We live in a world that moves so quickly that it takes a brave person to make forecasts. But looking at the way the market moved last year, here are a few trends I expect to play out in 2013 and beyond. Most of these trends are all about how technology is empowering consumers to shape brands more actively than ever before.
Sharing value for the win-win
Today’s consumers examine brands carefully and look for those with a genuine commitment to creating value for their customers and society at large. For this reason, companies should no longer focus only on maximising profits for shareholders, but must also reflect a true commitment to creating shared value for a broad range of stakeholders, including their customers.
Social innovation will be at the heart of any brand’s competitive advantage. Companies will not be able to claim in the future that consumers, employees, and the community are at the heart of their business – they’ll need to demonstrate it through actions that bring their values to life in a more meaningful way.
Look out for: The rise of shared value auditors, who score and certify companies’ shared value outcomes.
Tech objects in day to day life
Mobility isn’t only about smartphones and tablet computers any more. More and more objects featuring embedded sensors, image recognition technologies, NFC payment and wireless connectivity are being connected to the Web. And wearable computers, touch and gesture interfaces are creating new, easier ways for users to tap into the power of computers and the Web.
These technologies may offer competitive advantage for early adopters or offer potential for significant market disruption. However, companies need to use these innovations to power smart apps that help their customers and employees to improve everyday life. The challenge brands will face is to create real value, rather than creating and adopting tech products just for the sake of it.
Look out for: Technology will become embedded in more and more objects we use every day – from fridges and televisions to cars and clothing. One example is Google’s Project Glass, a set of computerised glasses that lets users take pictures and find information; another is the cool head-up display embedded in Oakley’s Airwave ski goggles for monitoring speed and reading text messages.
Social Web gets mobile
Mobile technology ensures that we are always available and connected – we have access to our social network on the go. We take our social identities on our mobile devices wherever we go. With a portable, durable online identity, users have the opportunity to share their data between sites to build, maintain relationships and stay up to date with the people they know and the things they care about.
Organisations must tap into the social identity and integration frameworks that drive the mobile Internet. They must apply social thinking at every level of their businesses to successfully speak to and engage with mobile consumers.
Look out for: The most successful brands will embrace the world of social mobility both inside their businesses for internal collaboration and communication as well as with the consumer.
Big insights from big data
Thanks to social media and always-on access to the Internet, companies are able to gather heaps of data about their customers. 2013 will be the year which challenges organisations to turn this data into a business advantage.
This data enables marketers to take personalisation to the next level. They can use the insights in this data to better understand the needs of their customers; predict consumer behaviour; and ultimately, personalise, refine and optimise marketing to each customer’s desires, behaviours and interests.
Look out for: The true data analyst will have one of the most important skills sets on the market since companies will need him or her to make more sense of the customer journey.
Retail moves beyond the storefront
Consumers are adopting online comparison shopping, mobile payments and other new technologies as part of their shopping experience. They don’t have to feel and touch to buy, but they do want a shopping experience they can access wherever and whenever it is convenient to do so.
Consumer behaviour together with new technologies means brands must rethink their “retail space”. Today, retail can be nearly anywhere, thanks to mobile. For example, Tesco in the UK did a 2012 pilot of a screen at London’s Gatwick airport that allowed travellers to order everyday staples from their smartphones. Their order was then timed to coincide with their arrival at home.
Look out for: The power of “AND”, it will matter. Consumers are continuously demanding value, freebies and novelty in their shopping experience.
Smarter urban living
Governments and businesses are harnessing technology to offer more sustainable solutions and better lifestyles to city dwellers around the world. These solutions drive smarter, greener cities for an increasingly connected global citizenry that is informed and aware about the environmental and social impacts of urbanisation.
2013 will continue to guide the rise of a new world of connectedness, networks, central databases which is already resulting in cities providing e-services – e-health, e-education, e-traffic, e-home, e-government and e-offices.
Look out for: The likes of Siemens and IBM are involved in creating collaborative solutions to proactively manage urbanisation, but consumers will demand more from governments and businesses alike.
