What exactly is the role of a brand?

In the last ten years, the western world has been looking to the east for inspiration and insights, namely the two Asian giants, India and China. Mindfulness has entered many people’s daily lives to the point where corporations in the US are now offering meditation and mindfulness classes. Psychology today offers up the following definition:

Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention on the present. When you’re mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience.

Being in the present, not the past or future. Not lost in random thoughts about some question. Mindfulness means to be aware. Being a practitioner myself I can say that if done with discipline mindfulness does not just focus you on the present but also on what your life is. The values you live by. The goals you have. The fears you have. It can lead to a realisation of what we deem important and worth living for might not be worthy at all.

Today’s society is often referred to as the ‘always-on’ society where people are constantly on their Smartphones, from which they are unable to function without. A colleague of mine recently gave a speech where he asked the audience to hand over their wallets. While confused, many did so; he then asked the same audience to hand over their Smartphones, however, in this instance he was less successful.

A paradox emerges then: on one hand people are seeking mindfulness, while at the same time posting the latest XYZ event on ABC social channel. Can brands help to solve this paradox?

Brands find themselves in a similar dilemma. With the emergence of digital, more channels become available where brands ‘need’ to be present. The brand needs to be where the consumer is. The brand needs to provide contextual experiences that cross different channels. Just like the consumer the brand needs to be always-on.

Why do brands have to always be on? Because their main role is to drive consumerism which in turn drives sales and market share. However, the most important question is how does a brand align focus on the present with continuously delivering growth?

A new trend calls for brands to become civil. This goes beyond supporting a good cause or being socially active, such as for example, the Body Shop. This trend is asking brands to help consumers to take a break from the ‘always-on’ culture and focus on the present. This trend is asking brands to be mindful. But does this request not clash directly with the very reason on why brands exist in the first place?

Taking this into account, if one assumes for a moment that corporations are willing to challenge the short-term thinking of success and are comfortable with a slower long-term shareholder value growth, which would inevitably ask consumers to slow down and focus on the present, could work. Over the years, well managed brands have shown that they can change consumer behaviour towards the positive, so why not the idea of embracing the present?

The key question here is, do consumers want this? Will consumers believe that brands truly embrace the idea of mindfulness? Or is the paradox of driving commercial growth while slowing down too much to bridge? And if brands wanted to really become civil, would their internal value and culture first have to change to align with this new ‘movement’? These are interesting and valid questions, which deserve equally valid answers. With the rise of digital, it is inevitable that brands will eventually become civil.