Five minutes with Ant Cox
Ant Cox, leader of Dragon Rouge London's strategy team, shares with Transform magazine what he thinks are the most important brand priorities for the difficult year ahead, from sustainability to digitalisation to brand-consumer relationship.
Why is it important to establish a firm brand strategy amidst growing uncertainty bout the future?
It’s often surprising how many businesses don’t have strong brand strategy at the heart of their decision making. Mature businesses that have shifted direction or experienced rapid recent growth may have brand strategy in place, but have simply outgrown it. For young businesses where key factors are constantly changing, investing in advertising focused on awareness and distinction rather than holistic brand thinking has been the priority.
Either way, this may deliver in strong performance in the short term, but not strong brands in the long term because they lack a platform of consistent yet flexible ambition and understanding. Establishing or strengthening your brand strategy will help best position you to pursue new opportunities, win new clients and empower your internal culture.
What role will digitalisation play in creating effective brand identities?
The importance and role of digital channels for brands was undoubtedly one of the biggest impacts of 2020, whether through necessity, convenience or the fast evolution of technology and adoption of tools. Whether you were accelerating your existing digital strategy or scrambling to make do with what you had, the question of how best to design digital experiences is front and centre for all. For many brands this exposes existing gaps in their visual and verbal identity, often not built with digital at front of mind and lacking breadth and depth in assets, particularly voice, motion and sonic.
You might only need evolution to an already strong identity, or you might want to see a revolution in how your brand expresses itself, but either way identity change with a digital-first mindset should be seen as a future-proofing investment.
What about experience?
We’ve always championed brands as the sum total of the experiences they create. It’s not enough to define what a brand stands for, but how it is recognised through its behaviour, whatever the environment. With businesses being forced to focus online with direct-to-consumer channels, e-commerce and online video meetings replacing in store experiences and face-to-face meetings, that thinking becomes even more important. Brands will continue to need to adapt at speed while maintaining consistency across different channels. Building brands on behaviours (actions you take and are recognised for) rather than values (things you believe in) helps establish clear brand experience principles that provide a firm strategic foundation of ambition and understanding.
A brand built on experiences provides a consistent thread that runs through every touchpoint that is brought to life in different ways across different channels.
What type of relationship should brands strive to have with their consumers?
It’s clear that the impact of COVID has and will continue to influence consumer behaviour for some time. As more people have been looking local, wanting to greater work / life balance and continue to judge business for their broader action (or inaction) on social issues, the brands that appear to be getting audience understanding right go above and beyond the immediate transaction of the product or service. Whether they aim to empower us to make better decisions or use their business as a platform for good, it’s never been more important to for brands to build meaning and affinity.
Taking every opportunity to engage with consumers, customers or clients at and understand how what is important to them is shifting is essential in order to build brand activities that will resonate.
2020 saw the fight against climate change and for sustainability come into sharp focus. How does that affect brands?
COVID has provoked increases in sustainability driven purchase behaviour and increasing demand for positive behaviour and action from businesses and brands. There’s also been growing noise around green investment, as doing good for the planet becomes even more good for business too. This is the time to fix your vision on a more sustainable future and be clear on your role and contribution to it. Rather than treating sustainability as a sideshow in communication terms it’s essential to move beyond corporate reporting to actively telling your sustainability story through the lens of your brand. It means shared ownership of the narrative, all aligned to present a coherent and more powerful thread, clear on your point of view and principles, in your voice, and creatively engaging.