How To Leverage Partnerships, Industry Associations & Endorsements
Nobody can succeed in business entirely on their own without personal as well as professional support. ‘Signing up’ can be a deciding factor in the growth of a company, says the Proudly SA CEO.
Leverage by association can be a great business tool. Hitching your wagon to an industry associated body, joining a local chamber of commerce, or seeking a respected contemporary’s endorsement can change your brand recognition struggle to an opportunity. Becoming part of a whole new entity can be one of the best decisions you will ever make.
How to choose your partner or affiliation?
You know the expression ‘Two heads are better than one’ so you should choose a partner or affiliation that exposes you to twice as big an audience as you can reach alone, preferably with a different customer base. Find an association that fits with your own business ethos and has the same goals as you, otherwise you will find you are working against each other rather than complementing each other.
What do you stand to gain?
By association you will appear in listings, on websites, you will be invited to related events where you can network your socks off, and in some cases, doors will automatically be opened for you. Visibly aligning yourself with an organisation that can propel your brand and/or product into the market place should be grabbed with both hands.
What does the partner stand to gain?
Your relationship with a partner should be symbiotic, benefitting from each other’s contacts as well as a platform for sharing ideas.
What are my responsibilities towards the other party in the relationship?
Perhaps you will have to add a logo to your marketing collateral or packaging, perhaps you will have to comply to standards even higher than those you set for yourself. Perhaps you will have to pay subs or a small joining fee, or even a large joining fee, so you need to decide what you can afford and when.
But you must view the relationship in a positive light even if it involves redesigning artwork or re jigging your material. There is no point in ‘signing up’ if you’re not prepared to share your brand affiliation with your customers and suppliers. It’s like getting married and refusing to wear a ring.
How long should I sign up for?
You really should take a long-term view of any marketing relationship. Your hook up may take time to filter down into the market place, you may have a lot of pre- relationship stock that doesn’t have the logo of your new partner on it, so you will need to give a fair chance to the whole exercise.
What happens if one party brings the other company into disrepute by association?
No one wants to be brought down if someone or something with which you are closely associated is found not to be quite as ethical or honest as you. Don’t forget this isn’t a JV, it’s a brand partnership, and so as long as you are operating separately, you will always be able to distance yourself from any scandal should the need arise. (But hopefully you chose your brand affiliation well!) , but by and large, being the single part of a whole can only be beneficial when you’re starting to build your brand.
How does using the Proudly South African ‘tick’ logo fit in?
The Proudly SA logo is the mark of an authentically locally grown, manufactured or produced item or service that is of proven high quality. It can be leveraged in the same way as any other brand affiliation and can assist in providing access to market and building trust with your buyers and suppliers.
The Differences Between A Supplier Relationship, Agency And Distributor
To a large extent I suppose it depends on industry, the vision of the business and how quickly you wish to scale.
Many businesses reach the point where they have to consider in which way to best expand its market share and reach. In many industries, a customer and supplier arrangement are sufficient, but in others different arrangements such as agency or distribution are preferred.
So, the question is – what is best and when?
Well, to a large extent I suppose it depends on industry, the vision of the business and how quickly you wish to scale.
1. Supplier / Customer
This is a typical arrangement of a willing buyer willing seller. In most instances this is the typical way in which business is run or at the very least to a large degree this is the starting point. Clients or customers are typically engaged by agreement usually a form of terms and conditions or perhaps even an agreement detailing credit.
An agency agreement could either relate to an individual or an organisation. This means an individual or a business could represent the supplier of the goods or services and earn a commission or remuneration for their efforts to sell the goods or services.
In this context an individual is often referred to as a “rep”, which is a typical arrangement for wholesalers marketing products to retailers. In many instances these agreements do not constitute employment contracts and further, the agent does not buy and on-sell the products.
The agent usually refers orders to the supplier and therefore is cost effective for both parties and further limits risk. This also means that the supplier benefits from a relatively low input cost and commitment but increased sale. An important portion of an agreement such as this is that the agent has certain powers in representing the supplier. It is therefore of crucial importance that the agent’s powers are constructed in such a way as to serve the needs and best interests of both parties.
