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Branding trends for 2021: Latest predictions to watch out for

By Charles O’Tudor
26 January 2021   |   2:33 am
Branding - it’s what defines a business and sets it apart from competitors. However, in this era of digital distractions, a catchy name and a nice logo are no longer enough to pique the interest of modern consumers.

Charles O’Tudor

Branding – it’s what defines a business and sets it apart from competitors. However, in this era of digital distractions, a catchy name and a nice logo are no longer enough to pique the interest of modern consumers. 

So, how will you create a solid brand identity that will capture the attention of your target audience? Well, for starters, it helps to have a good grasp of the latest brand trends. To help you out, I have taken the liberty of compiling data on the most important branding trends and developments. From logo designs and social media hashtags to customer-driven strategies and branding technologies, we have all the information you need to keep up with your competitors and stand out in your industry.

A solid branding is what will set your company apart from the rest. This is why many companies put a great deal of effort into coming up with a catchy brand name, designing their logo, and planning color schemes.

However, this is only the first step to building a brand. Remember, branding is all about perception. In order for you to make your company embedded in the mind and memory of the market, you need to go beyond the aesthetics. Modern customers want substance and they want purpose. 

The way you uphold your company values as well as what advocacies you stand up for resonate more with them than how pretty your color scheme is or how detailed your logo may be. That said, we can safely say that brand building in the 21st century is no walk in the park. It can take years to build a strong identity that represents your brand. Furthermore, once you’ve developed that, it will still take you at least 5 impressions to elicit brand recall.

In addition, brand managers deal with other challenges. For instance, delivering messages to the right audiences is now more difficult to do. Furthermore, balancing brand voice and personalization is more complicated than ever.

In order to help you overcome these challenges as well as ensure effective branding for your company, I have compiled the essential branding trends of today. 

Here, you’ll find in-depth explanations and examples of each trend so that you can better understand how to use them to your advantage.

1. Logo Adaptability
Companies have to be everywhere if they want to be noticed. 
That is to say, it is no longer enough to just have a physical store that you promote online and through advertisements. If you want to thrive in the digital age, you will need to have a website and be present on several social networking platforms as well.

Because of this trend, many companies are now choosing to create shape-shifting logo designs. This just means that your logos change in size, complexity, or color depending on what you are using it for. For example, you can have a master logo that you can use for your website and create a simpler icon for your Instagram account. 

Another thing you can consider is creating a one-tone logo that can be used as watermarks on photos. By having these different variations, you can ensure consistency no matter what medium your logo is viewed on. Meaning, it allows you to make your logo work regardless of the layout it is being used on. 

Moreover, it allows your customers to recognise your branding in different ways, increasing the chance of brand recall.

2. Blandified Branding
Minimalism has taken the world by storm in recent years, with everybody moving to remove clutter from their day-to-day lives. It seems the movement has caught up even in the business industry as many companies started stripping down their branding to the simplest possible form. For example, both Google and Airbnb recently had facelifts that changed their logos to sans-serif, a popular typeface for minimalism. 

The same can be observed for big fashion labels such as Balmain, Yves Saint Laurent, and Balenciaga. Other brands are following suit as well by opting for fewer colors, using more negative space, and leveraging simpler typography. 

In fact, 95 per cent of top companies now use two colors for their branding. Minimalism aside, another reason why many brands are choosing to go bland is because it gives them a better shot at becoming iconic. After all, the simpler the font and colors, the easier it is to pair with all sorts of supporting graphics. 

A good example of this would be Nike and Levi’s – both brands are easily recognisable no matter what background you put their logo on. The only downside to this branding trends design, however, is that there’s a very real chance that you’d blandify your brand to the point where it’s boring. 

So, before you join the bandwagon, you should test out different color schemes and font styles that will help you make your brand stand out without compromising simplicity.

3. Nostalgic Brand Marketing
Trends have been a focal point in the digital age. People have their eyes glued on their social media accounts for the latest technology, gadget, fashion design, and trends in various industries. However, this culture of “keeping up with the Joneses” can be frustrating and tiring for a lot of consumers. 

This is why blasts from the past now play a more meaningful role in branding.
Many relish the past and wish to recapture the feeling of how things used to be. 

By using nostalgic brand marketing, you can invoke these old memories and attach positive feelings to your products and services. Therefore, you can improve the chances of boosting customer trust and brand recall. This is backed by a 2017 Nielsen study that revealed advertising aligned with emotions yields better results.

4. Branded Visual Content
Humans are visual creatures. We are naturally better at retaining images than any other form of content. However, from a brand marketing perspective, this doesn’t mean all types of visual content can elicit the same response from your target market.

