Creating Breakthrough Brands in a Subjective World

Curated feeds, targeted ads, introspective meditation, normalized use of psychedelics, and a metaverse of virtual realities has redefined the modern concept of “reality”. What was previously a black and white concept—fact and fiction, truth and deception—is now a subjective experience. 

The reality is, there is no one reality… so how can brands connect with consumers when individualism is at the core of our very existence?

These ideas were on full display, with the volume cranked waaaay up at SXSW 2022, as the first in-person festival in two years after being canceled due to Covid.  The event itself is huge, chaotic, vibrant, overwhelming in the best way—with exhibitions and attractions across several industries: art, tech, film, startups, music and beyond.

Beyond enjoying ourselves at the Cheetos Hands-Free House, we observed broader implications for the huge role brands play in influencing the ways we experience and interact with the world—from how we’re entertained and engaged, to being a part of solving the world’s greatest challenges.  And, to make things even more complicated, brands have more ways than ever to reach consumers. 

The bright side? More opportunities for meaningful, authentic connections between brands and consumers. The not so bright side? It’s noisy out there.  

A brand can break through that noise by recognizing its fundamental ability to influence reality—the way we perceive and move through the world. 

Understanding how your brand influences the perception of reality is the first step in building brand identity and equity. It’s the secret sauce to standing out in a crowded and loud world, and it’s the key to identifying with consumers, shaping their experiences, and even shifting their behaviors. 

Ask yourself: what reality do you want your brand to create? What actions, emotions, beliefs, and behaviors do you want to evoke in those who interact with it? 

Here are our biggest takeaways for creating breakthrough brands and meaningful connections, inspired by our experience at SXSW this year.

1. Create multi-sensory experiences.

  • The landscape of visual activation and immersion is crowded. With the proliferation of visual-first technology in recent years (think staring at a glowing rectangle for 7+ hours a day), we have reached sensory overload.
  • The new frontier lies in audio experiences. We heard a lot at SXSW about the power of sound. It connects us more deeply to experiences, creates and taps into memories, and provides a break from visual stimulation. We saw this as part of the Meow Wolf + Spatial Holodeck sound exhibition, Doodles immersive NFT gallery, and Mastercard announcing it’s making an album. 
  • The way we experience brands (and even consume them) is changing. One thing we learned about the ever-pervasive Metaverse is that it may change the way we consume products and interact with brands. People are already using AR to try out new products but, even more intriguing. immersive experiences may be ushering in an age in which experiences are valued over products. 

“Apple AirPods are the only successful wearable. Apple created the original Metaverse, and it’s not visual like the failed Oculus. It’s with sound.”

— Scott Galloway, SXSW 2022 keynote speaker


2. Dial into your purpose.

  • Humans need purpose, and it can come from brands. More than ever, people are realigning their values to more accurately reflect their individual beliefs and realities. In order to connect with consumers, brands need to express an authentic purpose that serves as the connective tissue of the organization. 
  • Big problems need bold solutions, and there is no shortage of opportunity. At SXSW, there was serious focus on the ways we will need to innovate to protect our future. Whether it’s authenticity in the face of misinformation, sustainability and circularity, or even helping people feel less lonely, your power to connect comes from purpose. 

3. Rep your people.

  • Do your research. Relieve yourself of the burden of targeting everyone, all the time. Powerful branding is a result of understanding your audience and creating authentic connections with them. When done right, research can answer the biggest questions you have about your consumers, illuminating who you should be talking to and what they most care about. 
  • Represent your audience. If you and your audience care about something, now is the time to make sure you are representing them responsibly. DEI was, unsurprisingly, a huge topic at SXSW this year. Because brands have power and influence, it’s often a brand’s role to lift up the voice of its audience and advocate for the world they want to see. 

In a world where reality and truth are often subjective, it becomes even more important to define your values, and those of your business. It’s how you’ll create authenticity. It’s how you’ll build your community. And it’s ultimately how you’ll make a tangible impact in an ever-changing world. 

Building brands is what we do. Understanding consumers is how we do it. If you need help creating a brand that stands out, reach out to us. We’d love to help.