It is true that some degree of talent is necessary to be successful, but it is rarely true that the most talented among us reach the highest peaks of success. This is also true for brands, writes Morgan Holt, Chief Strategy Officer at Saffron.

A couple of years before the pandemic, a group of physicists and economists teamed up to explore the nature of luck. We largely take it for granted that a combination of good characteristics and hard work will result in success. We think this is true for individuals, and we certainly think this is true for brands. What the academics discovered was the surprisingly large impact of randomness on achievement. So, what will it take for brands to be lucky in 2024?

Everywhere we look there are economies struggling to restart, governments running out of options, consumers feeling hopeless, and businesses trying to make the best of a bad deal.

What we do know is that the true strength of a brand lives in its capacity to be remembered positively. And what it takes to be positively memorable is dynamic, shaped by the changing waves of what societies care about at that time.

If brand is to be a lever of growth, it needs to stop looking over its shoulder and start making itself applicable to the next zeitgeist.

The pandemic impact

It's difficult to remember the energy and activism surging across the world in the years before the pandemic. The rise of Black Lives Matter, #metoo, the increasing concerns around data privacy, and the crowning glory of the Paris agreement, all promising to take us down a more progressive path.

The brands that reflected people’s hearts were the ones that deserved attention. B2B brands like SoftBank, UnitedHealth and Shopify joined their B2C cousins Tommy Hilfiger, Lyft and Bodyform in their support of progress. IBM cancelled its racially biased face recognition program. BlackRock put sustainability at the centre of risk management.

The pandemic flipped what people needed from brands fast. In the challenging era of COVID-19, brands needed to be practical and honest, helping us accept the reality but finding ways to continue with life, even if it was going to be dramatically different. Nike urged people to ‘Play Inside, Play for the World’. LEGO gave daily build challenges for kids stuck at home.

Plenty of companies found inventive ways to leverage the moment to continue growing; Microsoft, Cisco and Google all offered their connection technologies for free, building a valuable user base in the process.

The past couple of years have been a painful reminder that life isn’t simply going to bounce back. Even without the Ukraine war, renewal was going to be hard work. Brands have had to show they understand the need for caution and compassion. The tone is about saving money and playing it safe. Flashy confidence would come across as unrealistic. The pre-pandemic activism was replaced with social support. Mastercard launched a suite of initiatives to support struggling SMEs and JustEat altered its model to support restaurant clients.

Practical optimism in 2024

Brands that resonate are brands that are in the flow. They seem ahead of the curve because they are so in tune with what people need, even when those same people are unable to express it for themselves. So again, what will it take to be lucky in 2024? Stagnation can be toxic to economies. A resignation to merely keeping our heads above water reinforces a reluctance to innovate. Industries that pause too long are industries that are ‘quiet quitting’.

There is a new tone creeping into the brand language – a practical kind of optimism. The anger once felt at incompetent institutions is being replaced with a roll-up-the-sleeves attitude of positive action. Nestle stepping up its efforts in circular economy, P&G is promoting plant-based diets, E.ON and Shell are showing struggling businesses how to reduce their energy use.

Against the odds, there are reasons to be optimistic. The internet was 20 years in the building before it caught the public imagination and whole new economies were born. Artificial intelligence has been growing in the labs for a similar period of time and has similarly just caught the public eye. Throughout the ages, it is technology that has given growth a springboard. From the printing press to the telephone to the car to the internet, radical growth has always come because of technology in a way that is never achieved by organic, efficiency-oriented, incremental innovations.

We are at the Web 1.0 stage of AI. Radical growth ahead.

But 2024 doesn’t need AI from brands, or recovery, or stability. What the unlikely group of scientists discovered was the value of diversification. The more widely you are spread, the easier luck can find you. That means not keeping your head down. It means encouraging the new. Supporting the emerging. Shining a light on the good. Making life brighter. The next brands to succeed will be the optimistic ones – open to the realities but ambitious nonetheless. They will be the lucky ones.