges

We will always need brands, but for a brand to be loved the stakes are higher today. It’s no longer about creating a brand image but embodying that brand in all aspects of business and marketing. Brands are now made by the experiences they provide to their customers.

So ultimately, branding is more important than ever – it’s just changed. Brands must learn to cater to a new, empowered consumer who is looking for a brand that stands for something. This new and competitive digital landscape is a challenge but will also provide opportunities to succeed in this brand new era.

‘Succeed in a brand new era’ was this year’s theme for Bynder’s annual OnBrand conference where speakers from brands such as Uber, Linkedin, Twitter and HubSpot shared their stories on how to build a successful brand in the 21st century.

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