Certainly the key concept of brand management is identity: we have been stressing it since 1990. ‘Identity’ means that the brand should respect its key values and defining attributes. However, there is a point where too much repetition of the same creates boredom. Too much predictability is a drawback in modern markets. (Table below)
This is why the role of modern brands is to stimulate the consumer to have new experiences. The role of the brand in providing reassurance and generating trust is not dead, far from it: but it needs to be used to encourage the consumer to take more risks, explore new behaviours, try new unexpected products. In order to do so, disruptive innovations become very important. To grow through time while keeping its identity, the brand should continue differently.
To this end there is a need for new research tools. Why are all companies now listening to forecasting consultants, trend spotters? Because they need to think now about what consumers are not thinking about today, but will think about tomorrow. Classical marketing research analyses sources of satisfaction and dissatisfaction with the product or service or brand.
The outcomes can be used to prompt immediate and continuous improvements. But can disruption come from this type of marketing research? Satisfaction is always linked to customers’ existing values and goals. Research is needed also to spot how these values and goals will change, leading to new insights.
Brand management needs a set of boundaries. This is called brand identity, which covers how the brand defines itself, its values, its mission, its know-how, its personality and so on. A clear sense of identity is necessary, for the brand meaning to be reinforced by repetition. On the other hand market fragmentation, competitive dynamism and the need for surprises call not for reinforcement but for diversification. As ever, brand management will act as a pendulum, going from an excess of sameness to an excess of diversity. There is nothing wrong with this. The same holds true of the local/global dilemma, or the ethics versus business dilemma.
Another consequence is the need to know the identity of the brand. More precisely, what is its kernel, the attributes that are necessary for the brand to remain itself, and what are the traits that can show some flexibility? If all the attributes of the brand belong to its kernel, that is to say, they are all necessary to its identity, its ability to change will be hampered.
How can a brand surprise customers, evolve, adapt to new uses, situations and markets, if it is too rigidly defined? Peripheral attributes can change, or be present in some products but not in others. Eventually, innovations introduce new peripheral attributes, which may become
From risk to desire: the dilemma of modern branding
Brand = capital Brand = impulse
The identity versus diversity dilemma
incorporated into the kernel at some point in time. This is how brands evolve through time, how innovations have an impact on their identity. Peripheral traits act as the key longterm change agents within brands (Abric, 1994; Michel, 2000). The tools to identify the traits held by consumers as kernel traits of a brand are presented below but their use is not sufficiently widespread.
The brands that ultimately last are those that are able to surprise their customers, and the customers of tomorrow in particular. This sums up the challenge facing modern brand management in a nutshell. Far from seeking to capitalise on its past – and thus to repeat itself – the brand should surprise, and promote change. This is what should be termed the ‘exploratory function’, which plays an epistemic role for the brand (Heilbrunn, 2003). But how can you know what will surprise the customers of tomorrow?
Market studies provide a good understanding of today’s customers; or at least, of the expectations they express. So much needs to be done to improve customer satisfaction. How long ago did readers receive a satisfaction questionnaire from their bank? Their car dealers? Their telephone company? To surprise customers, you need to take a long-term view – hence the growing use of trends in brand management.
Trends are hypotheses relating to change that occurs within small groups in our societies, but could potentially create a tidal wave among the general public. These trends are established on the basis of combined information regarding the demographic, technological, social and cultural future of our societies.
We thus need to define three levels of vision: long, medium and short term. Car concepts in the automobile sector, for example, are governed by long-term considerations. Decisions regarding models that are already part of the seven-year production plan are considered as medium term.
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