The way companies communicate their brands has changed rapidly over the last thirty years, but the question remains if branding itself really has. Do companies brand themselves differently now than what they did back in the days? The LINK spoke to three Member companies who are specialised in branding and communication to look at the evolution of branding.
How you communicate a brand is definitely ever-changing but what the brand actually entails should be consistent, argued Peter Walker, Director of wonderlandWPA. wonderlandWPA is a branding and marketing agency working with companies in a variety of sectors but mostly within the start-up scene. “It’s like language, fashion, and the weather. Always changing, never the same,” he said on how brands present themselves. “What should remain consistent is what a brand stands for i.e. its ideas, values and philosophy,” he added.
When talking about the evolution of branding, Walker argued that it used to be a gradual change but stepping into the digital age, the mechanism of branding changed massively, something he called “Branding 2.0”. Branding went from being a message from the company to the public and instead became a democratised process where suddenly everyone had access to the tools and thus created their own versions of the brand. “It was like playing tennis – but without the net,” Walker recalled. Camilla Wallander, CEO of Berghs School of Communication, agreed and said that it has become a lot harder to control your brand in the digital age. Berghs is Sweden’s leading college of communication and has been crowned “School of the Year” five times in the international competition Future Lions.
Since communication is constantly present with the emergence of social media, “every interaction with your customers can blow up to huge proportions,” Wallander explained. That makes company culture that much more important and she said that “it is the single most important ingredient of a great brand”. A valuable product of a strong company culture is brand ambassadors. Wallander consider their brand ambassadors one of their most treasured assets. “They make our brand and carry our values,” she said. Nelson Ruiz-Acal, Founder and Head Designer at Cate & Nelson, said that it was very important for them as well to make their brand more personal. That is why their design agency is named after its founders, Cate and Nelson. “Nothing could get more personal than going forward with our own names,” he commented.
Their name is also a reflection of one of the core values at Cate & Nelson, which is to involve the client in their design process and thus handle all projects with a personal touch and care. Wallander added that it is crucial for brands to not only communicate what they are selling but also their core values and what they represent. “You really have to walk the talk,” she explained. Communicating core values needs to be reflected and ensured in behaviour, emotions and storytelling. “Telling authentic stories that stir up emotions is more appealing [than simply pitching sales arguments].” It is clearly important to remember that people relate to emotional values when building a brand. “We are emotional creatures,” she explained.
The lack of emotional impact that modern technologies, such as virtual reality (VR), are currently inflicting may be the reason it hasn’t had a vast breakthrough in branding yet, Walker reasoned. He added that the practical applications are limited, and brands have yet to incorporate it as a core channel or brand idea. “VR is thrilling at times but not emotional – as yet,” he said.
When asked about artificial intelligence (AI), Walker said it will stay a back-office function for another decade but eventually migrate to the shelves and streets. “I believe [that] in my lifetime I will walk into a store and see a Coca-Cola bottle in my favourite colour playing my favourite version of its brand tune.”
Ruiz-Acal also acknowledged that technology will revolutionise the work they do but that “we need a few more years before VR and AI have a grand impact on a wider front”. Although, he added that in a short period of time “we are going to see things that today seem impossible”.
Wallander said that students are already incorporating VR into some of their projects. Berghs are looking into how they can bring this new technology into their educational programmes and consulting work. Ruiz-Acal agreed and said that since they know that things will change, they are already playing with some ideas in their studio. Wallander added that the main challenge is understanding how to use the new data in an ethical way to create new means for sales and communications.
When looking at the evolution of branding, it is safe to say that it is a dynamic process that is constantly changing. However, Member companies said that the brand values and philosophy should remain stable. The future is expected to hold exciting developments and we look forward to seeing how new technologies will affect how brands present themselves.