How brands will win in 2015

The start of every new year brings about a time of reflection and planning for the future, with business leaders and brand managers strategising and planning for the challenges of the year ahead.

by Hagen - January 2015

The start of every new year brings about a time of reflection and planning for the future, with business leaders and brand managers strategising and planning for the unique challenges of the year ahead. To help your brand flourish in 2015 and beyond, be sure to include the following key points in your brainstorming sessions and overall branding strategy.

Brands with a greater purpose will win

The days of just pushing product are over. Of course, companies can still make a decent buck by "focusing on product and sales only", but the high operating margins will mainly be found in companies that add value beyond the product itself; companies that stand for something, that inspire, that have a meaning and a purpose.

What's this waffle, you may ask? Take GoPro as an example.

GoPro doesn't just push its product; it sells a lifestyle, inspiring you to get off your chair, get out of your comfort zone and start living life – life is short, so go make the most of it!

Sound appealing? You're damn right - and while you're at it, buy a GoPro so that you can reminisce about it and never forget those moments!

But at the end of the day, shareholders care about the bottom line, right? So, sticking with the GoPro example, let's consider how this approach has worked for them: at the time of writing, GoPro had 3.9 m Instagram followers, 8.3 m Facebook likes, 2.6 m YouTube subscribers, and 1.2m Twitter followers. That's incredible reach! And the "bottom-bottom line"? Their share price is up 67% since listing (way off the high and most likely going higher from here), with exceptional growth in revenue and profit each year.

Brands that are REAL will win

There is a general cynicism towards companies and their intentions – it's invariably about the bottom line, after all – but the end goal doesn't have to only be about "profit". As soon as consumers sniff that a company is purely about its financial wellbeing and is cutting corners, hiding, and making excuses, they will pounce. Many big brands have learnt this the hard way (Woolies vs Frankies Soda being one example).

So, how do brands get real? My thoughts are that consumers realise that you need to make money, and they will forgive mistakes (because everyone makes them), but for this to happen, they need the company to be transparent in the way it conducts business. Get off any high horse you might be on, admit to mistakes, apologise, rectify where possible, and try not make the same mistake twice.

Being real also means having a personality and, more importantly, a consistent personality. Every touch point between the consumer and the brand (be it on social media, at the till, via email, on the phone) should consistently reflect the brand's personality. This is not impossible.

It just means being very clear about your brand's personality and values, hiring the right people, and training them properly.

Great content will win

The drive towards producing excellent content and seeding that into the various channels will really start gaining traction in 2015. A great way to get consumers to engage with your brand in a profitable manner is to offer them outstanding, valuable content and up/cross selling around that.

Again, one does not have to look any further than GoPro. Just think about how VASTLY different GoPro's approach to content is when compared to most other companies; where most brands would hire a junior copywriter out of university and tell them to manage the social media accounts, GoPro pays Jamie o Brien to catch waves at Pipeline or Shaun White to do crazy things on a mountain, etc. The difference in approach and resulting quality couldn't be greater when compared to what most brands do.

Mimicking this is not appropriate for all businesses, but the above scenario and the chasm between the two approaches should encourage brands to think about content and content creation differently, and question whether their content is hitting the mark.

Campaigns that evoke emotion will win

Given the sensory overload that most people experience on a daily basis, it is safe to say that there is a general numbness amongst consumers that wasn't around 15 years ago. Attention spans are shorter and patience is wearing thin. We can't even watch TV without our phones next to us, playing with it during commercials. We endlessly scroll through Twitter and Instagram, consuming content at an incredibly quick pace without truly engaging with any of it. What does this all cry out for?

Make us FEEL something – humour, sadness, joy, empathy, love, gratitude – anything!

It's not surprising that the most successful ads of 2014 on YouTube all made us feel something. Like this one or this one. Note the number of views. The brand and ad agencies have struck gold. The old style of advertising does not work anymore. People not only have physical filters (ad blockers) but, more importantly, emotional filters as well. Bear this in mind when creating your next campaign.

What else?

A few other considerations for 2015 and beyond...

Personalise the experience and build relationships

Consumers expect more from company communication than just a mass bombardment of information, some of which interests them, most of which doesn't. Customers only care about what's relevant to them.

The more a brand communicates irrelevant information to a customer, the more they will start ignoring it – even ignoring things that would be relevant to them.

Big Data, which is firmly in Gartner's trough of disillusionment, plays a role here. Companies collect (or should collect) huge amounts of data for each customer, but often just have it gathering dust in a CRM system of sorts (hence the disillusionment with it). There is an incredible amount of insight to be gained from this data and, if captured and used properly, should enable the company to personalise and tailor the experience the customer has with the company – whether online, in store or via its communication.

This is often easier said than done, and too often the cost of personalising content is too great to justify doing so, since this often means manual effort such as writing different versions of a newsletter. This is where systems should play a big part in delivering a personalised experience, thereby reducing cost and effort.

Moreover, when the company uses consumer insights to start building a personal relationship with the individual, where their personal preferences are known and respected by the company, the real magic happens. Think of the family restaurant on the street corner, with the owner greeting you as you walk in and knowing your drink preferences. Sound familiar? Didn't think so. A hundred years ago, I expect this would have been familiar to us – and this is where businesses need to head once again. The trick is to be able to replicate this experience of familiarity at scale – which in this day and age, is possible. Systems enable it – all you need is some careful planning and execution.

Consumers will be more demanding than ever

Consumers will have very little patience with companies that are only looking at their own bottom line, hold fast to old forms of mass marketing while adding little value elsewhere, and over (or under) communicate information that is mostly irrelevant to the individual. No one has time for that stuff. I don't, and neither do you – we demand better.

In a nutshell, if companies don't add value to our lives, they must get out of it.

Look global

Finally, companies focusing purely on the South African market will most likely struggle to grow in 2015. South Africa has tough times ahead, and those of us living behind high walls probably don't realise that things are worse than they seem. The South African consumer is heavily indebted and has been living beyond their means for quite a while now; we all know about the Eskom woes; we endure questionable leadership; there are severe labour issues; growth is forecast to be nominal at best – the list goes on.

Every company in South Africa has it within them to go global. If they are looking to grow, then this arguably becomes imperative. I would prefer it to not be so, since going global is most definitely easier said than done – Africa comes with a whole host of pitfalls, the west is highly competitive, and the east is tough to understand. However, this is also where most of the world's growth will come from in 2015 – the USA, certain African countries, China, India and surrounds. It will no doubt be tough for a local company to get a piece of that pie, but digital has at least given everyone a glimmer of hope. Even if you take digital out of the equation, it is still possible. It's no coincidence that the best performing companies on the JSE in 2014 have the bulk of their earnings overseas.

South Africa is blessed with some of the best business leaders in the world. Let Koos Bekker be an inspiration to us all – he took over Naspers in 1994, and grew it to the value of more than 44 billion USD today. Now compare this to the New York Times and its leadership, which started in the same position, but is now valued at approximately 2 billion USD. And Koos Bekker is by no means the only one who managed to build a global empire from South African shores. We have the capabilities to do so. It's in our DNA. We just have to dream big, go out and execute.

A happy 2015 to all.