Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina opens with arguably one of the best lines in Russian literature, "all happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
The same can be said for brands.
All happy brands are alike—they have one thing in common. This is not simply ‘success’, or an enviable customer engagement and loyalty (these are by-products of this 'thing'). The 'thing' is that they act, speak and think like a conscious, autonomous, self-aware human.
All unhappy brands are unhappy in their own way—each suffering from a split personality of one (or all) of the following problems and neuroses. These could include mixed and confused messaging; a disconnected and fragmented brand identity; or a lack of position, purpose or vision. They are simply not good at effectively communicating and articulating who they are, for a variety of different reasons.
The better a brand is at being true to the ‘person’ they are, the better cut-through they’ll have with their customers. Take Boohoo—who bucked a downward trend hitting other fashion brands during lockdown (with revenue up a staggering 44% in April)—thanks to a clever hashtag, uplifting social content and a strong brand tone-of-voice (1).
Boohoo’s tone was funny, laid-back and slangy—the kind you would use to message a buddy. Alongside promoting their clothing on their social channels, they also featured plenty of content unrelated to the sales or clothing—like cat gifs, pictures of fast food or cute videos. Each one ‘spoke’ to their target audience, like a relatable, approachable friend.
Interestingly, the minute this mask slipped (with revelations in July of Boohoo’s exploitative Leicester factories), many stockists were unforgiving. The truth was not all it seemed, and they were severely punished for it (2).
In 2020 brands are no longer just here to sell, they have to entertain, engage and be social. For consumer-facing brands, conventional ‘websites’ are now flanked by their social media platforms which are wielding equal, if not sometimes more, clout.
But in post-Covid 2020, a strong brand can’t just be consistent. It needs to be conscious, and have an opinion. It needs to know what BLM stands for, and it needs to have said something about it. Otherwise it needs to know that it will be judged.
"Please don't vote for Kanye West!" — Highsnobiety"Please don't vote for Kanye West!" — Highsnobiety
Strong brands in 2020 need to not be afraid to tell the world exactly what they stand for, and what they believe in—whether this means they lose followers, or gain powerful enemies...
A recent example was a July newsletter from Highsnobiety, entitled “Please don’t vote for Kanye West”(3). This was a brave position to take, considering West’s dominance in street and youth culture—the bread-and-butter of the Highsnobiety brand. But they didn’t care. To them, treating their readership like mates that you’d chat to down the pub—trusting that they’d share similar views and opinions to them on this subject—was more important. I believe it paid off.
It’s important to note that this consciousness is not just applicable to consumer-facing brands. B2B companies are in the same boat—with increasing demands from staff themselves that they take a stand, are culturally engaged and aware of wider socio-economic, geo-political forces.
In 2020, all brands are expected to stand up and be judged. What will your brand do?
— Cat How, Creative Director & Co-Founder