There seem to be more and more brands that, instead of quietly delivering their products to customers, have an opinion and the channels through which to express it and who use that to form a connection to relevant target groups. We therefore wanted to know what the ideal brand will look like in five years' time.
What do you think? How do you think the most successful brands will behave five years from now? Are they still simply delivering soft drinks, phones and internet access or have they moved on in the intervening years? Do they have opinions of their own about sustainability, the state of geopolitics or the Black Lives Matter movement? We wanted to know what the characteristics will be of successful brands in 2027.
Josh Hunt, Director of Consulting at Brand Potential, describes five elements that the perfect brand of the future will have to possess. Top brands must have a clear purpose that goes beyond the product level. Brands must have a powerful presence and a distinctive proposition. They should strive to have a positive important on the world (i.e. have the ambition to make the world a better place, BH). The fifth element is that a brand should put people - their own employees and their consumers - first. In other words, Hunt believes the brand of the future will do much more than simply deliver its products to the target group; it has an opinion and focuses on having a positive impact. Hunt: "It has everything to do with the increased range of options available to consumers. A product can easily be copied, so for a brand it is important to connect to what people are thinking and doing. Brands should do what they say; if a brand claims to be sustainable, it should honour that promise. Otherwise, you might find yourself getting cancelled overnight." At the same time, this puts a brand in a vulnerable position. Consumers expect brands to stand for something, but it is not always easy to meet that expectation. "That is true. This is why it is interesting to look at how brands are handling the current situation in Ukraine," Hunt says. "If a brand decides to boycott Russia, people will begin to ask: what about all those other countries with controversial political leaders? The companies that are handling this situation best are those with strong values that they are sticking to."
Airbnb in Ukraine
He cites Airbnb as a good example. It recently made headlines because the community began making countless reservations in Ukraine without actually showing up. The money people paid went directly to the owners of the Ukrainian establishments and Airbnb temporarily waived its service costs. "I think that is a great example of a brand actually making a difference. It gives you the opportunity to test your values in practice. Do you know what is important here? As a brand of the future, you must find your way around channels such as Instagram and TikTok with ease. The brands of the future are able to adapt perfectly to the audiences that use those platforms. It is about making sure you are always close to where your customers are. Brands that are able to cope well with those constant changes are the ones that ultimately perform best."
Listening to Hunt, it is clear he believes in brands that stand for something and have an opinion of their own. Mark Stronger's Rob Revet, meanwhile, believes there will also continue to be a place for brands that "only" deliver quality wares. "You are talking about the next five years. If recent developments are any indication, it might prove to be a very difficult time. Think of the war in Ukraine, the elections in the US with the possible return of Trump, the rising inflation, the climate problem, COVID and the myriad issues with the supply chain. There are so many major developments that require a tremendous amount of flexibility from brands. They might not have any time for activism."
Revet believes that the brand of the future is simply the brand that is best able to adapt to changing circumstances. "The major challenge lies in dealing with all these obstacles. It is a task that requires much more than clever marketing." To him, that adaptability is what defines the perfect brand. "How can you cope with these changes without losing your brand value? We might find ourselves in a major recession; how will that affect your prices? What will you do if your deliveries of raw materials grind to a halt? Overcoming these challenges requires more than advertising and media alone." In other words, brands have to flexible and smart at the same time. Fast food chain McDonald's is a good example: it is closing its restaurants in Russia, but employees will continue to get paid nonetheless. "Perhaps major brands can afford to be more flexible because they have more money to throw around," Revet muses. "It is all about acting quickly. I see global brands like Coca-Cola and McDonald's reacting quickly to changing circumstances. The choices they are making are costing them huge sums of money, but what else can they do? I would call it 'resilience,' the capacity to cope with setbacks. I think that is more useful for a brand than getting involved in activism."
It is interesting to look at the "Future Brand Index" report, a study conducted by Future Brand, PWC and QRI Consulting among 18,000 experts who share their thoughts about how the world's one hundred biggest brands are getting ready for the future. Here is the report's conclusion: "What unites them all is an ability to translate corporate purpose into tangible experiences that, crucially, make customers and the wider public feel that they are, quite literally, building the systems, platforms and infrastructures on which human life – in all its variety and breadth – can be maintained and enhanced."
Conclusion for the brand of the future
That pretty much settles that. It is clear that the major brands of 2027 will have to be flexible and able to react quickly to the changing state of the world. If no raw materials are available in country A for the time being, they will move on to the next country instead. That means the brand of the future will also have to be an entrepreneurial brand. This entrepreneurship will undoubtedly go beyond merely delivering products; of course, brands will have their own opinions about the world around them and they will want to share those opinions via every channel that is available to them. As the report states, it is crucial that brands are actually able to put everything they write about in their thick reports into practice as well.