The days of brands representing pre-packaged, distant megalithic entities that were unapproachable and hidden behind layers of corporate armour are at an end. Today's consumers expect to be able to interact with brands, demanding new products and services, and becoming a more active part of the conversation.
Brands and branding techniques are changing to reflect this, and it's not uncommon to see brand ambassadors directly communicating with their customers over social media. But branding is about much more than a colour scheme choice, using the right font and ensuring an exclusion zone around the logo is maintained.
A brand represents everything about a business: what it is, what it produces, what values it stands for and what people it employs. Brands are losing the elitist, impersonal and unapproachable skins, and are becoming entirely more human.
All of which begs the question, what is going to happen in 2016 for branding? How will brands and branding change and develop to reflect the needs of both businesses and customers? In broad terms the answer is a lot more of the same developments we've already seen starting to come to fruition, but with an accelerated move toward the example set by some of the first movers in the new human-centric era.
So here's what we're tipping to be the major trends in branding design for 2016. Do you agree? Have we missed any upcoming fashions? Let us know what you think in the comments below!
01. A shift from brand to brand experience
As we've already discussed, the way in which brands present themselves and interact with the end-consumer is going to become ever more important. As a result, branding will no longer focus on simply projecting a particular image or lifestyle, but will start to actively promote a positive experiential interaction with their customers. All brands want to create an ongoing relationship with their customers, and this evolved approach will allow them to meet users' needs more effectively.
On Trend: Branding will involve ever more 'soft' elements; less focus on font, colour and imagery, and more on connecting with the user.
02. Make it more personal
Brands have long recognised that they mean different things to different consumers, but with the arrival of social media platforms as the principle method of interaction with their customers (excepting the act of actually buying and consuming), brands are already recognising that in order to compete they need to create a tailored, personal version of themselves for each customer.
This has long been a feature of high-end brands, with the ability to fly out and collect your new Mercedes car from the factory in Germany, or have a Rolex watch tailored to meet your own needs, but increasingly we're seeing this trend migrate into the mainstream. Whether you're Apple, offering engraving on the back of your devices, or Coca Cola creating versions of cans and bottles featuring forenames, personal is getting really big.
On Trend: Brands will interact with customers on a far more personal level, tailoring their offering to meet individual needs.
You might be forgiven for thinking that this is the same as becoming more personal, but it couldn't be more different. Brands have traditionally been a facade that has represented a set of values, but consumers are increasingly turned off by the idea of a faceless company that doesn't have any humanity about it.
Think in terms of how Starbucks and Amazon have suffered negative press for their complex tax affairs. Instead, brands are increasingly turning to the people behind the facade to represent themselves, as a human connection creates a strong and often emotional bond.
On Trend: Branding will move toward using more human attributes to connect emotionally with users and consumers.
04. Sourcing internally
There has long been a tendency to bring in professional help when it comes to branding, and we don't expect this to change much in the future. But while historically the pros will have tried to get under the skin of a business to tease out the values that need to be represented in a brand, we do expect this to shift toward a more self-initiated process.
Branding messages and intelligence is likely to come from inside a company rather than outside, which ties in with all the other trends we're predicting for 2016.
On Trend: Internal stakeholder and employees will offer useful insights, and help develop branding in surprising but effective directions.
Words: Sam Hampton-Smith
Sam Hampton-Smith is a freelance author and front-end designer/developer based in Scotland.
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