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Stay Safe. Stay Strong.

Posted by: Joe Harrod on August 12, 2011

“First of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

So spoke Franklin Delano Roosevelt upon his inauguration in 1933, as America and the world languished in the depths of the Depression. And trepidation, temerity, and uncertainty are with us still. Boom and bust has returned. Consumerism and fecklessness have created a rioting ferment in the streets. Anarchy had an identity crisis and got organised, borrowing the tools of new media, which are evolving faster than thought. There is talk of a Double Dip.

But, let’s have a Cornetto instead. The sun is trying to shine, and the darkest hour is just before dawn. Warren Buffet counsels us to be fearful when others are greedy, and greedy when others are fearful.

This is an epoch of uncertainty. In addition to economic slowdown and civil unrest, we’re faced by a confusing, volatile world based on interactive digital channels. We keep abreast of the information revolution, but our clients are not sure what messages to share globally, or how to prepare for two-way conversations and the instant, often unfair karma of the digital age.

Creating and adding Brand Value doesn’t require us to come to the party armed with a hipster’s guide to Blackberry Messenger. As commentators on the London riots so pointedly failed to realize, social media is not a threat, or a promise. It is a messaging device. Which is not to say that it doesn’t break the mould. It is wonderfully interactive, instant, and complex.

Audiences, rioters, consumers, and partners are all in the same exciting but confusing environment, with a world of choices at their fingertips. And this uncertainty creates a desire for recognition: people crave clarity, consistency, understanding, and authenticity. All these are aspects of Brand Strength.

To sit with Brand Analytics for a week is to take a crash course in how Interbrand builds and protects economic value. Their work involves reams of research, mind-boggling statistics, and unfathomable maths, but it invariably nails the fundamentals of a brand: what it stands for, how it works, and whether people trust it.

Brands need to be responsive as well, and stay relevant. But if they stand for strong values and great experiences they will be compelling to their customers and potential customers.

A recent article entitled "I’ll Be Your Mirror" by Interbrand New York’s Nora Geiss argues brilliantly that “reflecting the needs and desires of the audience does not mean falsely adopting their lingo and shrugging into their trendy dress code.” She describes a shift in consumer decision-making away from “I want” to “I am.” This is the single most important outcome of interactive social media. In the “I am” world consumer choices align them with a brand. By buying a brand, or mentioning it, consumers give it a personal endorsement, and they say something about themselves at the same time. London copywriters wear New York sneakers. Shanghai housewives crave Paris couture. It doesn’t matter if a brand is old fashioned as long as it is responsive enough to endorse and increase a sense of identity.

Our world can be very individualistic. But as spontaneous good deeds like #riotcleanup show us, people also cherish context and community. Social media is used to spread good vibes too – “Stay safe. Stay strong.” was one of thousands of anti-riot solidarity tweets. Like-minded souls coalesce around good ideas, charitable deeds, great art… and brands. A brand may attract and engage them, but its most important role is to stand for something. To be desirable, delightful – and dependable.

So what does this mean for our clients? How do they stay ahead of the game? Should they try and attach themselves to something cool? Are they missing out on the next big thing? Do they need to change? The answers are obvious: Stay calm. Stay true to yourself. Be coherent. Invest in your brand.

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