October 8, 2021
Recent analysis shows that while the 100 biggest global brands grew at nearly six per cent in 2020, the top 75 UK brands declined by 13 per cent. In the same week, I was lucky enough to spend time with Sir Martin Sorrell, a titan in the world of advertising, who suggested that while he expected his worldwide agency to see growth in key markets such as the US, Middle East and Asia, he expected minimal growth from the UK and Europe.
So, what is going on and what can businesses in the UK learn from this to help them grow in 2021?
There is a sense that UK businesses are holding back and are failing to be brave enough at a time of rapid change in consumer behaviour that is being driven by an ambition to protect short-term performance.
This is dangerous and allows competitors to easily accelerate away. In situations of extreme stress, humans are designed for fight or flight. But doing nothing and hoping everything will be OK isn’t a natural option, so why should it be any different for our businesses?
Research has identified the key differences between those brands that have continued to grow throughout the pandemic versus those in decline.
Central to this is presenting your brand in a way that demonstrates a ‘meaningful difference’.
This is further broken down into four key areas: communicate creatively; innovate meaningfully; build brand responsibly; experience uniquely.
We shall explore each in turn. Creativity equals memorability.
A brain processes more than 30 gigabytes of data a day.
When you show it a brand, it sends the information over to the amygdala, which is responsible for our emotions and feelings, so any past experiences will be linked and associated.
This is why, when presented with images, we don’t simply see them at face value, we have all sorts of emotions, feelings and connections attached to them, a phenomenon known as gestalt.
Therefore, to create a truly memorable brand, you need to build these positive associations over time, with expressive creativity and emotional connections.
A gorilla, drumming along to Phil Collins’ ‘In the Air Tonight’, demonstrates how Cadbury used positive association to answer a question that was never asked but succeeds on every measurable level. Fortune favours the brave.
Innovation differentiates by better meeting consumer needs.
It is vitally important these needs are reassessed as many have changed, some unrecognisably, throughout the course of the pandemic.
Consumer behaviour has changed faster recently than at any point in the last 100 years.
These behaviours, preferences and changing needs look set to stay and have the possibility of making a brand proposition look diluted or even irrelevant.
Innovation should form a substantive part of any brand development plan, primarily to ensure alignment with consumer needs and then to augment digital transformation strategies to improve external engagement with internal systems.
Building your brand responsibly, in an authentic way, is another critical element of driving growth. This would include environmental and social responsibility at a much deeper level than the majority of consumers would have expected pre-pandemic.
Be prepared to articulate your purpose and your ‘why’ more frequently as consumers emotionally connect with this on a level beyond your product or service attributes meeting their needs and, in most cases, this is prioritised above pricing.
With increasing costs, this represents a clear opportunity to protect margins and defend market positioning.
An evolving experience maintains customer connections.
While meeting customer needs is critical, the way you meet them can have a huge multiplier effect.
The customer journey should be mapped out and optimised to ensure there is a positive and memorable difference between how you and your competitors deliver similar products or services.
It’s important this transcends to online and mobile too with user experience and user interface that is in tune with your brand’s customer service aspirations in the physical space.
In summary, if we are to learn from what has successfully maintained the growth of successful brands in the most challenging of times, we need to ensure our proposition to consumers offers a meaningful difference.
Our brand must meet functional and emotional needs, stand out and set trends, and come to mind easily when making a purchasing decision.
By communicating creatively, innovating meaningfully, building responsibly and experiencing uniquely, brands can maintain growth, protect margins and take advantage of slower, less reactive competitors that are focused more on defending a weak position than bravely taking on a new world.