There is no mistaking that the forces shaping our world right now are challenging. People no longer have trust in authority figures and institutions. We are all working out how to integrate technology positively into our lives without being overwhelmed by it. The world is unequal, and this is exacerbated by real pressure on the planet’s resources.
No brand talking to their consumers today can escape the sense they may feel overwhelmed, frustrated, and sceptical.
It feels like we are at a significant tipping point in culture. Is the failure of the idealism of the early 21st century giving way to a pursuit of something more attainable? Do consumers really want us to sell them a lifestyle or a lofty brand purpose, or do they increasingly want something real? If so, this has potentially profound implications for the role of marketing.
It is easy to see how this has been playing out in different categories over the past few years – the rise of craft beer, traceability in the fashion industry, and ‘locally produced single-estate’ everything. It can feel like small brands have been able to ride the tailwinds of this change with more credibility than big brands. We’ve seen a lot of big brands describing themselves as hand-made or ‘crafted’, missing the consumer shift beneath the surface.
What is driving this is not an insatiable desire for all things hip, but more straightforwardly a desire for brands to be more authentic in an uncertain world.
The good news for marketers is that being true to your brand and acting on it in a way which is relevant to your audience is by no means only open to small brands. Think about the great examples of big brands who have found their voice in this real and raw world – Balenciaga, Ikea, Volvo, McDonald’s, and Lynx/Axe to name a few.
We’ve seen a lot of big brands describing themselves as hand-made or ‘crafted’, missing the consumer shift beneath the surface.
Let’s take Guinness as an example of what being more authentic has meant for us at Diageo. Recognising we had become more famous for our advertising than our beer, we sought to reconnect ourselves to our roots in the brewery, and our communities. Guinness is neither ‘big beer’ nor craft, so this meant developing the right language to talk about our beer, alongside innovations like Hophouse 13 lager, which came from a deeper understanding of what we could brew and what beer drinkers were looking for.
We are learning. It is not about pretending to be small. Brands need to be true to what they are and express it in a relevant way in everything they do. It is important to avoid the real traps of tokenism and doing well-intentioned things which ultimately seem implausible to consumers.
For brands which have been around a while and no longer have founders, think not about your heritage but about the legacy you will leave for tomorrow. And finally, worry less about reassuring consumers about your product credentials and instead open yourself up for them to see for themselves.
Andrew Geoghegan is global consumer planning director at Diageo