Over the past four years, Vox Media’s partnership with Interbrand has given us ample opportunity to understand what’s happening in society and culture, and its impact on brands. As Daniel Binns, CEO of Interbrand NA, notes:
“There is simply an abundance of brands today (Nielsen Media estimates there are 500,000 brands today globally). Consider that the US consumer now has 60 plant-based meat brands from which to choose, or that there are more than 3.5 million apps now on Google’s Play store.”
MORE LEADS TO MORE
With so many different brands, platforms, and places to encounter advertising, choices become more difficult for consumers; in fact, today’s ecosystem is less about the paradox of choice and more about the paradox of chance.
New York Magazine, one of Vox Media’s 18 premium brands, explains this in an article about Amazon’s presumed plethora of options. Say you’re looking to buy a spatula, so you type “spatula” into the Amazon search box.
You’ll get what seems like thousands of options for spatulas from different brands, many with baffling brand names, but — spoiler alert — most are from the same third-party spatula suppliers who purchase large amounts of Amazon real estate. These are actually the same product, originating from the same place, just tagged with different SEO terms and imaginary brand names to elevate their search position.
IS IT BRAND LOYALTY OR CONSUMER LOYALTY?
A major challenge for marketers is creating brand loyalty in chaotic, oversaturated environments. In the past, people were loyal to brands, looking to them for direction and authority. In the digital age, consumers define loyalty in terms of how a brand can serve them. With ever more consumer-facing brands and media connections, we are also experiencing an adverse impact on brand differentiation & fragmentation.
So what’s the solution?
MOVE FROM PRODUCT TO HUMAN EXPERIENCE
Today’s most meaningful brands have vast potential to expand, leaping far beyond the narrow limits of their category or industry. Truly great brands don’t belong to any one category, but rather inhabit multiple “arenas” that build deep relevance by addressing core human needs with their products and services. In our current world, the way that brands meet people’s needs is far different than before. In fact, modern consumers universally find more value in experiences than the accumulation of possessions.
HOW ARENAS IMPACT QUALITY OF LIFE & WELL-BEING
Like any relationship, when you start to connect on an emotional or personal level versus a transactional level, you fundamentally flip the script of how and where to engage.
Interbrand calls this Arena thinking, which protects brands from category changes by putting consumer experience at the center. Per our survey, these colored circles represent the elements that people consider most important to their well-being and quality of life: Play, Fund, Dwell, Connect, Do, Explore, Provide, Learn, Taste, Thrive, Move, and Express.
ULTIMATELY, YOU SPEND ON THE ARENAS THAT CONTRIBUTE TO WELLNESS
Attaining and securing financial wealth is considered vital, but that may be because wealth enables the experiences that have become priorities. And, as a result, our financial priorities have started to evolve. Where past generations may have focused on physical assets like homes and vehicles, we’re now much more interested in spending that enhances our feeling of wellness, culinary pursuits, and hobbies. So, how does all this affect consumer loyalty? Brands need to focus on the holistic human self to connect with modern priorities.
HOW EACH ARENA ENHANCES OUR MANY SELVES
The “Arena” framework is a useful tool to identify and position your brand’s contribution to the enhancement of the human self. Essentially, it helps determine whether your brand can improve one or a combination of these attributes: social, physical, functional, and emotional.
Our “emotional” self seems to experience the most impact as a result of the experiences we value most. With the exception of eating well, which has obvious benefits to the physical self), activities centered around emotional wellness and prosperity are key to our quality of life.
For example, it’s easy to connect with the heartfelt story behind Fly by Jing, an upstart condiment and sauce company and 2023 Breakthrough Brand. As a result, we achieve the priority of “eating well” (Physical Self) while also changing how we feel (Emotional Self). Even a simple chili crisp can inspire loyalty when its backstory connects with our emotional selves.
WHY CONTEXT & PASSION MATTER
Arenas will be developed through core expertise and authentic passion. The environments you choose to advertise in matter quite a bit, and we’re not just talking about contextual placements. By promoting your brands next to high-quality, relevant, and trustworthy content — like we produce at Vox Media — you’ll reach people who are seeking reliable information, recommendations on products and services, and journalism that connects with people’s passion points. In other words, environments where people are likely to be pursuing or optimizing the experiences that they most value.
Over the next few months, we’ll release research with Interbrand around these new Arenas to help marketers reach consumers in new and experiential ways, providing useful tools in the Arenas that are most important: Play, Taste, and Fund.
This year’s Breakthrough Brands were selected because they already understand the path to consumer loyalty. They’ve built bold identities rooted in a clear vision — whether it’s making sustainability core to their business model (CAKE, HiPhi) or squeezing more value out of our habits and routines (Eight Sleep, Bilt). Some will even change the way we interact entirely with digital (OpenAI).
WE NEED TO LOOK AT BRAND MARKETING THROUGH THE EYES OF THE CONSUMER, NOT THE BRAND. A BRAND’S PRODUCTS BECOME DIFFERENTIATED WHEN THEY ENABLE A TRANSFORMATIONAL EXPERIENCE.
THE TRANSFORMATIONAL JOURNEY IS THE NEW CONSUMER BUYING JOURNEY.
To read more on our findings, see Interbrand’s influential Breakthrough Brands Report which reveals the 30 most innovative brands that are breaking through a crowded landscape and building bold identities rooted in a clear vision. The top 12 names, in particular, are making iconic moves to become the next generation of legacy brands. Download this year’s report here.
We worked with Vox Media and The Circus on a survey to help inform the report. The study was conducted among a nationally representative sample of the US digital audience 18+; sample size n=2,200
Daniel Binns, Global Chief Growth Officer, CEO NA
Tina Goldstone, Global Director, Marketing
Wilson Taylor, Senior Consultant, Verbal Identity
Emma Katovitz, Senior Manager, Growth
Caroline Stoddard, Consultant, Strategy
Kaitlin Clark, Marketing Assistant
Sebastian Fernandez, The Circus
Hillary Campbell, Infegy