While it’s true that 2020 pushed the boundaries and strengths of brands to extreme limits, we already see payoffs that will shape the year ahead. To stay close to customers as they navigate the pandemic’s ongoing turmoil, companies are refocusing on growth. They are making the long-term changes required to stay relevant in an ever-more-digital world. 

Among the many shifts in the brand world, there are five that are the most critical: 

Brand Trend #1: Authenticity Takes On A Deeper Meaning 

Yes, we know authenticity has been a buzzword for years. But it now embraces more and takes on a deeper meaningAuthentic brands stand for inclusivity, as underscored by the Black Lives Matter movement and new emphasis on diversity in the workplace. They are devoting themselves to a higher purpose, one that doesn’t just sell products but makes the world better. And they are integrating sustainability as never before, as concern for the planet swells to a universal ache. Socially responsible brands don’t just make it clear what they stand for, but also what they stand up for. 

Authentic brands also take on a new humanism and a willingness to be vulnerable. They admit mistakes, apologizing when they don’t make products fast enough or when they let workers down. 

Brands like Nike, Patagonia and Unilever have already earned the right to be leaders in this way and will continue to carve out new territory. But those that get exposed for hypocrisy will find they lose credibility that’s hard to regain. 

Brand Trend #2Community-Building Becomes Essential 

With so many conversations about being alone, together and together/apart, people are eager for brands that help them connect even while they stay physically distant. They want genuine bonding that reaches through geographies, facemasks and hospital windows. As we move through the world surrounded by six feet of space, we want to feel closer. Some brands do this physically, like Solo Stove and Starbucks. Others, including Peloton, TikTok and Houseparty, achieve this digitally. 

Brand Trend #3: Open-Book Employers Win

Transparency matters. Brands that take care of employees, whether fighting to protect them from illness or against biased hiring practices, are gaining trust with potential employees and with consumers. Companies like Salesforce, Hilton and American Express know thisAmazon may seem like a notable exception. But while its sales are enviable now, we’re curious to see how long customers will stay loyal as more physical stores open and as companies like Target and Walmart elevate their e-commerce offers.  

Brand Trend #4: Pragmatism is The New Sexy 

Even brands that prided themselves on customer-centricity learned tough lessons this year, leading them to rethink how they serve people. That’s because the pandemic has accelerated the rise of consumerism. People are now holding brands to higher ease-of-use standards. They’ve transitioned to contactless delivery, curbside pickup and shopping by appointment.   They expect agility everywhere. Newer financial services brands are raising the bar, including Robinhood, the trading company, Square’s Cash App and Mint MobileAnd players from other sectorssuch as Chipotle and Targethave made major strides in customer experience innovation and are also gaining. 

Brand Trend #5: Personalization Achieves Scale–and Personality 

Marketers have been striving for this goal for years. But with the convergence of artificial intelligence and empathy, more are finally able to effectively tailor messages based on channels, timing and the customer journey–without being annoying.  

But the best brands are doing this with more cohesion. They may show up as more personalized messages in multiple channels, but they don’t fall into the trap of blanding instead of branding. They know what they are and what they look like. It’s not about consistency, because of course, brands can’t appear the same everywhereBut it can’t be 100 percent adaptive, either. There have to be boundaries, or else brands lose their center. Brands like Spotify, Chick-fil-A and Netflix have stayed true to themselves and continue to win their respective category battles. 

Final Thoughts

The year ahead offers many ways brands can stretch. They can create believers and make the world better, and in doing so, help companies achieve uncommon growth. 

Need a brand strategy partner to help your business grow in 2021? Reach out to our team today.