How quickly do your eyes roll when you hear the word “branding” in conversation? Instantly, is what I’m guessing. That’s because the term is so overused in the workplace, it’s transcended corporate world and entered the zeitgeist of popular culture. Just take a look at people’s LinkedIn or Instagram headlines: “Web Copywriter/Scrabble Champ,” “Talent Acquisition Geek,” “Caffeine-Dependent Lifeform.” They’re cute and attention grabbing, for sure. But they also point to this clichéd use of branding outside the bounds of sales and marketing.
So let’s take a step back a bit and look at the word “brand” from a more theoretical standpoint. What does it really mean? And why is it so relevant?
Author and marketing entrepreneur, Seth Godin, says forget logos, fonts, and colors. When it comes to branding, that’s just pretense. Instead, Godin says a brand is simply the bridge connecting product to consumer.
“A brand is a shortcut for all the expectations I have for what you’re about to do for me,” he says. “It’s a shortcut for trust, for promises, for conversations.”
UX expert Kate Kaplan agrees: “A brand is the holistic sum of customers’ experiences, composed of visual, tonal, and behavioral components, many of which are shaped by interaction design.”
In other words, a brand really doesn’t define a product. Rather, it’s the consumer who provides the inspiration for the brand itself. Together, we are all brand creators.
Despite the eye rolls, we know branding is critical to a company’s success. Organizations want to make sure their brands stand out among the competition, and they do that by designing innovative products with distinctive qualities and capabilities, all to provide consumers the kind of unique experiences they’ve never had before. Marketing experts then formulate product-specific messaging to consumers, communicating value props and competitive advantages that separate their respective items from the rest of the pack. Without these strong brand differentiators, companies put themselves in a precarious position, competing with counterparts on price alone, and that’s a difficult race to win. That said, brand differentiators are among a company’s strongest assets. They facilitate a retailer’s relationship to buyers, and they ultimately drive reputation and growth.
A PIVOT TOWARD BRAND CURATION
Interestingly enough, retailers have extended this idea of brand differentiation from the boardroom to the broader market, allowing consumers to have more say in product development. How are they doing this, you ask? They’re embracing digitization, leveraging artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning technologies to hone in on customer behavior.
“Retailers who leverage data from these technologies can learn what works and what doesn’t in established processes, including those in sourcing and supply chain. This data has the potential to improve shipping, sampling, fabrics, material selection, and more, if used efficiently. And it’s the digital platform that gives retailers access to this data.”
Besides assisting retailers in making more accurate decisions on things like sourcing, sampling, shipping, and cost, the digital data also provides strategic insight into consumer values and shopping preferences. And with support from the multi-enterprise ecosystem, both retailers and supply chain stakeholders can leverage digital speed and connectivity to boost overall efficiency of the product creation process. Without digitization, you lose the speed and connectivity. Without the multi-enterprise network, you lose the data. And without the data, there’s zero chance of innovation.
PAVING THE WAY FOR CONSUMER-DRIVEN BRAND CURATION
Here are some great examples of consumer-driven innovation, courtesy of Kohl’s and Target, two of the biggest names in American retail.
Kohl’s recently announced its “Curated by Kohl’s” program, an initiative that’s set to introduce emerging, buzzworthy brands to customers across the country. By partnering with the social media platform Facebook, Kohl’s is able to source the online community for innovative brands with strong social followings. The retailer then features these freshly curated products both in store and online, giving brand owners a massive platform and high-profile visibility. “Curated by Kohl’s” collections are refreshed quarterly, which helps make even more room for new products across various categories, including apparel, accessories, home, and general merchandise.
Similarly, Target has teamed up with the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum in New York City to give budding designers a chance to flex their creative muscles. In co-sponsorship with Target, the museum hosts its annual National High School Design Competition, which invites young adults from all 50 states to design innovative solutions to unique challenges. Finalists receive mentorship from Target’s product development team, while the winner gets to tour Target HQ and have his or her design featured in Target stores across Manhattan.
In 2017, 15-year-old Tova Kleiner took home first-place with her design: a food delivery service that provides fresh, local produce to seniors and homebound adults. Now the NYC teen can say she’s in the same company as competition judge, Martha Stewart.
BOOSTING INNOVATION THROUGH THE MULTI-ENTERPRISE
It’s one thing to conceive an idea and bring it to life. But it’s a whole other ordeal getting that product to market as quickly as possible, meeting consumer demand and extending brand visibility at the same time. Move too slowly, and a competitor could swoop right in, beating you to the punch while putting you at an immediate disadvantage.
Retailers and brand owners can cast these worries aside by implementing a multi-enterprise platform solution equipped with accuracy, agility, and real-time connectivity. The multi-enterprise platform also supports fast-tracked product development, risk mitigation, cost cutting, and performance enhancement across the supply chain. All it takes is single network connection for retailers, suppliers, and third-party stakeholders to come together, driving both innovation AND product delivery. For a process that once took years to complete, this multi-enterprise power boost is most certainly a welcome change for retailers everywhere.
For more fun facts on product innovation and technology, read our IDC report on the rise of cloud-based collaborative sourcing solutions.