A ‘future brand’ is a brand that is more likely to succeed in the future, not just one that is strong now. This is because it perfectly balances strong perceptions of its purpose in the world with the experience it delivers. In terms of experience, it ensures that it always has a strong emotional connection, delivers consistency across every touch point and focuses on improving peoples’ lives. In terms of purpose, it is seen to have a strong vision for the future, to drive and redefine its category and deliver sustainable business value in everything from resource management to price differentiation. The balance of these two elements is vital because it attends to the way we make decisions in the 21st century: avoiding a compromise between what we want now and what we need later.
It means fast cars with zero emissions, profitability with ethics, taste and health, and shareholder value with positive societal impact. This means that a future brand is more ‘future proof’ than counterparts that only provide immediate gratification, or fail to connect their beliefs with their actions in the world.
Most admired corporate brand
All of the organizations in the Global Top 100 are extraordinarily successful by most common measures. However, our findings show that whilst most benefit from strong perceptions in some attributes, they often have opportunities to improve the way they are seen in specific areas. We have three further typologies for those organisations that are not classified as ‘future brands’, based on their scores and degree of balance of perceptions across the dimensions. This helps organisations to understand what levers to pull for greater success today and in the future.
“Future brands” – Organizations that have very strong and balanced perceptions across both the purpose and experience dimensions and can be seen as the most ‘future proof’.
“Purpose brands” – Organizations whose perceptions are more biased towards ‘a strong vision for the future’, ‘redefining the category’ and ‘delivering sustainable value’. In this study, these include Biogen, Novo Nordisk, Boeing, Medtronic, SAP and Unilever. Arguably, these organizations would benefit from strengthening perceptions in the ‘experience’ dimensions to drive further competitive advantage.
“Experience brands” – Organizations whose perceptions are more biased towards ‘building strong emotional connections, ‘an engaging experience at every touch point’ and ‘making peoples’ lives better’. In this study, these include AmBev, Nike, Volkswagen, The Coca-Cola Company and Moët Hennessy. Conversely, these organizations would benefit from strengthening perceptions in the ‘purpose’ dimensions to drive further competitive advantage.
“Corporate brands” – Organizations whose perceptions might be more balanced across the dimensions, but are not sufficiently strong to qualify as a ‘future brand’. These are divided into two further classifications in this study – those organizations that are ‘admired’ and those organizations towards which the public feel more indifferent. ‘Admired corporate brands’ are those closest to the top right of the purpose-experience matrix, and therefore the closest to becoming ‘future brands’. These include CVS Health, Amazon, Procter & Gamble, GlaxoSmithKline, BHP Billiton, IBM, Visa, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Oracle, Amgen, United Technologies, United Health Group, Kinder Morgan, General Electric and Mitsubishi Financial.
The remaining organizations are not necessarily seen negatively, although our qualitative data points to sector-specific need for improvement in some areas, but are perhaps felt to be less meaningful or relevant to people. Again, this is not a matter of awareness or negative perceptions, but rather weaker perceptions against the dimensions that drive competitive advantage in our measures.
This can, in some cases, be attributed to particularly weak perceptions in specific attributes. Comcast, for example, is in the bottom five in perceptions of ‘personality’ and ‘trust’, and Bank of America has its weakest perceptions in the attributes of ‘pleasure’ and ‘consistency’. Whereas some organizations like Exxon Mobil and British American Tobacco have weak perception scores more consistently across the bottom ten of every attribute.
Our research shows that this matters for organizations because when people rate a company in the Global Top 100 as a ‘future brand’, 76% strongly agree that they would buy products and services from them, 69% strongly agree that the organization commands a price premium, and nearly two thirds strongly agree that they would work for them. And these preferences are significantly above the average performance across our study. So being a future brand is a driver of choice when it comes to purchase decisions, paying a premium and selecting an employer.
For example, in this year’s research nearly half of all those surveyed say they would like to work for Apple and Google (against an increased average of 25%), and 51% of our respondents say they would buy products and services from Microsoft (against an increased average of 32%). This is compared to organizations with weaker perceptions against our dimensions like Alibaba and Amazon that have below average appeal to our respondents as places to work.
In 2014, we demonstrated that there are a series of key drivers of a ‘future brand’ – things that stand out as major differentiators between organizations with the strongest and weakest perceptions in our research. These most significantly related to the attributes of thought leadership, innovation and authenticity – vital attributes of ‘purpose’. In our model, organizations with strong perceptions of thought leadership are seen to be driven by clear ideas and unafraid to express clear views about their category, market or the broader world. Innovation is best understood as providing new things that are useful. This means the organization is seen to go beyond change or novelty for its own sake, and instead focus on inventing products, services or experiences that are genuinely useful. And finally, when it comes to authenticity, organizations can have a lofty vision, but that vision needs to be seen to connect genuinely to its primary task or the qualities of its products and services.
The drivers of future success remain consistent in 2015, but their order of priority has changed slightly with innovation now the leading driver, as well as an increase in the overall proportion of respondents who identified them:
Consumers perceive the same kind of personality types in brands as in people – and seek out brands that exhibit their desired personality traits by category. Perceptions of a strong and clear personality are critical to emotional connection. There are 5 key personality dimensions: sincerity, excitement, competence, sophistication and ruggedness.
