More than a half century ago, the customer-centric branding pioneer Walter Landor said, “Products are made in the factory, but brands are created in the mind.”  In 2016, the path to that consumer experience is a two-way street, and guess who’s in the driver’s seat? Brands with strong personality are the winners, because customers equate great experiences and emotive meaning with strong, distinctive brands.
While Mr. Landor had massively insightful branding vision, he couldn’t have foreseen the challenges brands face in 2016. The 21st century consumer shopping and purchasing experience has changed, and continues to change…fast. Demanding and sophisticated customers no longer simply reach for “new and improved” brands on display shelves.
Digital Developments in Branding
In 2016, any brand overlooking the following trends would do so at their own peril:
• Understanding digital is key. For even the smallest brands, the monetization of social platforms means we’re in the “pay-to-play” era. So going forward, every big brand marketing department needs a deep understanding of digital and every small brand needs to maximize their resources.
• Interpreting data tells brand marketers what’s working and what’s not, ensuring that spending choices are made wisely.
Simply put, your customers are online and that’s where you need to be. Specifically, they’re on mobile and increasingly, they’re watching video content to make purchase decisions.
Yes, just when we thought ubiquitous online shopping had tolled a death knell for bricks-and-mortar stores, Amazon introduced its first-ever real physical bookstore in Seattle University Village.  What does this signify 20 years after Amazon went live with cut-rate books online that nearly destroyed bookstores? Amazon is connecting the dots between its troves of big data on customer preferences and the 2016 desire for a humanizing browsing and shopping experience. No one is yet pronouncing this first bookstore as a trend, but it’s worth keeping an eye on. (Remember, Amazon Founder and CEO Jeff Bezos purchased the Washington Post when everyone said print newspapers were dead.).
Image via www.amazon.com
Branding Studies Highlight Customers Expectations
“Speedy, seamless and sensory,” is the brand experience consumers want in 2016, according to the Landor Associates study released in November 2015. Today’s challenge for brands, says Landor’s CEO, is to continuously evolve, to be utterly relevant, while all the while staying true to the brand’s essence.
The largest group of consumers on the planet are Millennials (born between 1980 and 1995), and they’re adults now. The youngest in this cohort will turn 21 in 2016. As Edelman reveals in their latest worldwide “8095 Survey” of Millennials’ purchasing preferences, brands must surprise and delight to gain loyalty, because average is not acceptable.
Image via www.edelman.com
In PwC’s latest global survey, “Retailers and the Age of Disruption,” the overarching trend is that “…the premium in the future will be on creating unique, brand-defining experiences that keep customers coming back — whatever the channel.” 
Branding keywords for 2016 include: personalized, authentic, humanized, interactive, engaging, and mobile.
We take a closer look at some outstanding examples from brands that illustrate key 2016 on-trend pointers to successfully target today’s customers.
Brands Can Flaunt a Sense of Humour
Lowe’s Home Improvement highlights their products by inspiring successful DIY through amusing, real life storytelling videos. The series are short and sweet, showing projects that will make you feel like you can accomplish anything, from painting a room to building an outdoor deck. Anyone who has ever tried to fold a fitted sheet will empathize with this guy.
Brands Are Storytellers
“I don’t think the world is ever going to want to stop hearing stories,” is the sentiment expressed by Angela Ahrendts during her tenure as CEO of Burberry. She emphasized that anyone who is touching your brand wants to see, feel and hear its authentic story. Tell it visually, amplify it with music, create energy around it. Ahrendts obsession about doing all of the above is why she’s America’s highest-compensated female executive as Sr. VP of Apple.
Brands Should Support Good Causes
Aligning with charitable endeavours, championing social issues or running an environmentally sustainable business is good for a brand, its customers and the community at large. Choose wisely, care deeply and gain credibility in the process. Marks & Spencer produced their Oxfam donation partnership called Shwopping profiling celebrity ambassadors, Annie Lennox, Emma Thompson, Twiggy and other leading ladies.
Brands Gain Trust via Authenticity
RED Lookbook is an Estée Lauder advert for their fragrance, Modern Muse Le Rouge. It’s delivered as a feel-good video featuring a “real” person, UK social influencer Fleur DeForce, wearing lots of red and using the fragrance. “Top priorities to succeed have to be authenticity and passion,” the beauty video blogger with 1.3 million subscribers told Digiday. Followers are accustomed to seeing Fleur in intimate, authentic videos relaxing with her husband, friends, dogs and favorite products. The 27-year-old provides a disclaimer, “I only ever work with brands that I personally use and love, and only to promote products I genuinely like and believe in.”
