PICA #013

The flinty strength of a solid reputation.

The future of brands is integrity - Here’s why.

Brands which protect their integrity and retain trust, flourish.

Many believe the age of the brand is ending. Opinion pieces in specialized and mainstream media have for years proclaimed that the digital revolution is destroying the way we relate to brands. I disagree and the reason is in the title of this Pica which paraphrases the latest article I have seen on the subject “The Future of Brands is No Brands - Here's why”.

In her article Laurence Van Elegem asks; “…will people still ask for brands, then? Will they ask “Alexa, get me some Nestle milk” or “Alexa, get me some milk.”?”.
Let’s follow Van Elegem’s assumption that in the future we will all buy milk with a vocal command to a digital assistant. As she implies, for the majority of people the spoken command will be; “…get some milk”. What I do not believe is that this command will completely delegate the choice of brand to the digital assistant. Rather it will trigger a pre-defined action that will respect the user’s preferences. For example, if you are slightly lactose intolerant and only consume organic and sustainable products the digital assistant will, to be of any use, have to consider only products that satisfy these needs. Now, the easy way for a human to express the above preferences is to list brands of milk that have those characteristics. Consequently a digital assistant will know the user’s preferred brands of milk and will source the best current offer within that list. Unlike a human wandering the aisles of a supermarket who can be attracted to something new by a special offer or a clever packaging. In the context of digital assistant controlled consumption brand loyalty could increase not decrease.

The underlying reason is that people want to have some level of control over what they consume. The reasons are rooted in human needs, the first of which is safety. Happily drinking a glass of milk requires us to believe that the producer and distributor have diligently done their job in delivering to us a healthy product. The brand in essence is an identifier that allows us to select trusted sources.
Today, if a brand we consume is hit by negative news coverage we may avoid buying that brand. Then over time, in a typically human way we tend to forget the scandal and the brand returns to it’s original place in our list of considered brands. Now, let’s say a scandal explodes about contaminated milk and hearing the news we instruct our digital assistant to not buy the affected brand. The significant change is that the digital assistant won’t forget the command, even as we forget we ever gave it. In this respect brands could be more important and crucially their integrity could be more vital than today.

It isn’t a trendy thought but trust and integrity are still the foundation of the very concept of what a brand is. Today user reviews are arguably more influential than advertising. But that doesn’t mean brands are dead, the very things users are reviewing are branded products. Advertising is less effective and persuasive than in the past but building brands and protecting their integrity is more important than ever.