In recent years, the top branding buzzword has been authenticity. Take note, that's all about to change.
Authenticity stole the spotlight with the meteoric rise of social media. Brands were forced to become more human in their customer interactions, and multimillion dollar Madison Avenue marketing campaigns were being overshadowed by tweets crafted by community managers in their early 20s.
The goal of authenticity was to make brands more relatable, and therefore more compelling. Brands were allowed to be their true selves and share the good, the bad, and even sometimes, the ugly. This meant less Photoshopped images, more casual everyday language, and new ways of connecting with dialed-in audiences.
To become more authentic, brands also engaged in a lot soul searching. Why do we exist? What do we stand for? What is our heritage? The brands that won this proverbial authenticity game expressed answers to these questions in the most honest and sometimes vulnerable ways. Think back to Levi's in the years following the Great Recession of 2008. When the world needed grit and could no longer afford $200 jeans, Levi's reminded the world of its roots making durable jeans for miners during the Gold Rush. By owning this true identity, the market responded more favorably than in earlier years when Levi's was trying to be something they were not.
Unfortunately, the quest for (or dare I say, excuse for) authenticity also led to crudeness. We all have that friend who defends embarrassing behavior by saying, "That's just who I am!" Therein lies the innate problem with authenticity. Owning mediocrity doesn't make a brand any less mediocre. For example, Taco Bell encouraging its fast food customers to have an extra meal daily may attract overeaters in the short-term, but it's a shaky foundation for long-term success because it lacks thoughtfulness.
On the campaign trail, Donald Trump brandished crude actions to such an extent that it caused a breaking point for authenticity. For example, his "boys will be boys" attitude towards sexual assault caused many to wonder if a "That's just who I am" mentality is an acceptable answer anymore. It begged the question, "If who you are can be better, why not just be better?"
From a branding perspective, thoughtfulness considers as many variables as possible. This includes customer needs, a brand's heritage, innovation opportunities, alongside social and environmental impact. One famous example of thoughtful design is Steve Jobs' determination to make the wires inside Apple devices beautiful, even though customers would never see them. Tim Cook, Job's successor at Apple, has applied thoughtfulness to employee and customer relations, which led him to recently speak out about immigrant rights.
When practiced consistently, thoughtfulness is refreshing. Customers appreciate that the brand went the extra mile, which can translate to long-term brand loyalty and word of mouth advertising. Therefore I challenge you to make thoughtfulness your rallying cry in 2017 and beyond.