Is your brand going to be that important to me in the future?
The question of how much brands still matter is hotly debated. From a personal point of view, the short answer is that, over time, I can see brand names becoming less and less important to me. My purchasing habits are moving away from decisions based on familiarity and recognition to fulfilling needs-based priorities - my desire for value, for quality, for reliability and so on.
Perhaps the main issue is that, once upon a time, a brand stood as a kind of shorthand for all of these things. When it wasn’t so easy to independently verify whether any given product was the best value or the most reliable available, you put your trust in a brand to deliver. Now, thanks to the internet and the growing influence of digital technology, it is increasingly easy to make an evidence-based judgement on any list of criteria you like for every purchase you make. Personally, I think this is causing the power of the brand to slowly fade. I don't mean that brands are not going to exist but more, but recognition is going to become less important to the overall shopping experience.
There’s no doubt that technology is playing a bigger and bigger role in our shopping habits. It is already pretty easy to imagine a situation in the near future where the use of recommendation engines and personalisation tools to pick out the best possible products for us, automating key parts of the shopping journey, is standard practice. With advances in AI, it surely won’t be too long until we all have a digital personal assistant on duty 24/7 working to make every part of our lives better and easier. Let’s say it’s time to buy a car or a washing machine. You could do your own research… or you get your digital assistant to do it. You list your search criteria - send me the top three washing machines for less than £400”. In a couple of minutes you get a notification that your digital assistant has three examples that fit your particular needs or preferences.
Once, you might have used brand names as a shortcut by simply looking up available Hotpoint or Whirlpool appliances for under £400. But with this digital assistant-driven shopping trip, a brand name has not even been considered - our AI bots won’t give brand a moment’s thought unless we ask them to. The logical conclusion of this trend in automated, personalised decision-making; a powerful AI will scour the internet looking at reviews and ratings, perusing manuals for ease of use and maybe even insurance claims to capture a true picture of reliability. Thanks to its Machine Learning capabilities, following thousands of hours of answering our queries, monitoring our digital activity, sharing our day-to-day lives, our smart assistant will have built up an exceptionally fine-tuned understanding of our tastes, preferences, priorities and concerns when it comes to purchasing everything from groceries to high value electrical goods. It will perhaps understand our motivations and habits when it comes to shopping better than we do, and always present us with the perfect choices - neatly clipped into a compact shortlist for convenience, of course, because long lists would require us to do work we didn’t need to do.
The major change will be that those that make the best products, proven with data, will be the winners. We will also start to see the number of emotional purchases begin to decline - AI has little room for nostalgia and impulse (unless it has learned that we enjoy making impulsive, nostalgia-tinged purchases). We will start to make purchase decisions like Spock - all cold hard logic.
The future is going to be tough for brands - tougher than it is now for sure, especially as they will no longer be able to lean as heavily on their heritage. Yet we can perhaps already glimpse a different type of branding emerging. When we talk about the “data” that evidences the quality of a product, what we are really talking about is all the digital content that a smart assistant could possibly use to make its comparisons - independent and user reviews, customer posts on social media, media articles, product pages, influencer endorsements and so on. The successful brands of the future will be those that own the digital ‘buzz’ around their products, which will largely boil down to loyal and enthusiastic customer feedback and high quality curated product content.
It is also the case that new and emerging brands have more opportunities than ever before, to break through and grab the limelight from incumbent players. Users are now far happier to give new brands a chance and are far less loyal to established names, as our Future Shopper surveys have discovered. Brands should be encouraged to focus on delivering an all round great experience for their customers - and that’s got to be a good thing. Where this has to start is with a fantastic product. If it’s not great, trust me - you won’t convince me to buy it.
Wish to explore this further?
Here’s our view on 8 major challenges facing brands in a digital-first world, including:
- Why brands need to change because of marketplaces and the "thumbnailisation" of the brand
- Why brands need to make DTC work!
- How Zero UI will change how brands are chosen and perceived
- How brands will have to become omnichannel and innovative
- How Gen Z wants to interact via social