Has our need to predict the future ever been more important?
Has successful prediction of this future ever been less certain?
If so, what should we be doing?
We – business owners and brand managers – face levels of acute and chronic change such that those who trundle along the same path as they did last year will almost inevitably suffer lower returns.
The cause of this uncomfortable condition is fickle consumers (that’ll be us) who insist on changing their behaviour. Think about how we use the mobile ‘phone’ now versus 5 years ago, the impact off social networks, TV binge viewing, the rise of Lidl.
We’ve been given permission to change what we do and how we do it when it suits us, switching costs have usually been minimal, so we have ditched many long-held habits. Today, the only thing that we can predict with any degree of certainty is the unpredictability of what we’ll be doing in 2019.
For many brand owners the safest thing to do in moments like these is to follow everyone else. See what others are doing and produce what you consider to be a marginally better version of it. This rarely works in the long run since this lack of vision traditionally fails to create any enduring relationship with your customers (ie it’s difficult to create a me-too brand which can build sustainable value).
There is another way. If you can’t see the future, you can at least equip yourself for what tomorrow might bring. Some great brands have succeeded in doing this: the Innocents, Apples, Googles, Channel 4s, Red Bulls, Easyjets and MTVs of this world.
These enduringly successful brands share at least 3 common attributes:
1. Adapt or die:
They have been able to adapt to ride the waves of changing consumer behaviours and market trends. Darwin’s first theory of evolution applies as much to branding in the 21st century as it does to life on Earth: It is worth remembering that Google started life as a one-product company (the product was a search engine called Back Rub). The brand has embraced each subsequent major product launch, and with each the magic, scope and power of the Google brand has evolved.
2. Understand their customers
They are committed to profoundly understanding their customers. This way they can at least lodge their brands in consumers’ slipstreams as their attitudes and behaviours evolve. MTV made it their business to understand 16-34 year olds better than anyone else, and in so doing became the go-to medium for other brands wishing to reach this elusive demographic.
3. Create. Create again. And again.
The spirit of creativity and ambition runs through the veins of all these successful brands. Innocent’s engaging use of copy on packaging, Easyjet’s no frills product, Apple’s retail service, Red Bull’s extreme sports sponsorships, Channel 4’s promos, great brands have boldly gone where no brands have gone before, and reaped their deserved rewards.
So when tomorrow comes, the winners may not be those who have seen what is coming, but those who are prepared for what comes along, whatever it may be.