A crucial difference between agency agreements and distribution is twofold – one: that the distributor does not have any power of representation as an agent would typically have. Secondly, that the distributor usually purchases the goods / products from the supplier and then stores, transports and sells, as the case may be. In most cases these agreements are confined to goods.
It is therefore important for the business to assess what would sell the most products or services in the shortest space of time. Then to seek professional advice to construct the most suitable agreement.
Are You A Commodity Or A Brand?
Have a look at your business and consider whether you could be classified as a commodity or a brand.
As access to technology continually improves and evolves, innovation becomes an everyday occurrence for the consumer who has an almost endless array of products, services and solutions to choose from. At the same time, competition among vendors increases exponentially and the ability to differentiate products or services based purely on features or customer service alone is a near impossibility.
There is a slim margin of success for companies that offer feature rich products combined with outstanding customer service, that does retain a degree of competitive prowess but eventually due to incessant pressure even the most fortunate of organisations can be tempted to default to competing based on price alone which is without question an unsustainable race to the bottom.
Consumers today are also more brand-aware than ever before and have evolved into critical, thinking buyers who want to spend their money with a company that inspires an emotional connection with them and their values, while solving a real problem for them.
This emotional intelligence takes precedence over flashy advertising and even lower prices. A study analysing shopper habits (The Meaningfully Different Framework, Millward Brown, 2013), found that strong brands were commanding a 13% price premium over weak brands, and a 6% premium over average brands.
The same analysis found that strong brands can also capture, on average, three times the sales volume of weak brands.
“This means that competing on price is a fool’s game and a no-win situation,” says Kyle Rolfe, brand engineer and founder of creative agency, Idea Power.
“When you compete on price you exist only for the lifespan of the product. A brand, however, spans product life cycles and lasts for years.”
“The only reliable way to stand out today, no matter what the industry, is to develop a brand that resonates with customers and makes an emotional connection as an authentic and trustworthy brand.”
But what is a brand?
“A brand is the emotions you inspire,” says Rolfe. “If you have a good reputation and people enjoy their experience dealing with you; if they trust that you are true to your values and an authentic participant in their society, your brand has value to them.”
A brand, at its heart, is based on trust and this is a rare commodity that has become eroded in the minds of consumers. Because it is so rare, it is an important asset for companies large and small.
Trust is linked to corporate reputation, which is a company’s most valuable commercial asset. By 2015, around 84% of the value of all businesses was intangible value, of which brand value is a key component, according to Ocean Tomo LLC.
How do you develop a brand?
Brand building is all about trust and authenticity. Rolfe believes there are two aspects to a brand. The first is the internal brand that defines what the company believes and stands for, in other words, who you are. This is more than a bland company vision that is plastered on the walls of the company. It is the essence of the company, the authentic values and principles your whole company buys into.
“If your employees believe in the company and what it does, if they identify with your internal brand, you will automatically have more motivated employees, a positive company culture staffed by motivated people who take better care of customers,” Rolfe adds.
“In addition, if your employees trust and believe in the brand, the will naturally take that brand message with them when they leave the office and broadcast it far and wide to family and friends, as well as to their extended circle of friends on social media, which is a powerful and authentic voice in society today.”
Related: Bring Your Brand to Life
When this happens, your customers and potential customers will see, feel and experience the brand and its effect. This will expand your internal brand outwards to your customers and the market in general, supported by the most valuable marketing there is – word of mouth.
It’s worth noting that, according to Effectiveness in the Digital Era (2016) by Les Binet and Peter Field, brand-building activity drives much stronger sales growth over periods of 6 months than the temporary boosts driven by short-term sales activity.
Rolfe concludes: “Does your brand have that emotional connection to the market? Is it authentic and does it automatically command trust? If it does, you can outpace your competitors in terms of sales and price.”
The truth of the market today is that trust and authenticity are the biggest deal makers or breakers. If you create and maintain that emotional brand connection, you create and maintain a lifetime customer who stays with the brand for the long haul.
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