Brands Become Approachable
The evolution of wine reveals a case in point about humanizing a brand. Today’s winemakers are portraying down-to-earth personalities. Even the glamorous bubbly Moët & Chandon, founded in 1743, is behaving in a way that’s anything but stuffy and old fashioned.
Image via www.moet.com
In California wine country, “7 Deadly Zins” from Michael David Winery just knows how to have a good time with their Zinfandel branding, paired with fresh air and a mountain hike.
Image via www.michaeldavidwinery.com
And, there’s a seriously excellent wine inside the bottle illustrated with dancing elephants on a cartoon-like circus label; this Syrah was rated #2 in the world for 2015 by Wine Enthusiast Magazine. 
Image Courtesy of Lodi Winegrape Commission
Brands Relate To Consumers’ Lifestyles
In just six months, Fitbit has scored 6 million YouTube views for its 30-second rom com, “Know Your Heart.” It’s completely relatable and inexpensive to make. “The campaign plays off the duality of knowing your heart emotionally and physically in a cheeky and relatable, story–driven way that resonates with our brand,” says Fitbit global marketing VP Tim Rosa. “We wanted it to be relatable and charming, while showing that getting fit and healthy is attainable if one sets his/her heart to it.”
Top 16 Brand Trends Checklist for Engaging Customers in 2016
1. Consumers crave brand authenticity. They want personalized, engaging and humanized interaction with brands, even humour that brings a smile to the face.
2. Customers are embracing disruptors, from healthcare wearables to taxi services and non-hotel stays.
3. Consumers are making emotional decisions about brands that feature distinctive, compelling storytelling and a friendly tone of voice, not corporate-speak bravado.
4. Customers want responsibility and accountability from brands. They’re looking deeper into a company’s ethics, environmental position, supply chain, production processes, diversity hiring, mission statement and corporate giving.
5. Consumers are tuned in. They place more value on online reviews from strangers than on brand advertising.
6. Customers are listening to employees as brand champions whose opinions on the brand culture can speak volumes via social media and in person.
7. Consumers are searching and shopping online. They expect fast, seamless, quality brand experiences from super fast mobile websites to free, next day delivery.
8. Consumers are looking at FMCG (Fast Moving Consumer Goods) and packaging design that goes beyond a logo, photos or serving suggestions in favour of labels that may reveal personality, tell about a product’s backstory and offer interesting “did you know” facts up front.
9. Consumers continue to relate to brands that relate to their own lifestyle preferences.
10. Consumers are consulting with children living at home in making their purchase decisions, including vacations.
11. Customers require a sense of place when they travel, not cookie-cutter, look-alike hotel and restaurant chains.
12. Customers express themselves through the brands they associate with, including artisan, hand-crafted, small production items from bricks and mortar stores or limited edition and customized products from larger brands.
13. Customers want two-way communication and co-creation with brands that are connecting with their customers and responding to feedback.
14. Consumers are tired of annoying in-your-face advertising that screams a one-way message. Native advertising and re-targeted effective messages that deliver relevance are the way to get attention in 2016.
15. Consumers expect multi-channel agility from brands. They prefer original brand video content and how-to advice to be seamlessly accessible across their multiple devices.
16. Consumers are rejecting photo-shopped, zero-sized beauty definitions in favour of natural and real, wellness and gender-neutral positioning.
Image via www.edelman.com
• It’s not your brand anymore. It belongs to your customers.
• Brand experiences matter more, not stuff. Bring shareable new ideas to the marketplace.
• Brands must be created and developed using strong well developed personas. Make it personal, emotive, relatable and real.
• Clever and amusing is the new approach. Humanize your brand.
• Brand loyalty must be earned. Sophistication and authenticity are the order of the day for a much more discerning customer.
• How many of these 16 trends can you tick off your brand must-do list as part of your brand strategy for the year ahead?
• Has your brand found the right tone of voice for 2016?
• Does your brand require a refresh or a re-branding to resonate with today’s consumers?
• Have you identified your brand’s positioning and unique selling points and successfully incorporated them?
• Has your brand aligned with a charity? Has it embraced sustainability and green initiatives? Is there a corporate social responsibility message that’s making its way to customers’ ears?
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