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GLOBAL 2016: In a world disrupted by social change and technology, only brand differentiates

Brands must marry vision, emotion to thrive in the new normal

by Emilie Hamer
Senior Vice President, Global
For a global brand to remain strong in the face of rapid evolution, technological disruptions, and social change in the form of shifting values (the new normal), it must make sure its vision for the future is clear, and understood by all who may work to deliver against it. Comprehension of what the brand is trying to accomplish allows for quick, empowered decision-making through the entire organization, explains the actions and decisions the brand takes, and keeps the organization nimble in a global industry.
Revolutionary designs on the future are evident in ambitious initiatives like FordPass from Ford, and Daimler’s Moovel, signaling a vision of the future where mobility ecosystems and planning tools for multi-modal transportation are as much a part of the product line up as new SUVs. GM’s partnership with Lyft signals a future vision of co-existence, where makers of sheet metal mate with companies who are solely interested in the distribution of mobility, rather than the production of vehicles that provide it. Initiatives such as these telegraph a brand’s ability to comprehend that the world is changing, both to shareholders and internal audiences.
However, for a brand to remain relevant to consumers, a willingness to dabble with partnerships or broaden the core product offering will not help grow the emotional power of the brand. It is simply the flexing of the R&D muscle. It keeps the brand current, preventing it from becoming obsolete. Necessary, yes, but not what makes a brand meaningful and different to real people.
Building meaningfully different brands
A meaningfully different brand, one that makes people think, “that is for me,” is one that communicates what it thinks and feels as it works to make its vision of the future a reality. Subaru declares love is “what makes a Subaru, a Subaru.” While some may reject the automaker based on this arguably touchy-feely point of view, others will see their-selves reflected in the message, and feel naturally aligned. The broadcasting of the emotional foundation of Subaru gives people a way to evaluate how well the brand does, or does not, fit with their own view of the world.
The Tesla brand has come to represent much more than beautiful cars; it also means breakthrough technology, and exhilarating performance. Tesla has become a symbol of a new way of living - clean, bright, innovative and forward thinking. Elon Musk/Tesla’s pioneering spirit conveys an urgency to shed the old ways of doing things. Earlier this year, 325,000 consumers were so enamored with the vision of, and the emotion radiating from, the brand, they put down a $1,000 deposit on a vehicle they had yet to see. In this case, vision and emotion combined to create real capital.
Should predictions of an autonomous, car-sharing future pan out, automotive manufacturers will be even more reliant on the power of their brands – after all, driving dynamics or exterior styling don’t matter much in a world where people are neither driving, nor owning the physical vehicle that moves them around. If, in the future, every OEM offers lease-sharing programs for seniors in retirement communities, or ride-sharing programs for urban Gen-Y’ers who don’t want the hassle of owning, what will keep those seniors and Gen-Y’ers from reducing their decision-making process to simple price shopping? The emotion and vision of the brand – the sense of “this is for me and others like me” – may well be the only differentiating factor.
Action Points
for building brands
in disrupted categories

1. Be clear.
Clearly articulate, and communicate, your vision for the future to internal and external stakeholders.
2.Be consistent.
Build the brand in conjunction with future product/offering development to ensure a cohesive brand point of view.
3. Wear your heart on your sleeve.
Hiding the emotion of the organization makes it difficult for real people to connect with the brand.