According to HubSpot, branded images can yield 67 per cent more attention than advertisements and other promotional content. This can be attributed to the fact that this type of visual content aims to promote your brand without the risk of overt advertising. In addition, this type of content allows you to generate new leads more effectively on social media. 

With all sorts of content circulating on these networks, GIFs, charts, infographics, videos, and other substantial visual content have a better shot at being noticed compared to ads that simply lay out what products you have to offer.

This is important especially now that Facebook recently changed its algorithm to focus news feeds on friends and family instead of ads.
As a result, you’ll see that many B2C marketers now focus on creating videos and webinars. Of course, before you leverage this strategy, be sure to create visuals that reflect the aesthetic of your brand. 

For example, if it’s an infographic, use your official font style or decorate it using your color scheme. If it’s a video, add your logo to the bottom corner of the video. This way, customers know that you produced the content. This allows you to subtly advertise your brand.

5. Social Media Branding
The accessibility of the internet has paved the way for an always-on social media culture. This consequently transformed sites like Facebook, YouTube, Pinterest, Twitter, and Instagram into prime spots for building your brand. 

This is why it comes as no surprise that 90% of organisations leverage social media for brand awareness. That said, you should pay attention to how you showcase your products and services on these platforms. A good way to start is to zero in on which sites your customers mostly use and study the format of each social network. After all, these platforms focus on different types of content. 

For instance, Twitter relies more on written content while Instagram relies on visuals. After this, you’ll need to create a consistent visual theme for your accounts. 

This means creating a color scheme and having a standard for photo editing and layout to give your brand a more solid identity. Lastly, you will have to develop a voice for your brand. Do you want to sound formal?  Quirky? Funny? Be sure to create a lingo that speaks to your target audience and stick to it. In addition to these, companies also need to keep updated on platform changes.

According to the latest Bynder State of Branding Report, 65 per cent of companies say that social media algorithm changes are the biggest threat to their brand engagement efforts. By staying in-the-know of these modifications, you will be able to adjust your social media branding efforts accordingly.

6. Official Hashtags
Still on the topic of social media, another branding trend that has become essential in the past few years is the use of official hashtags. According to Omnicore Agency, nowadays,7 in 10 hashtags are branded – that’s on Instagram alone. One reason for this is because hashtags can increase customer engagement by 50 per cent as well as reinforce brand awareness.

By asking your customers to post about their recent purchase from your company and using the hashtag, you can extend your reach to their followers. You can also choose to share screenshots of these user-generated posts on your social media page to encourage other customers to share their experience with your brand as well as persuade leads to purchase. In addition to engaging customers, hashtags can also be used to gauge the pulse of your consumers. 

Monitoring these closely can give you a better idea of how they perceive your brand.

7. Online Communities
Customer interaction has many faces. It can take the form of social media comments, instant messages, phone calls, emails, or even through the hashtags on their posts, as we’ve discussed earlier. Aside from these, there’s another kind of customer interaction that helps you reinforce retention—online communities.

These online communities serve as a platform for your customers to interact with each other. With these, you can connect your clients with like-minded individuals and create deeper relations between them and your brand. 

Think of this participatory experience as a casual get-together no different from inviting friends for a cup of coffee to discuss your interests. According to CMA, 37 per cent of shoppers stick with companies because of online communities.
Having the option to participate in discussions about a brand makes them trust a company more.

Consequently, this increases the likelihood of them purchasing from the brand.
This was backed by a MarTech study that revealed two out of three brands with online communities experienced a revenue increase thanks to strong community engagement. Aside from boosting retention, online communities, in a similar light to hashtags, are also a great way to understand the wants and needs of your customers. 

8. Brand Authenticity
Customer trust has hit an all-time low in the past couple of years. In the 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer, they reported that only 34% of consumers trust brands they buy from. This is why creating an authentic brand image is critical for modern businesses.

A Stackla report on consumer content revealed that 86% of shoppers view authenticity as a huge factor in purchasing decisions. Moreover, the same study also reported that a whopping 90% of millennials say authenticity is important in branding, noting that they prefer “real and organic” companies over those that are “perfect and packaged.”

This data goes to show that photoshopped ads, heavily edited commercials, and using picture-perfect models no longer have an allure for modern shoppers. 

They would much rather do business with companies that are honest with them. A good example of this would be McDonald’s. 
Following controversies about their ingredients, they decided to publish a behind-the-scenes video of how they make their food in the hopes of evoking transparency. They also launched an “Our Food, Your Questions” campaign wherein they address popular queries about their company and post the information through webisodes. As a result, this campaign allowed them to tackle misconceptions about their brand and curb negative rumors surrounding their food.

As such, you can also apply this strategy by showing snippets of your manufacturing processes. Similarly, you can share where you source your materials or how you inspect for quality to help customers learn a little bit more about what your brand does.

