Brand Futures

A tasting menu for tomorrow’s winning brands

Stand for something. Walk the talk. Bake in the brand. Show then tell. Commit don’t campaign. There’s no shortage of headlines guiding brand marketers towards a brighter world where all products and services make their customers’ lives better. But how do we get there? Below is a sampling of five brand-related activities that will help to bring these headlines to reality.

The common thread is the need for multidisciplinary project teams — from anthropologists, artists and engineers to technologists, journalists and designers of all sorts. The future of branding exists well beyond the brand community. It lies in the creativity and curiosity inherent in continued collaboration.

‘Smart brands are investing in understanding and mapping the relevant world around them — connecting the dots between consumer, category and culture’

01 Ethnography Meets Editorial

As the gap between marketing rhetoric and reality becomes increasingly sensitive, anthropologists are emerging as the corporate world’s investigative journalists. Leveraging organizational ethnography through a brand lens, companies can not only uncover potential problem areas, but also extract untold stories with the potential to motivate organizational change and serve as compelling editorial content. With an eye for the interesting in the otherwise ignored, these anthro-perspectives offer a refreshingly authentic alternative to the dubious world of branded content.

02 Cultural Idea Mapping

Today more than ever brands don’t exist as a single contained story. Rather, they are complex, dynamic clusters of ideas influenced by people’s wide-ranging experiences and perceptions. Identifying how a brand’s products and purpose fit within the broader cultural landscape increasingly serves as a crucial first step in identifying innovation opportunities. Smart brands are investing in understanding and mapping the relevant world around them — connecting the dots between consumer, category and culture and pursuing inventive ways to participate within the ideas, behaviors and communities at the overlaps.

‘Just as notable products can inspire breakthrough brand ideas, recognizable brands can spark remarkable product concepts.’

03 Brand-Led Prototyping

In today’s cluttered consumer environment, a familiar brand remains a powerful asset. Just as notable products can inspire breakthrough brand ideas, recognizable brands can also spark remarkable product concepts. The key is to first understand the associations made with these brands, then quickly and creatively explore them as opportunity spaces. As product and marketing innovation converge, leadership must empower multidisciplinary teams to experiment within these brand opportunity areas through rapid prototyping processes that help to better assess, illustrate and evaluate product and service concepts.

Prototyping a playspace where Oreo meets Lego

04 Pop-Up Research

The lines between research and brand experience are increasingly blurred. Social technologies allow consumers to provide feedback in real-time. So winning brands are taking a launch-and-learn approach to new brand offerings, asking people to participate early and refining often. One part rapid contextual research, one part exclusive event, Pop-Up Research offers a glimpse into how a new offering will be received in market. These limited-run brand experiences are designed to capture both the audience’s feedback and its attention; gaining real world insight into how the product experience, story and marketing approach might be interpreted in the wild.

‘These brandscapes are a compelling crystallization of a company’s outlook and long-term commitments’

05 Brand Foresight

While most brands have a stated vision, few take the time to carefully consider how this vision might manifest five, 10 or 15 years out. Amidst today’s unprecedented uncertainty, imagining a brand’s future is an exercise in creative ambition. Grounded in solid strategic foresight — the process of understanding, envisioning, and activating coherent and functional views of the future — organizational design fictions serve as both an inspirational tool and strategic signal for stakeholders. Whether developed for internal or external purposes, these brandscapes are a compelling crystallization of a company’s outlook and long-term commitments — helping to creatively convey today’s perspective while teasing interests around tomorrow’s pipeline.

This post is adapted from an article originally published in the Spring 2014 issue of MISC Magazine.

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