4 Ways to Future-Proof Your Brand

By embracing category disruption

Brands need to think more strategically and longer term. - Credit by Getty Images

We are seeing disruptions that are shaking up categories today like never before. These disruptions will have a fundamental impact on the way consumers relate to your brand. It is no longer enough to update your brand’s portfolio regularly with brand extension launches or support your brand by simply changing the media approach. It’s time to think more strategically and longer term about the role and saliency of your brand and your business model in light of market disruptions.

What follows is a four-phase Brand Future-Proofing approach to help you think differently about embracing category disruption and leveraging it to your advantage.

Phase 1: Do not assume you know your category

You need to begin by redefining the category you compete in, and if you are a large player in that category, you should define your playing field so that you are a small player in a larger market. This will give you room to grow. For example, does your brand compete in the detergent category, or in cleaning? Once you have defined your category, the next step is to build a deep understanding of your category. A useful framework for this first phase is to look inside (Opinions), outside (Observations) and sideways (Inspiration).

  • Look inside (Opinions): Look at your own experiences in the category, have conversations with consumers, talk with specialists in the category, etc.
  • Look outside (Observation): Be on the lookout, evaluating and taking cues from key competitors and integrating them into your thinking.
  • Look sideways (Inspiration): What are best practices from adjacent categories, near-in and far-out?

Phase 2: Figure out what people in this new category really need

In a world where decision making is increasingly unconscious, we need to rely on new methodologies. Four types of methodologies will help your brand to really affect change:

  1. New implicit tools help us understand people’s motivations by measuring what they do NOT say. For example, we look at speed of response (Implicit Reaction Time) to understand emotional brand connections.
  2. A person’s actual behavior is generally a better prediction of future behavior than his/her stated behavior. There are many more options available today to track people’s on- and offline behavior. For example, new mobile tracking apps can easily be integrated into mobile questionnaires to track and segment people’s offline behavior.
  3. With the current developments in automated text and image and video analytics, we can better leverage unstructured data. Intelligently coding unstructured data can turn social data, open- ended voice-to-text responses and images/videos into quantitative data and deep consumer insights.
  4. And finally, data from connected appliances can and will help to understand people’s behavior. For example, data from connected fridges can help us to understand actual usage of products without the need for a questionnaire.

Phase 3: Create a brand that really stands out

It is increasingly important for brands to stand out from the crowd. That includes considering the category role your brand wants to play and how it wants to be positioned in the category. In Roland van der Vorst’s new book, Contrarian Branding, he describes three strategies to create a distinctive positioning by ‘camouflaging’ the competition:

  • Create an absolute contradiction in the same category. If you claim an absolute contradiction (e.g., Häagen-Dazs: sensually adult ice cream while others: childish), you are creating a clear distinction between your brand and the rest of the herd.
  • Use a different category to create an absolute contradiction. Position yourself outside the category: for example; you are not another brand of apples, instead, you’re the ‘most healthy candy.’
  • Combine two contradictory elements. Create tension by combining two elements that seem to be contradictory. For example, Zara effectively combined affordable and high fashion.

Phase 4: Make sure you can quickly pivot your brand

To ensure that the strategies are embedded in your organization, your brand needs a slim, fast and more forward-looking brand management solution. That means a focus on a few relevant brand KPI’s through short mobile surveys and social data intelligence. Insights from such a brand management tool will then be made available (nearly) real-time on a device agnostic delivery platform to enable you to quickly pivot your brand, keeping it on strategy and on target to achieve its growth objectives.


Consumers rely more than ever on brands to help them simplify their choices. Brands that leverage this consumer need are more likely to capture growth opportunities—but brands can only do this if they are willing to think differently about the relevance of their brands and leverage new and deeper consumer insights.

Douwe Rademaker is global CEO of Ipsos MarketQuest.

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