Consumers increasingly see brands as if they are human – with purpose and personality, ethics and emotions

January 15, 2017

Consumers increasingly view brands and companies as if they are human – they judge them by their purpose and personalities, ethics and behaviours – as much, if not more than minimal expectations for product quality, timeliness and good service. At the same time, consumer loyalties can change with the click of a mouse or the tap of an app – not necessarily because a brand is untrusted, but more because it is just not as relevant, or sometimes as trustworthy, as friends and other people like them.

Deloitte has just released results from its Impact Project survey that highlights emerging forces now shaping today’s brands in a values-driven marketplace. The survey included 150 brands in 28 countries and revealed a common desire to drive change and build loyalty in an era of constant disruption and rising expectations.

The report highlights four emerging segments:

  • Y-Prophets. Brand evangelists committed to a higher-order purpose; passionate believers in their defined mission. Example: Siggi’s Dairy rejected an offer to distribute at Whole Foods, favoring a “slow selling” growth strategy.
  • Free Radicals. Outliers that break the rules of a category or business wherever they can; challenging virtually everything from employment to company culture to competition. Example: Maple uses urban analytics to shape new food delivery algorithm.
  • Tiny Titans. Staying small and intimate despite fast growth. Example: General Assembly prioritizes its people to protect its long-term autonomy and purpose.
  • Re-Starts. Renovating established Fortune 500 brands for the 21st Example: General Mills stays agile with a venture arm that nurtures food startups.

Looking at the four segments, Deloitte found six common principles that guide their growth and strategies for brand leadership.

  • The inside is the outside: Transparency as a cultural imperative. Traditionally, brand leadership was fixated on a company’s external reputation, trying to project an image that was often inconsistent with their inner (company) reality. Impact brands start with their culture and build outward, resulting in better products, services and a more authentic reputation.
  • Think value and values: Each brand is an agent of social change. Impact brands follow the belief that what they do is more important than what they say––profits follow principles. To build meaning and loyalty, they hardwire social change into their business models.
  • AI meets EQ: Humanizing the digital revolution. Impact brands embrace technology, but what makes them different is their focus on the human connection. Technology enables them to operate at the intersection of real emotional needs and seamless transactions, creating a brand experience that is simultaneously human, intimate, and useful.
  • Be the best at getting better: Keep the ethos of a student. Impact brands embrace agility and humility because it allows them to continuously improve, while abstaining from the need for surface level perfectionism. These brands push their own boundaries, challenge their own status quo, and adapt to the emerging needs of consumers and employees.
  • The inversion of credibility: Brand credibility gets personal. Previously, being the biggest corporation was an automatic seal of trust; today, this is not necessarily the case. Impact brands encourage their leaders, employees and stakeholders to build their own personal brands of authority, recognizing it’s a sum of their people’s personal credibility that builds their own.
  • Flexible mentality: Tactics are strategies. Impact brands find new advantages in the market by defying convention, re-writing the rules, and going beta. Their agility comes through a culture that rewards experimentation and thinking outside the box—often through strategic small bets to find new sources of growth.

The project also details how impact brands are embracing new business models and success metrics:

  • Amazon’s sell-out hit Echo was the result of a culture at Amazon that embraces failure
  • Netflix built a culture of “chill” by letting employees manage themselves
  • Brands like Sephora are acting like VC firms and starting accelerator initiatives
  • Warby Parker leads a “thinking customer” revolution
  • Shinola became Detroit’s accidental luxury brand

The report concludes: “To be a brand leader, you must learn how to think like one. To create meaning in today’s marketplace requires leadership, innovation and solving social problems. It demands resiliency and trust. Marketing is no longer just selling; it’s about making connections and solving problems that improve people’s lives. The brands that will win tomorrow will build themselves into future-ready objects of desire—in their products, services, people, and soul.”

You can download the report here Brand Leadership Impact Report 2016

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