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Opinion: What The Best Brands Will Do In 2014

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by Andreas von der Heydt

The pace of change, disruption, and fragmentation in many industries can sometimes overwhelm even the savviest and experienced of us. There is a very solid level of know-how and experience required to successfully drive marketing and brand strategies and to execute in excellence. Even more so in the future.

Let´s have a look at what I think the main focus areas and aspirations of successful brands will be in 2014:

Being Best in Product and Services Development and Delivery
At the heart of successful marketing and branding is – and also in 2014 and beyond will be- a great product and/or service creation and delivery. Successful brands, products, and services will have a higher level of personalization in order to become more relevant and meaningful to consumers. Besides rational features like quality, price, customer services, etc. the brand decision process will become more emotionally-driven. Strong brands will identify and communicate appropriate emotional values to differentiate themselves and to establish close bonds with consumers and customers. More than ever, and to actively engage today´s high-expectation consumers, brand will need to be more focused to develop products and offers which grow the whole category they´re operating in and not only their own products.

Being Best in Collaboration
In 2014 organizations and marketing managers need to quickly position themselves in this new open, and more collaborative economy. An economy characterized by speedy change and permanent disruption. On the one hand, brands from different industries will work more closely together. From R&D to joint marketing initiatives. On the other hand, the phenomenon of consumers co-creating content and products, and sharing ideas will continue to grow. For instance, Airbnb topped 10 million guest stays since its launch and now has 500k properties listed worldwide.

Being Best in Retail
Brands, being confronted with showrooming, e-commerce and cost-conscious, always connected consumers, need to make retail more relevant to consumers and customers by combining off- and online elements into one single multi-channel distribution strategy. They need to deliver direct brand-to-customer interaction with the help of innovative technology (e.g. touch screens, sensors, interactive cameras, Wi-Fi- and 4G-connectivity, LCD screens), by providing opportunities to experience products (see, feel, touch, smell, hear, taste) before and during the purchasing process, by providing easy-to-understand and stimulating product presentations and merchandising solutions, by offering expert staff, consultation facilities, samples, etc. Good examples are Nike, Wal-Mart, and Ikea.

Being Best in Communication
Content is king. That´s nothing new anymore. Still, many brands seem to confuse quantity and quality, since there exist so many exciting communication channels and platforms. Just writing up keyword rich blog posts and some articles don’t cut it anymore. Brands have to say something meaningful and insightful to customers while entertaining them at the same time.

There is a great need and opportunity to develop unique brand experiences that engage consumers deeply and comprehensively, that stimulates word of mouth, and that generates a lot of user-generated content. Further business impact will come from very targeted niche communities from co-operations with credible and influential brand advocates.

Utilizing storytelling techniques – while getting away from the transactional relationship – is a very powerful technique and will help to create a strong emotional bond with your customer. Storytelling, although one of the main business buzzwords in 2013, is nothing new and is very much at the core of every great brand´s DNA. Videos, pictures, and songs will become more dominant in the future. Working best they will be blended into one consistent story (e.g. P&G´s Proud Sponsor of Moms). Some weeks ago Instagram announced that it would join the visual playing field, alongside other messaging apps like Snapchat and WhatsApp to enable consumers to share personable moments. On top of being compelling, your content needs to do two things. One, create an emotional connection with your brand, and two, drive customers to action.

Speed and Spontaneousness will be crucial, too. Real-time communication and feedbacking means to interact and to respond quickly to any relevant occurrence, question, etc. Brands can use e.g. Twitter feeds during certain TV shows, sports events, etc to communicate live and instantly with existing and potential new customers. It will take planning, flexibility, humor, creativity, and courage.

Being Best in Using Customer-Focused Technology
Mobile technology and communication will become even more important. Already now half of all social interaction happens on mobile platforms. In consequence all brand communication must be designed based on a mobile-first perspective. Responsive design has almost become a basic requirement, and it’s important to tailor each piece of content to the device or channel where it will most likely be viewed by the consumer. Mobile technology will soon replace all other communication devices as the predominant means. No doubt, in 2014 we are going to see a huge increase in location-based marketing.

Other key technologies are Streaming and On-Demand media. They are rewiring the way consumers think and process information. People are getting used to having everything customized and delivered instantly, when and where they want it.