9. Brand Inclusivity
Diversity, body positivity, and inclusivity are reshaping customer expectations. A survey by Accenture showed that 70% of millennials will choose inclusive and diverse brands over those that are not.

The 2018 State of Branding reported that the majority (79%) of companies acknowledge the importance of addressing issues both social and cultural for their branding strategy. However, a good chunk of these businesses are also struggling to keep up with the demand.

10. Sustainable Branding Initiatives
Greta Thunberg is perhaps one of the most ardent environmental activists today. However, the school strike that she started in 2018 is not the first time that people called for the government as well as companies to do their part in creating a healthier planet. What’s more is it’s highly unlikely to be the last. Studies show that 88% of consumers believe companies can influence societal change.

Thus, they should take the lead in addressing environmental issues by providing more sustainable products. Plus, shoppers nowadays are more conscious about what they purchase. They make it a point to opt for more sustainable brands whenever they can. In fact, according to the Global Web Index 2018, 58% of Gen-Zers, 61% of Millennials, 55% of Gen Zers, and 46% of Baby Boomer consumers will pay more for eco-friendly products.

With this data, it comes as no surprise that many brands are now implementing sustainable operational practices as well as ethical business processes. This way, they can meet the demands of green consumerism and gain the trust and loyalty of their customers.

11. Socially Responsible Branding
Consumers no longer see products as mere commodities—each one is now a statement. This is why purpose-driven brands have more appeal to modern shoppers. In fact, 87% of customers purchase from organizations who shared their cause.

To quote the 2017 Cone Communications CSR Study, “companies must now share not only what they stand for, but what they stand up for.”
One such reason for this is because 46% of all consumers say brands have better ideas for resolving problems than the government.

Take a look at the American shoe and apparel brand Toms, for instance. They have one of the most effective social responsibility strategies to date. Some even say they are one of the companies that led the social impact movement.

For starters, they’ve teamed up with several organizations and institutions to support multiple causes. They have campaigns to end gun violence, promote equality, and raise mental health awareness, among others. By letting customers choose which advocacy to support with each purchase they make, they attach a sense of purpose to every sale and help customers be part of something bigger than just their customer base.

12. Humanized Brand Personality
The truth of the matter is, it’s difficult for customers to trust brands. They feel like most companies are simply out to get their money. 

If you want them to do business with you, you must humanize your brand.
Attaching a personality to your brand is one of the most tried and tested brand marketing trends of all time. 

After all, just as people have multifaceted personalities, so should your company. In the Sprout Social Index, they revealed that consumers want to see different behaviors from brands on social media. As can be expected, shoppers want companies to be honest (86%), friendly (83%), and helpful (78%). However, aside from these qualities, shoppers also like brands that are funny (72%), trendy (43%), politically correct (39%), and snarky (33%). 

These behaviors make it easier for customers to relate to a particular brand.One such company that has successfully implemented this strategy is Old Spice, an American brand selling male grooming products. Across their posts, ads, and websites, they are consistently playful and wacky. With this, they keep their customers from getting bored with the content that they publish. 
Moreover, they make themselves more approachable to customers.

13. Technology-Based Brand Strategy
Technology is deeply ingrained in our day-to-day lives as well as the operations of various industries. So, this item on my list of branding trends of the future is not necessarily new. Marketers and brand managers have been utilizing technology for various aspects of branding for years. 

They invest in branding technologies to improve engagement [16] (38%), development (20%), and awareness (17%). Furthermore, these can help them boost customer loyalty (15%) and implement automation (10%). However, these past years, there are emerging technologies that they are slowly adopting to further optimize branding.

According to the 2018 Bynder State of Branding, some of the top tech that marketers are incorporating in their operations are mobile applications (68%), voice assistants (40%), and virtual reality (37%). These will allow them to accommodate internet users that rely on their smartphones as well as create better experiences for their potential customers and existing clients. In addition, these new technologies can help them make stay relevant in this fast-paced landscape.

14. Customer-Driven Branding
The modern business landscape has taken customer-centricism to new heights. Being customer-driven was no longer just about conducting surveys to find out what your target market wants. Nowadays, brands are directly involving their customers in the development of products.

In a study by Bulbshare, statistics showed that 77% of shoppers prefer brands that collaborate with them. This is because the simple act of letting them join your creative process empowers them. Furthermore, this approach makes you look more trustworthy and authentic. The same study revealed that a majority (86%) of these consumers view customer-driven brands as more trustworthy.  Meanwhile, 81% of them find brands that collaborate as more authentic than their competitors.

The LEGO brand is perhaps one of the pioneers and gold standard for customer-driven branding. One of its most recent co-creation campaigns, LEGO ideas, asks customers to check its website each week for new challenges and propose their very own LEGO creations that fit the theme. Winners not only win prizes, but their submissions are also turned into a real LEGO set that will be released on the market.