People build their identities around narratives – where they are from, who they know, what they have achieved – and are drawn to brands with strong stories as a result. The strongest stories are those that are created around archetypes – universal ideas and characters that transcend cultures to touch all of human experience.
Attachment Theory has shown that what we think of as love or emotional connection can actually be understood in terms of degrees of attachment and attachment styles developed through continuous social interaction. The ideal state for people, as for brands, is of a ‘secure’ attachment, in which unquestioned trust and positive dependency is developed through experience.
Brands are a promise of consistent experience. We use them as heuristics – mental shortcuts – in a world of choice and limited time to avoid risk and recreate good experiences. It is vital, therefore, that our experience of a brand across different touch points is as consistent as possible to avoid reducing our belief in the brand being a safe option next time. This means it should look and sound the same, have the same taste and ingredients, communicate the same ideas or deliver the same performance quality every time you encounter it – from eating a meal to standing in line for the register.
We live in a world where the physical and digital environments have merged. It is possible to interact with a brand in multiple channels in parallel and we want the brand to acknowledge and optimize our personal experience with that in mind. It is not enough for brands to be consistent. The ‘connectedness’ of a brand, and the intelligent use of data to personalize every interaction in real-time, is vital to a feeling that we are at the heart of a customer-centric experience.
How people behave, from leaders of corporations to customer care representatives in call-centres, is a critical part of our brand experience. The extent to which those people seem to believe in their work, care about us personally and follow through on their commitments determines how strong we feel the brand to be. In the end, technology can enable self-service and efficiency, but people are at the heart of engagement.
The best brands bring us pleasure. From sensorial experiences to pride of ownership and the delight of a high quality product, brands should trigger positive feelings. When they do, they improve our experience of life and we want to share them with others and recreate the same pleasures as often as possible. The extent to which an organization, product or service is associated with human pleasure is an important ingredient in brand strength.
People are increasingly preoccupied with their general wellbeing – from mental and physical wellness to spiritual health. In addition to bringing us pleasure, brands have an opportunity to contribute to that wellbeing by focusing on human needs and interests and considering what is ‘good’ for people in consumer, organizational and community life. The more a brand is felt to improve wellbeing, the more it will be connected with making peoples’ lives better.
Brands need to demonstrate that they respect people and the broader environment in which they operate. This can mean everything from respecting human difference and diversity to careful stewardship of natural resources and courtesy in a customer interaction. It is a function of empathy and critical to creating trust and loyalty by helping people to build and maintain self-esteem. The more a brand can show it does this through its experience, the more authentically it will be felt to improve life in the broadest sense.
We are increasingly drawn to brands with a strong sense of ‘why’ they are here beyond the act of making money. This purpose is an articulation of core beliefs with which people can identify. It also guides the brand or organization towards the future it wants to see, and is the motivational force that gets people up in the morning. It’s what the brand or organization is here to do, rather than a list of its attributes, features or benefits.
For a vision to be compelling, it has to inspire change and action. Inspiration is figuratively about the process of being ‘mentally stimulated to do or feel something, and especially to do something creative’. Brands that inspire people to change for the better and help them to see what could be possible in the future are the most compelling choice for today.
A brand can have a lofty vision, but it needs to connect genuinely to the task of an organization or the qualities of a product or service. We need to see the relationship between the future a brand wants to create and what it can legitimately deliver today, not least so that we can realistically participate in creating that future for ourselves through consumption, investment or employment.
A brand needs to go beyond change or novelty for its own sake, and instead focus on inventing products, services or experiences that are genuinely useful. Being known for this kind of innovation means that a brand focuses on adapting to the changing needs of its customers, consumers or market, rather than incrementally improving against its competition, and has more chance of shaping the future of its category as a result.
Strong brands are always driven by strong ideas, and are unafraid of expressing clear views about their category, market or the broader world. They take a position and defend it with consistency and evidence. They want to inform what we think and how the world understands what they offer, rather than allowing other people to define it for them.
Above all, strong brands are differentiated from their competition. They express a unique identity, values and personality that help them to stand out and be easily recognized. This is often at the cost of ‘fitting in’ and playing to category norms, which calls for a clear sense of who they are, why they are here and how it is of benefit to their customer or consumer.
Would the world, or your life, be worse if the brand ceased to exist tomorrow? In what way and would there be a credible alternative? The key to delivering brand value over the long term is to be seen as vital to peoples’ lives today: to be something we cannot live without. This applies to organizations as much as products and services and the stronger the perception of indispensability, the more likely it is that the brand can be seen to address the fundamental needs of its stakeholders or customers.
Does the brand make the best use of available resources – from people to materials and energy? Increasingly, brands are scrutinized for their supply chain and ethical credentials as much as their price, availability and quality. Organisations are expected to consider their environmental, economic and social impact in the normal course of business. And the same considerations are increasingly important drivers of consumer choice in categories as diverse as food, fashion and automotive. It is no longer a matter of ‘green washing’ or environmentalism – the imposed sacrifice of comfort and progress to save the world – but a requirement to make the best use of what we have and consider our impact for the long term.
Brands bring measurable asset value to an organization. The stronger they are, the more valuable the product, service or company becomes. Sustainable business cannot be achieved without consumers, customers or investors being prepared to value your brand more highly than an equivalent competitor. Which means a willingness to pay more to benefit from the brand when presented with a choice. Or feeling that there is no equivalent alternative.