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2012 trends through a branding eye

We’re a month into the New Year. So, what’s in store for major brands in 2012? I have a few predictions.

No cheating on the basics

  • Apple‘s radical simplification of the in-store experience is infusing retail environments across many industries. The use of station-free cashiers, “genius bars” and organizing retail space by activities will become the norm not only for computer and electronics outlets but also for banks, car dealerships and even apparel stores. And if they are really smart, these retailers will change the way they train and manage their employees to maximize these efficiencies.
  • No longer is customer service just about processing a transaction. Today’s consumers seek advisors who can help them buy the right products or services and explain how to use them. The brands that recognize the importance of having knowledgeable, professional customer service associates will build strong loyalty with their customers.

Tackling the social space

  • It’s a fool’s errand to try to control the messages that slosh around in cyberspace — but that doesn’t mean brands shouldn’t be seeking ways to influence what is being said about them in the social space. Those companies that in the past participated on Twitter and Facebook, but without a clear strategy in place, aren’t seeing the results. Brands must be clear, coordinated and authentic in all channels; and they can’t confuse followers with engagement. Period.
  • The rapid adoption of tablets and the increased capability of smartphones are changing what people do and how they do it. Consumers are becoming much more comfortable during “mobile moments,” making purchases using any kind of device and depositing checks through smartphone apps. The most successful brands will be those that are more adoptive and flexible and employ unique features that cater to the mobile environment while keeping simplicity top-of-mind.

Must-dos for marketers

  • Brands are shifting into new environments and developing new personas. As a result, the brand is becoming an organization’s avatar — and there will be an accelerating need for back-story development and sensory branding. What has not changed is the importance of articulating a clear and compelling story that resonates with consumers. The most successful brands will always need to think like storytellers — with a strong sense of narrative — in order to draw customers into a lifelong relationship.
  • Major brands are increasingly turning to large agency networks, such as Omnicom, WPP and IPG, and asking them to cherry pick top talent across different disciplines. These brands are seeking nimble, strategic teams to help with their complex business issues. Those marketing services firms that aren’t locked down by old agency paradigms and can respond in novel ways will win deeper client relationships.

After all is said and done, it will be interesting to see if 2012 meets my expectations — but I’ll be ready for a fair share of unexpected moments and bolts from the blue. And you should be too.

Howard Belk is co-CEO and chief creative officer at Siegel+Gale, global strategic branding firm.

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