15. Micro-Influencer Partnerships
According to a TEDx Talk by Rachel David, influencers play a big part in modern brand marketing strategies. If you can get the right influencer, you no longer have to worry about reaching audiences that are interested in your niche. These people have already established themselves as an authority in their field and have an army of followers and engaged audiences.

The gaming industry perhaps utilizes influencer partnerships the most thanks to its large market share in the video streaming space. The second most-subscribed YouTuber, Felix Kjellberg aka “PewDiePie” performed a simple 11-minute let’s play video of Vainglory by Super Evil Megacorp in 2015 with his fans. The video amassed 2.2 million views to date.

Similarly, Electronic Arts’ published game Apex Legend sponsored a real-life battle royale tournament with a $200,000 prize pool at stake. It starred 39 YouTubers with subscriber counts that ranged from a million to 11 million. With results like these, it comes as no surprise that 79% of brand managers have invested in influencer marketing over the past year while 22% have planned to utilize it for the first time.

16. Going Phigital
Striking a balance between digital and physical customer experiences is the key to successful brand building. This is what makes “Phigital” experiences such an integral part of modern branding strategies. In a nutshell, Phigital campaigns are created to blur the lines between physical and digital strategies. 

With these, you can provide your customers with a more unique and memorable experience of your brand. For instance, Audi uses augmented reality tech and touchscreens in their London showroom. With this, visitors can explore the different features of the cars for sale before they even inspect the actual vehicle.

Another good example of this is McDonald’s Pick N Play billboard game that they launched in Stockholm, Sweden. Using this campaign, customers can play the game displayed on the billboard by using their smartphone as the controller. No app was needed: all they had to do was visit the website advertised on the billboard, turn on their GPS, and start playing. All the customers who tried the game won a coupon for a free McDonald’s meal if they survived for 30 seconds.

This campaign was a success as it created a buzz for the brand and even promoted branches of the fast-food chain in the area. McDonald’s Pick N Play billboard game is an example of a Phigital ad that helped engage customers on a grand scale.

Phigital Branding Takeaways:
Phigital experiences will let you give customers the best of both the physical and digital worlds. This allows you to engage them as efficiently as possible.

These Phigital campaigns make it easy for your brand to set itself apart from competitors.

17. Anti-Ad Advertising
Overt advertising has long been considered a nuisance by consumers. In fact, roughly 9 in 10 shoppers find ads more intrusive today than a few years ago. More often than not, ads are seen as clutter in their social media feed and distractions during their day-to-day commute. 
As a result, many consumers simply ignore the advertisements that they see.

To cope with this issue, several brands have resorted to leveraging anti-ad advertising. This allows them to capture the attention of customers by essentially doing the exact opposite of promoting their brand. For example, the dating app Hinge advertised that their app is meant to be deleted. According to them, the application is a surefire way to help you meet the love of your life. So, you’ll end up removing it from your phone anyway.

A more recent instance of an anti-ad ad—and a more ambitious example of one—is the Doritos “Another Level” campaign. Here, they ditched their logo and brand name, confident that their customers will still recognize them. 

True enough, they managed to bring their brand to a whole ‘nother level as the campaign proved how iconic their company is.
One thing to note here, however, is that while anti-ad advertising may prove effective for brands like Doritos and Hinge, it might be difficult to pull off for smaller companies.  After all, big brands already have name recall. Thus, they can easily benefit from such a stunt. In the Doritos’ “Another Level” campaign, they proved the iconic status of their brand by stripping their advertisements of their logo, slogan, and name.

Anti-Ad Advertising Takeaways:
Customers appreciate anti-ad ads more because they are not blatantly promoting a product.
Anti-ad advertising is a great way for big brands to tap their audience; however, it might not be ideal for small businesses with minimal name recall.

Step Up Your Branding Game
Gaining the trust and loyalty of modern consumers has become harder than ever. With the abundance of distractions online and the frenzy of daily living, traditional branding strategies are slowly becoming powerless. Building a brand now takes more effort compared to before.
For starters, it focuses less on how a brand looks but more on how a brand acts. 

As such, brand activism is becoming more prevalent. In addition, many companies are working towards fostering authentic consumer experiences to meet demands. To top it all off, tech-driven campaigns that leverage both physical and digital platforms are now the new norm.
This just goes to show that brand managers and marketers have to go above and beyond to make sure to capture and retain the attention of their target audience.

To sum up, I hope that my compilation of branding trends was able to shed some light on the emerging strategies in the industry. With this, you should be able to create more updated branding tactics through 2021 and beyond. Charles O’Tudor is Africa’s premier Brand Strategist and Engagement Consultant. He is the Group Principal Consultant of ADSTRAT Brand Management Consultants.

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