Crystal Clear: Our Branding Predictions for 2023
Having stared deep into their crystal balls, five Base team members reveal which themes, trends, and developments they think will guide the world of branding through next year and beyond.
Recurring themes include embracing inconsistencies, adoption of AI tools, creating immersive experiences both online and off, and a move away from traditional social media platforms in favor of smaller online communities.
Coline Leclère, our Strategy Director in Brussels, thinks that brands will need to become more fluid, less serious, and take more risks. Here are her predictions:
Brands are living organisms. They are fluid, not regimented; alive, not automated. They need to be fed new and exciting stimuli to grow strong. In 2023 should make way for unbridled creativity and constant experimentation over consistency. Those who dare to go off-piste every now and then, to get a little strange, to try new things that don’t fit neatly into pre-established guidelines, to create something out of the ordinary, to challenge conventions surrounding creative execution… Those will trigger wonder and surprise. Those will stand out.
Seriousness is out
Seriousness no longer makes a brand aspirational or exclusive, it makes it elitist and tone-deaf. In 2023, brands will have to overcome the dusty Eurocentric luxury trope of elitism and make way for playful and inclusive communication. If they want meaningful connections, they will need to cultivate the practice of humor, play, wit, self-deprecation and imagination. Because it’s in the practice of humor that real creativity lies.
World-building meets branding
World-building seems to have entered the realm of brands. The creation of fictional worlds with unique settings, histories, aesthetics, and characters straddling the physical and the virtual, the fictional and the real. Considering products and advertisements as departure points for telling holistic stories, creating immersive worlds and generating emotional impact seems to be the latest marketing development for our content-congested landscape.
Daniel Peterson, Partner and Creative Director in Melbourne, believes that AI will continue to aid designers in their creative pursuits, but could also trap us in a cultural feedback loop:
Brands operating in the Blockchain space will continue to encourage designers to explore solutions that span multiple geographies, cultures, languages, and financial situations. This expansive imagining of the brand system may in turn challenge existing notions of taste and style, which have embedded within them structural inequalities and bias. In place we may see a prioritization of less orderly non-linear narratives that acknowledge that our history is pluralistic and partial, and our future will likely follow suit.
We’ll see rapid evolution and further adoption of AI tools operating as co-pilots supporting our creative efforts. Think Dall.e, Notion AI, GitHub Copilot, Lex, and more. These soulless little robot buddies will allow for further democratization of the creative process.
The pace of environmental and technological change will continue to increase, further exaggerating the distance between those capable of comprehending it and keeping up, and those left behind and disorientated by it. By comparison, the pace of cultural change will slow as we run out of nostalgia to mine, leading to a pervasive yet frenetic grayness. Paradoxically, the AI tools we develop will employ our recent history as their primary data set leading us to relive our last few decades, over, and over again. A tight cultural feedback loop that branding must seek to disrupt in order to capture the attention and imagination of audiences.
Progressive brands will continue to turn their backs on consistency in favor of cohesion. Constellations of disparate activities and initiatives that while interdependent will provide a greater degree of freedom and allow for play and experimentation. This approach will seek to engage consumers disillusioned by the cognitive dissonance of large tech and media brands and increasingly turning away from traditional social media platforms in favor of smaller community hubs on WeChat, WhatsApp and Discord.
For Brussels' Digital Director Thomas Byttebier, developments and adaptations in the way brands use and interact with technology will include more tools in ecommerce, more interactions with customers on social media, and more experimentation in Web3:
As ecommerce keeps growing, brands will look at physical retail more and more as places of experience, wonder, entertainment… Helping them to create branded "destinations" and retain customers in store longer, places of social interaction.
As a contrast: even more focus on practicality / ease of use in ecommerce websites, use of AR and more tools to enhance practicality: size and fit, how to come as close as possible to seeing products in real life on the web.
"Traditional" social media platforms like Twitter, Instagram and even TikTok will decline, in favor of closed / private communities such as Whatsapp, Discord, Reddit etc. Brands will therefore need to find a way to find their place in these (or begin them themselves) in an authentic way: being helpful, sharing, offering advantages… They will have to stop talking about only themselves, as this doesn’t work in those new environments.
NFTs and crypto will continue to have a hard time, but brands will finally look beyond the buzzwords and pick up the *philosophical idea* behind Web3 (as a reaction to the traditional ways): a more democratic, community-driven web… experimenting, trying to figure out the best ways of using this (in their community’s favor).
Thierry Brunfaut, Partner and Executive Creative Director in Brussels, believes that after Covid, the war in Ukraine, and the energy crisis, it is more evident every year that making predictions is hazardous! But brands with a clear vision, a clear notion of who they are (and are not), and who can adapt in real time will prevail:
One brand = One person
People will love brands for their charismatic leaders, ideas, point of view, and concrete actions their brands undertake. In the current crisis environment, brands with embodied leadership will stand out. Mega brands owned by opaque mega groups will suffer more daily to connect with the audiences. They will increasingly be mistrusted for the lack of the human factor.
Action vs words
In 2023, brands will be defined by actions, not words. Complex wordy brand strategies will be useless versus good and simple concepts applied with grace or humor. The broad public is tired of the continuous and overwhelming brand messaging regarding environmental, social, or cultural issues thrown at them. Brand leaders should quit saying that "they work for a better world." Stop claiming it; just do it.
Brand guidelines are dead. The world is changing so fast that stiff visual consistency doesn't matter anymore. What we used to identify as consistent brand codes (logo, color, typography, iconography) is questioned. What matters now is to have a strong 'brand attitude' coupled with a strong signature. Brands embracing today's chaos with free versatile creative brand campaigns, initiatives, and collaborations will lead the pack.
Artificial Intelligence evidence
AI will make its breakthrough in branding. Whether in image creation, illustration, animation, or sound, creatives in brand agencies will increasingly use AI as a tool to create instead of seeing it as a threat to their future. A whole new world of creative possibilities will open to brands.
In 2023, sound is going to play a greater role in a few key areas, according to Geoff Cook, Partner and Director of Growth in New York:
Gearheads like myself can hear the difference between the low gurgle of an American V8 and the piercing whirl of a high compression Ferrari engine from a mile away. With more and more silent electric cars coming from Mercedes, Audi, BMW, Hyundai and more, manufacturers will be presented with a unique opportunity to develop soundtracks for their vehicles. Simply put, sound engineers will be able to develop a "Porsche sound," a "Rivian sound" and so on that will enable manufacturers to further brand their cars, but also make them more safe in the process by alerting pedestrians to their presence.
As we go in and out of the current and future pandemics, public spaces will undoubtedly become more fraught. Sound installations can help to alleviate stress by calming and/or piquing the interest of visitors. Moving beyond the days of the muzak soundtrack, public spaces can today provide contextual sounds to offer much needed moments of repose.
With the ever increasing shift to ecommerce, retailers will continue to look for ways to make their environments more emotionally engaging. Site specific, mini sound installations like those popularized by the David Bowie exhibition, can help to deliver information and emotion at given moments throughout a store environment, from specific vignettes to convey a certain feeling, to dressing rooms, cash wraps, and more.
Edited by Dan Howarth.