“A person without a smiling face must not open a shop”. This ancient Chinese proverb remains 100% valid today, and I use it every day to remind my clients that the retail and communications industry’s basics haven’t changed in centuries.
Simple as this: branding is the smiling face of the business. We can think of great helpers such as technology, social networks, artificial intelligence, but when we want to sell our car we will still wash it before potential buyers come so that it looks shiny and we can get the best possible price. It is a way to “brand” our product.
A quarter of a century ago, when I started working on branding, I needed to explain all the time to clients that the brand is not just the logo. I have to admit that in all these years the discipline has spread a lot, and there is much greater knowledge in all audiences that a brand is a combination of content and form, intangible and tangible components, strategy and design.
So it may sound strange that I now speak of the brand as “the smiling face of the business”. But it still is. Because whoever smiles genuinely and achieves a real connection with the other, does so as an expression of their complete wellbeing, not as a false grimace. Today the brand serves as a formidable tool that crosses the entire body of companies and institutions, circulating as a vital fluid throughout a communication system formed by collaborators, suppliers, clients, users, and other stakeholders.
But just as it happens to all of us, when the environment is disturbed, our sensitive internal systems suffer, and smiling begins to cost us a little more. The world altered by the pandemic is undoubtedly a cluster of factors that affect the "ability to smile" for companies and institutions, which are nothing other than human groups involved in corporate missions, following different corporate visions.
So is it time to innovate? Is innovation the recipe to face the post-Covid world? According to the dictionary, innovation is “to make changes in something established”. But to make changes, we need to know what thing or things within the established environment need to be modified or adapted. And there is no doubt that the brand of a company, institution, or product will need to adapt to the new reality.
But does only the brand need innovation? After the initial impact of the pandemic, companies have woken up and have already begun to innovate, in the strict sense of the term, because they are making inevitable changes in all dimensions that intervene in the chain of operations. Digital transformation, proclaimed by all business leaders as the standard of innovation until 2019 (but which did not necessarily have enough budget allocated in business plans), became in 2020 the only option for most companies to continue to keep a communication bridge open with internal and external audiences. As one of our clients likes to say, "the coronavirus was more efficient in digitally transforming companies than the best of the specialized consultants.”
In the post-COVID world, not being digital will not be an option. Nevertheless, for companies that still have physical touchpoints in their customer journey, the coexistence between these and digital ones will be mandatory. The thread that sews all these connections is precisely the brand, whose presence is critical at UX and UI levels. It will be necessary to innovate because the questions that the new reality raises demand innovative answers. The new customers’ demands will undoubtedly include new consumption habits, frequency of contact, health safety requirements, personalization, interactivity, citizen participation, respect for diversity and inclusion, social responsibility, and so on.
And what will the real challenge be? Manage to meet the new requirements… while still smiling.
By Fabian Koniszczer
Managing Director at FutureBrand Hispanic America