At a pop-up event in London last year, The Economist magazine served commuters ice cream topped with locusts and coffee made with water from a portable toilet, drawing attention to the current affairs title’s focus on future food security.
As far as marketing initiatives go, it was audacious and shocking. And it worked. The event generated an estimated $2.1 million and shifted perception to the extent that 30 percent fewer people regarded The Economist as boring.
It’s a great example of taking a brand’s core mission—The Economist preparing its readers for the future—and applying fresh, agile thinking to express it in a new and memorable but still relevant and authentic way. In other words, it’s a great example of brand fluidity in action.
Fluidity is a defining theme of our age. To succeed in an increasingly fluid world, brands themselves must be fluid by flexing and adapting to our circumstances. They must feel right, however and whenever they touch our lives. But how do we give a brand this sort of fluidity?
Use deep insights
There is no simple set of rules covering the creation of a fluid brand. What matters is designing your brand’s touchpoints—those moments when people are in contact with your brand and can gauge how well it addresses their needs—in a way that’s flexible enough to work across multiple channels, environments and audiences.
A critical first step is to fully map the customer’s experience of your brand. Within that experience, you will find human truths and insights that can inspire the design of brand assets with the kind of flexibility that’s needed for these fluid times.
Coherence over consistency
People thirst for the new and unexpected. Brands should use the power of design to meet that desire with fluid coherence rather than static consistency, which merely cuts off a brand experience at the knees, compromising the potential impact of each touchpoint.
Once you’re clear about your brand’s narrative, you can build a toolkit of iconic, flexible brand assets that flow effortlessly between the digital and physical worlds, creating a coherent interactive experience for your audience.
These assets might be visual, such as your colors, logo, typefaces and so on, or they might relate to the other four senses. They might be less tangible experiential or emotional elements, such as The Economist’s pop-up event.
The way you combine these creative ingredients will vary depending on the specific context, but each execution will still feel connected to your core and integral to your brand. Just like a person remains unchanged beneath a new hairstyle or different outfit.
Look at how brands such as Nike or Coca-Cola adapt iconic elements to fit many meanings and touchpoints. Nike’s core brand idea, for example, is that everyone is an athlete. It’s an idea that never feels stale because it’s fluid enough to apply across audiences, products and cultures as well as to every step of the brand journey.
Technology has added intimacy to the way brands touch people’s lives. VR, chatbots and AI assistants all play a part in the iterative ebb and flow of interactions that help to shape brand perceptions. A rich data-driven understanding of the people your brand interacts with will help you ensure these interactions remain meaningful. Thanks to new-tech solutions such as Google’s ARCore, brands are starting to experiment with augmented reality experiences that use the power of smartphones to sense their environment, understand the world and interact with information. The result is an intimate brand experience that seamlessly integrates virtual content with the real world.
Ever-evolving Google thinks about its customers’ experience first, identifies human needs and then uses its iconic brand assets to create interactions that embed themselves in people’s lives. These interactions vary (Google Maps on my phone is very different from Google Search on my laptop or Google Assistant in my living room), but they are coherently connected, with a common focus on answering my questions efficiently and usefully.
Building a fluid brand requires agility and some courage. But the reward is a deeper, more meaningful relationship with the people you want to connect with. Our increasingly fluid world has dramatically changed the way we live our lives; now it’s time for brands to step up and reflect this new reality.