Jul 24, 2018

Brands in a VUCA world

What brands can learn from Gen Z

We're heading towards a VUCA world. VUCA: volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. Volatile because we are seeing tides of change over increasingly short spaces of time. Uncertain because it is becoming harder to predict the future, and the prospect of surprise is greater. Complex as we witness the number of stakeholders and key players increase. Ambiguous given that the sheer quantity of interpretations and opinions on a single given topic results in even more vagueness.

Brands, too, are heading towards a VUCA world. Take the alcohol sector, for instance. It's volatile because trends are changing faster and faster: a new cocktail supplants another cocktail at breakneck speed. Mojito one year, spritz the next, Moscow Mule today. Uncertain because as French vineyards are being bought up by the Chinese (for instance), French uniqueness and expertise is being jeopardised. Complex because the advent of the Loi Evin tobacco and alcohol law, anti-alcohol campaigns and European lobbies mean it is hard for us to make our voices heard. And lastly, ambiguous because it's a struggle to know what to believe: when it comes to young people, there is both talk of binge drinking and drinking responsibly. We are supposedly drinking less, but better. Or perhaps we will all end up drinking non-alcoholic drinks? Or maybe even alcoholic drinks with health benefits?

Since the mid-1990s, we've slowly been transitioning from a unilateral, stable period into one that is unilateral and complex.
For brands, it has become just as hard to stand out as it is to keep a consistent course in terms of brand positioning and identity.

And yet, one generation has come up with the answer. The renowned 'Generation Z', born in the mid-1990s, precisely when the VUCA world was emerging.
Who is in a better position than Generation Z to help us to grasp what strategies we need to be implementing to make ourselves heard, without losing our integrity?

To achieve this, they start from the assumption that wealth does not equate with conformity:

  • Identities that are entwined. Given the fact they mingle with people from different backgrounds and they come into contact with a whole host of multicultural influences, it stands to reason that they are going to gather a variety of different references in order to forge an identity that they continually reinvent. According to a 2016 Ziba study, 81% of Generation Z Americans agree with the following: dealing with your multiple identities is part of daily life. Snapchat or filters illustrate this behaviour.
  • Skills multiplying. These sorts of people are known as "slashers" (in reference to the '/ 'symbol). In other words, skills don't pile up, they overlap. The can-do generation is keen on online tutorials, which are particularly prominent on YouTube. Simultaneousness, multitasking, versatility - to a generation that refuses to be bored, everything is technologically possible. Be it filming, modifying, editing, mixing - they are capable of rapidly learning new techniques and assimilating new behaviours.
  • An explosion in interests. Brought up on the philosophy of YOLO, 'You Only Live Once', the cool version of Carpe Diem, they constantly strive to have all sorts of different experiences at any given moment. Given the low-cost products and services on offer, the ease and speed of access to information, and the sheer choice out there, it largely ends up being mission accomplished.

A sheer abundance of influences, references, skills and experiences.

Yet they do not conform: there is just one guideline they follow: themselves.
It is their identity that takes various forms, not their personality.
After all, in the complex web of daily life, making yourself heard is all about adapting whilst still being true to who you are. The process is all about moulding yourself, but also finding where you should be.

Here are some brands who have already made this switch in the field of design, in three different ways:

  • Responsive & adaptive design – by adapting to each medium the brand uses to express its identity. Coca Cola.
  • Responsive & adaptive design (2) – adapting to different targets and/or environments. Sonic Shakes.
  • Plural iconicity – by adapting one of the brand's major features. Lacoste Live!
  • Flexible design – creating a language that can be shaped. E Bologna (city branding).

All in all, these are brands that adapt their identity whilst remaining true to their brand positioning. After all, as Tinker Hatfield, the American designer, reminds us: "Good design is always functional. Great design tells a story." That story is yours.

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