Also Cognitive Computing will further evolve, i.e. systems learning and interacting naturally with people. Rather than being programmed to anticipate every possible answer or action, cognitive systems are trained using artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms to understand and to predict. Applying this to marketing will help managers to better understand and communicate with customers.

Being Best in Data-Driven Customer Experience and Customer Services
Big Data was one of another major buzzword in 2013 in many organizations around the globe. It´s a fact that with today´s technology we can collect, analyze, and process tons of (consumer) data to better understand consumption patterns, to evaluate commonalities and differences, to anticipate trends, and to identify new business and product opportunities. The real task, however, is to use all of these information – and by respecting possible and legitimate privacy concerns – in a way as to match them with real consumer wants and needs in order to improve the experience of your customers: e.g. new wearable devices like Samsung´s Galaxy Smart Watch to improve personal health.

The key is not merely measuring what happened, but trying to predict future outcomes, i.e. to understand why and how it will play out in the future. Analytics have to go from passive to active.

Moreover, collected and stored data need to be used to establish personal, trustworthy, and – most importantly – respectful relationships with existing and new customers. Big data needs to to be seen as a vehicle to dramatically boost an organization´s customer obsession and not its capability to spy on consumers and customers. Companies must implement whichever needed security measures to avoid discussions like currently happening at Target.

Being Best in Corporate Social Responsibility
Companies clearly should make some 2014 resolutions to ensure their CSR and sustainability efforts start off on the right foot in the new year. While it’s more or less standard practice for companies to address the environmental and carbon impacts (e.g. resulting from their operations and products) time has come to take a closer look at how climate change (e.g. storms, floods, resources scarcity) could impact the company from the outside in and across their entire supply chain.

With the gradual depletion of many resources some organizations are e.g. intensively searching for novel alternatives to the materials currently used in their products. An evolution and necessity which will need to be more widely applied. One example is Nike which already some time ago has started to research for more sustainable textiles by partnering with the U.S. State Department, NASA, etc. Other good examples are Coca-Cola and Nestlé.

Leading brands will further stimulate employee engagement around CSR by having already started turning to gamification or micro-volunteerism to make engagement easy, fun and personalized. German airline Lufthansa has been running for some years a company-wide initiative called HelpAlliance which supports nearly 40 projects in 19. Responsibility for a project of this kind is always assigned to an employee of Lufthansa. These employees donate their free time to helping people in developing economies. In return they receive some support from the company for THEIR project.

Finally: The Need of Having the Right Organization, Processes, and People in Place

Misaligned organizational structures and processes often hinder the flow of information and know-how across across brand, marketing, and business goals. There needs to be a close integration between traditional marketing programs and digital initiatives on the one hand and between marketing and other departments on the other hand. As brand managers for the most part are responsible for the overall performance of a brand, and most recently also for an increasing volume of content and messaging, moving forward they should also have the digital marketing managers within their teams and having them report into brand management.Brands need more active senior leadership support and focus than ever. Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs) are in an ideal position to help facilitate and advance these efforts.

There is also a strong need for an improved alignment and reorganization around agency selection and management. It is known that more traditional agencies often still lack digital expertise (which normally they would not admit). As a consequence brand marketers are managing not rarely various agencies at the same time. In the future this would need to be simplified and streamlined to improve efficiency and effectiveness of the marketing teams.

Last, but not least, when hiring for marketing and branding expertise, it is advised to look for a top technical skill set (e.g. candidates having a very solid marketing basis, first comprehensive digital branding and media experience) and core characteristics such as the ability to cross-communicate, to connect to business goals, to show strong backbone, to be willing to convince senior management to implement new methods, and to be willing to permanently learn and to constantly educate the business.

Marketing and branding in 2014 will require more than ever the integration of marketing into all business efforts and departments, including customer experience, design, sales, and product development.

What do you think? What do you consider as the main marketing and branding trends of 2014?

Best regards,

Andreas von der Heydt

Andreas von der Heydt is the Country Manager of Amazon BuyVIP in Germany. Before that he hold senior management positions at L’Oréal. He´s a leadership expert, executive coach and NLP master. He also founded Consumer Goods Club. Andreas worked and lived in Europe, the U.S. and Asia. Feel free to connect via his LinkedIn Groups Coaching or Consumer Goods, or via Twitter and Facebook.

The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.

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