The old books on branding are no longer valid in this changing world. New branding philosophies are required. Over and above, one overarching rule no longer applies. Anthony Lopez compares the evolution of branding with human evolution

464 pages of Yuval Noah Harari’s  book ‘Sapiens’, takes us through an amazing journey of 150,000 years of human existence. From the plodding beginnings where time stretches interminably, we have now reached an era where everything changes faster than we can think. Culture is changing because of technology, because we are able to process things at a much faster rate.

The beginnings
Let me recapitulate the journey. Before civilization, we were hunter-gatherers. In order to stay alive, we moved from place to place scavenging for food.  Out of the many strains, finally only one human genome survived – the homo sapiens (Latin for “wise person”). From the very beginning, we had a superior advantage. Cognitive intelligence allowed us to adapt quickly to overcome challenges. At every point, we were reinventing ourselves. We began to plant and sow and became farmers, entering the agricultural phase. Our single capacity to generate food in abundance, time and again, changed the shape of the world irreversibly, making us the dominant species. As settlers, land acquisition became important and certain kinds of land gained importance as more desirable. We started engaging in other activities for our livelihood and support systems. We no longer had to be constantly on the move.

The power of community
We formed communities, finding that skills from various people helped to contribute to our progress. That one person cannot do everything solely did not have to be a liability. We began to exchange goods, trade, borrow and lend. All these changes happened over a very long period of time, slowly improving.  Small settlements became villages, graduating to towns and cities. Individuals went to work in teams; leaders became chieftains who became kings and emperors. Men of power came into control as we moved towards organized societies.

Inventions transformed our way of life
Every invention – fire, the wheel, electricity, telephone, computer, web and mobile phone – brought about a major change. With each invention, society changed, and there were enormous revolutions in practically every sphere. However, each one of them took a long time to permeate into a way of life. Once it did, it stayed through a human lifetime and even to the next generations. Each transformation allowed us to assert our own aims to secure our future.

The new paradox in branding
Switching over to the present, even as it passes.  With technology, change is extraordinarily fast. Some fifty years ago, when brands were evolving, there was time to play out a character or a strategy. Now, the journey of a brand is quite different: if you get it wrong you could become irrelevant. The design that is created for an elitist brand quickly percolates down, becoming available to a less expensive product as well. Be it a hybrid car or a smartphone, the technology of a much coveted brand and also its features can be smartly adapted by a lower-end product.  The pertinent question is: how do you stay relevant in the chain and hold the value of your brand where it is diminishing over time?  You are in a rat race trying to play the impossible catch up just to survive.

A brand’s evolution is determined by human behavior and response. Further, because of the complex inter-relationships and influencers from many directions, this is not easy to foretell. With information so quickly interchangeable, the brand has to be prepared to respond not by predicting the possible future but by responding to an unpredictable situation. Therefore, it has to be agile. The current generation of mindsets is quickly evolving to meet these new expectations. Conversations and exchanges spark off new ways to hasten the brand’s growth.

The relay race
Let’s switch to the designer. The designer today is caught in a challenging spot. Having always had to juggle many roles in order to deliver a creative product, even now, he or she has no defined role from the customer’s point of view. Today, with design percolating through all fields its meaning has also considerably broadened to indicate many things – strategy, identity, waste management, designing apps, phones, cars, websites, products and labels on cookie jars, book covers, games and toys. The idea of being open-minded is very appealing for a designer, as it gives us the opportunity to develop a never-before-done solution. There is no way I can place myself even in the near future and predict what the brand has to deal with.  We have to be completely immersed in the moment and come up with a direction that fits both strategically and tactically. It means not being afraid to fail. If we do, quickly change, modify and move on with no regrets. We require quick prototypes, test, launch, improve, launch. That’s the order of the day. So, what does the designer have to become? From long term strategic thinkers and brand builders, we have to nurture the agility of a tactical thinker – the salesman and the advertiser – into our being. We have to develop solving multiple problems simultaneously replacing linear project management in the matrix.

Brand like rubber-band
The challenge obviously lies in how to create such responsive environments and ecosystems. Designers need to work even more closely with clients and their customers, permeating all platforms. Our consumer-facing clients today are super agile, constantly moulding their business to newer offerings and extensions. They work hard on communications marketing and sales is even more responsive as emerging communication channels are not only giving fresh ways to communicate but also creating new languages and cultures.

How do we build systems that allow for change, that are adaptable and pluggable? Stepping back into the history room, agile brands have kept up this pace always and others unable to mould themselves to change, have completely disappeared. It is, in a way, like the human genome. Over centuries, many strains die out and only one survives and within that we get zillions of types. So here we are, sitting with the guy who makes the wheel of the horse-cart. It is no longer an item in our landscape so he has to leave and his son has to find a new way of doing things that may not be a continuity of what his father was doing. Like a single-celled amoeba with its flexible shape, branding today needs to become so simple that it can assume any shape. Within this basic form, we have to create a multicellular organism with a response that is absorbent, intelligent, cognizant and relevant. As teams we are working every more closely – trying to comprehend, taking a call, taking action, working in tandem in real time, if we succeed we forge ahead, if there is a set back, regroup and start all over again. In many ways we are back to basics – we are becoming  hunter-gatherers of an evolved kind in a new matrix coming out true survivors of the human race.

“You must be shapeless, formless, like water. When you pour water in a cup, it becomes the cup. When you pour water in a bottle, it becomes the bottle. When you pour water in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Water can drip and it can crash. Become like water my friend.” — Bruce Lee

— By Anthony Lopez, Founder & CEO Lopez Design

Illustrations by: Agnisesh Setlur, Lopez Design

Written by Anthony Lopez