2016: Year in Review

So what did we learn about brand in 2016?  Here are our observations and what they mean for your brand in 2017:

Emotion Trumps Logic: If there’s one thing the Donald Trump and Brexit campaigns demonstrated, it’s the incredible power of simple emotion to overcome complex logic.  In both cases, the public was swayed more by clear, straightforward proclamations (e.g., “Make America Great Again”) than by grand plans with multiple layers of details and rationale. In a world drowning in clutter and noise, brands need to simplify their messages and re-focus on building emotional bonds with their audience.

We’re Losing “Institutional Truth”:  Worldwide, there is a trend toward distrusting the institutions – press, government, big business – that formerly represented our collective “truth.”  This creates a vacuum where hyperbole and outright lies can take over (e.g., the recent “fake news” epidemic), especially when everyone has the power to be a publisher.  More than ever, brands need to engage in thought-leadership that reflects both their unique “voice” and their authentic behavior/ethos.

Unchecked Vision Can Undermine Reputation: As many companies to share their “vision” and you’ll often get a well-crafted paragraph laying out a somewhat utopian picture of the organization and its lofty goals. But this year, Wells Fargo and Volkswagen stand as cautionary tales… examples of what can go wrong when leadership sets a vision that’s out of alignment with the organization’s brand.  In both cases, leadership’s imperative on profit and growth (e.g., “set sales records” and “be the world’s largest automaker”) were at odds with their brand values (e.g., “trust” and “truth in engineering”).  Blind pursuit of these off-kilter visions led to behaviors that resulted directly in spectacular PR disasters, severe brand/reputation damage, loss of value, and steep financial penalties.  In 2017, take a hard look at your organization’s vision and make sure it’s aligned with your brand.

It Will Be Harder Than Ever to Avoid Taking a Stand: Most brands avoid taking a stand on controversial issues, preferring instead to thread the needle to avoid upsetting any portion of the market.  But in a world that’s increasingly more opinionated and divided, brands may be forced to take a stand on the issues that impact their employees and customers. Examples include Apple holding firm against the FBI on privacy and the NBA boycotting North Carolina after the state’s refusal to repeal its birth-gender bathroom laws. Our best advice is to pick your fights carefully and – most importantly – let your brand values (those shared by your employees and your customers) serve as your North Star.   

If the lessons of 2016 have you wondering whether your brand is due for a refresh, give us a shout.  Together, we can make sure you’re ready for anything 2017 throws at you!