The Future is Human

By Jez Frampton

If 2011 was about upheaval and uncertainty, 2012 has been about transition. Last year, dissent was in the air as protestors took to the streets from Tahrir Square to New York City, a nuclear crisis in Fukushima reignited a worldwide energy debate, and ongoing issues in the banking industry have brought — and continue to bring — deficiencies to the fore.

Like it or not, we are entering a new world. Connected, networked, hyper-aware, and fraught with contradictions, this new world is complex and confusing, but rich, intimate, and alive. It is, for brands, full of promise and boundless possibility — if organizations can learn how to tap into this vast intelligence. The inexorable rise of digital consumers, further accelerated by the mobile and tablet revolution, is radically shifting the dynamics of the marketplace. Facebook, which has forever altered the way we communicate and relate, went public this year. The London Olympics was not only the greenest Olympic event ever staged — but the most digital to date. Welcome to the future.

Information has leveled the playing field, but has also complicated it. Though data — and lots of it — is available to all, that doesn't mean everyone understands which bits of information are important or how they can be strategically applied. Today's customers are skeptical, vocal, savvy — and have everyone competing for their attention. Any brand that becomes fixated only with the data, and forgets that the numbers are people, will be punished swiftly. Big data facilitates personalization, not a return to broadcast. Only brands that stay transparent, actively engaged, and true to their promises will manage to capture hearts and minds, earn trust, and command loyalty and premium.

Today's best brands are in touch with their own humanity and the humanity of others. They listen to consumers, employees, and investors alike and respond to the messages they receive. They want to know how people really feel about their company, they gather input and use it to drive innovation, and they realize that there is a lot to be learned from the wisdom of crowds. The challenge for brands is to respond quickly and with sincerity, or they risk compromising the relationship.

After all, brands evoke emotion. They are personal. They fulfill and delight us. They are reliable, familiar, exciting, surprising, and ever in the backdrop of our lives. They are woven into our memories, fantasies, and dreams. They have the power to touch and change us precisely because they are human creations, invented in response to both our deepest and most practical needs and desires.

The principles that build and maintain strong brands still hold true, but sometimes we forget that people are really at the center of it all. Resonant symbols, cultural images, emotional attractors, behavior definers … a brand is a living business asset: a concept, a feeling, a differentiating promise that grows, evolves, and will never die as long as a brand is kept alive in the minds of people. In order to succeed, brand owners must become more sensitive to the needs and desires of informed and discerning customers who demand high degrees of engagement — and consistency. And increasingly, the capacity of brands to deepen existing relationships and develop new ones relies on their ability to leverage new technology.

Those who manage the Top 100 Best Global Brands understand the role they play in peoples' lives and respond accordingly — building on successes and making up for mistakes. They are constantly nurturing their brands to keep pace in a rapidly changing world; they know that every market is different, every interaction counts, and every individual matters. Quite an achievement in such turbulent times. These strong, highly innovative brands have earned the respect and loyalty of many individuals who, collectively, contribute to their power and prosperity. They have also earned our respect and admiration, as well as a place in our report.

Jez Frampton

Global Chief Executive