Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Help in a hard place or Finding guidance through the dark times...

(Pedro Ugarte, AFP/Getty Images/ February 18,2011) Egyptian women shout slogans in Cairo's Tahrir Square
I’m no great economist or commentator on world politics - but I do have a plethora of thoughts on branding. And I do know that the bigger picture affects not only how brands perform commercially, but also the attitudes and preferences of people towards brands.
We’ve put together a few thoughts that might bring a glimmer of insight to branding in a tough climate.
We all love trends. We all feel that if only we could see what’s coming, we could profit by being one step ahead. But do we ever know what to do with a trend-spot? Well, we have no crystal ball, but we do have a few sharp brain cells, a slightly rye view of success and failure, and a sprinkling of google-dust.
“If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;”
from Kipling’s If...
Fashion, that perky barometer of economics, might be our guide. New York Fashion Week offers three trends to watch:
  1. The peplum waist
  2. Wine dark colours - burgundy, claret, maroon
  3. Below the knee hem-length
What’s it mean?
Let’s put it in the context of the wider world. Three global waves:
  1. Revolution
  2. Politicised youth
  3. Social networking
Three outcomes:
  1. Customers/people taking control
  2. Disruption
  3. Coalition/collaboration
In an era of:
  1. Fear
  2. Uncertainty
  3. Consequences
  4. Growth
  5. Knowledge
The Futures Company talks of  ‘a fundamental shift’. We will all be guided by a new sense of what’s important. They say spending will be shaped by ‘prioritisation and networks.’ Three things that should shape all our brand thinking and attitude to customer relationships:
  1. Responsibility
  2. Vigilance
  3. Resourcefulness
Who’s doing well?
  1. Waitrose and John Lewis
  2. Intel
  3. Apple
  4. Barclays
  5. China
  6. India
  7. Heston Blumenthal
  8. Live music (and merchandise)
  9. Cinema
  10. Lipstick sales
So what can you do if you are responsible for a brand, right now?
  1. Check your social purpose - don’t just tick a few CSR boxes - think about what about your brand is making the world a better place. What are you doing for the burgeoning generation of no-future graduates? Why do you exist?
  2. Understand the shift in power - your customers are deciding what you should do next - listen to them, engage with them, and use your ingenuity and resourcefulness to deliver something better than they expected. How?
  3. Embrace collaboration - involve your customers (according to Eric A von Hippel, consumers spend twice as much making and improving products as companies spend on product R&D), develop relationships with like-minded partners, develop skills networks. Where?
  4. Innovate - there’s no better time to come up with new ideas, ‘necessity is the mother of invention.’ Get together with some creative people, like us!
  5. Think like owners - recognise the new structure of organisations, and life, is networked not hierarchical - everyone in an organisation needs to have the responsibility and the autonomy to take ownership, ‘intrapreneurship.’ Get responsible thinking whirring in the minds of all your people...
  6. Look alive - apparently those who keep up their marketing spend during a recession are the first to benefit from the recovery. Make links. Tweet. Spread your meme. What can you do to keep in touch with your audiences?
  7. Disrupt - do something so against the grain it causes a stir. Add grit to your thinking. Be bold. Stick to your authentic purpose and values. But what?
So how does this relate to New York Fashion Week?
  1. Peplum waist - tight waist, frills over the hips, popular in the 50’s, 80’s - suggests a new energy, stripped down body with just a little flair and frivolity - responsibility with a touch of verve, individuality. Testament to the fashion industry’s constant desire to innovate by re-combining, re-using, re-drawing, using healthy eclecticism with a dash of bright, new thinking
  2. Wine dark colours - ‘wine is the new black,’ vintage wine - the colour of 2011,’  use it! Apparently the pantone colour of the year is honeysuckle (Pantone 18-2120), a lovely uplifting pink - “In times of stress, we need something to lift our spirits. Honeysuckle is a captivating, stimulating colour that gets the adrenaline going – perfect to ward off the blues,” explains Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Colour Institute®. “Honeysuckle derives its positive qualities from a powerful bond to its mother colour red, the most physical, viscerally alive hue in the spectrum.” So definitely on the wine spectrum - and a small glass of red wine is a welcome treat in these tricky times - not least visually
  3. Below the knee hem-line - a classic measure of the state of the economy. I think this is suggesting a note of caution, a sense of demure responsibility, a little focus on what’s real, flash a little less flesh - watch to see if it ends up in street fashion
One trend I can buy into. Writing for, the tenth of Cheryl Swanson’s Trends for the New Decade is Niceties. Make a trend to be kinder to one another. It’s about connecting, empathy, politeness and caring. It costs nothing and makes you feel better.