Insight Strategy Brand Activism 01 Marcas Ativistas

Brand activism is nothing new. The importance of having a clear purpose has been extensely discussed for decades. Aligned with this foremost intention comes the necessity to define which causes a brand wants to support, meeting the demands of an audience that craves for more humane and coherent stances. Nowadays, brands have to stand for more than just profit: they are expected to contribute to building a better society.

The uncontrolled pandemic, the polarization of society, the stronger presence of social media and the growing cancel culture have boosted the game. What used to be an opportunity, is now a requirement – at times, essential for the survival. Brands have to build a positive impact territory; the mere position of trading goods and services, coupled with the neutrality towards relevant issues such as racism, gender, feminism and environment, is no longer a strong enough offer. Not taking a stand may give rise to the impression of consent, while stating an opinion can be seen as hypocrisy – if the talk is not followed by concrete actions, aligned with the brand’s DNA – depleting the brand’s value.

Thus, brands must take a clear stance and genuinely commit to one or more causes to remain competitive. The challenge faced is how to approach it constructively, being faithful to the brand’s values and not sounding self-serving, besides being careful to minimize the risks of boycott in an increasingly demanding environment where one slip can be fatal.

Bearing this challenging and intriguing setting in mind, we propose some reflections to help brands understand the different possible types and levels of activism, the risks and benefits of speaking up. Paths that, when followed with truth and transparency, can lead to a real and long-lasting commitment.


We all know, there is no single way to engage, and there is no right or wrong. We suggest below an ‘activism profile classification’ based on the brand’s DNA and its intended relation with its stakeholders, more than on the company’s size or category. Here they are:

Insight Strategy Brand Activism 02 Profiles


Brands that are activists since foundation, deeply engaged with causes related to the brand’s core values, and supported by the founding partners or CEOs themselves. They believe that action speaks louder than words, and they take to the streets with its public to be heard and actually aim to achieve social change. They create a strong emotional tie with its fans, so much that they usually become brand ambassadors.

  • The most known and successful example may be Patagonia, the outdoor lifestyle brand commited to environmental causes, whose ad “don’t buy this jacket” – encouraging people to reconsider impulse purchases – became a talking point.
  • Ice-cream brand Ben & Jerry’s (Unilever) is also resolutely committed to social causes.
Patagonia the ideal cycle & Labels against climate change negationists
Insight Strategy Brand Activism 04 Patagonia
Insight Strategy Brand Activism 05 Patagonia
Ben & Jerry’s environmental Protection campaing
Insight Strategy Brand Activism 03 Ben Jerrys


Innovative brands, pioneers in their respective businesses since foundation. Their own core products or services are their flags, since their proposal is to change patterns and break a category status quo. They usually forge an emotional bond with their consumer base, for meeting previously unmet needs.

  • Impossible Burger is an example of this profile. Pioneer in the plant-based meat industry, its mission is to reduce the negative environmental impact of beef slaughtering.
  • Another example is Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty makeup brand, which has launched 50 shades of foundation in a still exclusive market.
  • In Italy, one of those who is trying to change the status quo in its own sector is Fileni, a pioneer in the organic sector and an environmental ‘activist’ for all the issues related to land regeneration and the circular economy.
Impossible Burguer impact calculator & Fenty anti-discrimination campaign
Insight Strategy Brand Activism 06 Impossible foods
Insight Strategy Brand Activism 07 Fenty


Brands that are not as openly and constantly engaged as the Superactivists, but that still defend their values and causes coherently. They lead engaging actions and are agile taking a stance on current issues that connect to their values, joining the conversation and encouraging discussion, even if not everyone agrees.

  • Starbucks, in the United States, has waded into social justice issues, raising positive feedback, but also criticism. The brand forbid guns in its stores after a mass shooting, supported gay marriage and encouraged discussion on racism (this last causing backlash).
  • Nike caused huge uproar for partnering with the American civil rights activist and football quarterback Colin Kaepernick, and for the ad “Just don’t do it”, asking people not to turn their backs to the existing racism. The brand, which already has many commitments to fight racism, received much praise, but was also anticipating loss of support from more conservative Americans – which happened indeed.
Nike for once “Just don’t do it” campaing & Community commitment against racism
Insight Strategy Brand Activism 08 Nike
Insight Strategy Brand Activism 09 Nike


Companies that take corporate actions that benefit causes (foundations, social responsibility programs, donations), usually signed by the masterbrand. The brand activism is not evident on their pillars or sub-brands communication channels. It is a more traditional – and discreet – engagement, without generating conversation or controversy – but still a stimulating one, mainly among their consumers. Besides taking corporate actions, these companies are aware that their product portfolio must be aligned with sustainability and latent requirements to promote actual change – in society and in the planet.

Cocoa Plan, Nestlé Program that guarantees fair trade cocoa production
Insight Strategy Brand Activism 10 Cocoa Plan

The insight was written by CBA B+G, read the original article here.

What profile of brand activism do you associate your company with?
What is the purpose that guides your responsible choices?
Would you like to know our methodology for defining and acting on purpose in organizations?

Contact us at:

In May 2019, our IMG report Direct to Consumer revolutionappeared, dedicated to DTC brands, native digital players who, by disintermediating the value chain, are redefining the frontiers of certain specific industries.

From then on, many things have changed, and the DTC phenomenon, accelerated by the digitalisation attained during the pandemic, has affected the rules of the game in various sectors, even in Italy.

Just consider what has happened here with us over the last six months:

  • Granarolo has opened its first digital channel
  • Campari has purchased 49% of Tannico
  • Lancômehas inaugurated e-commerce streaming directly on Livescale
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The reason why even established brands are making their moves – no longer timidly – in DTC can be explained in terms of three fundamental objectives

  • Tactics: For those who have their own grassroots distribution network in the territory, activating the DTC mode makes it possible to exploit traditional logistics to best advantage. This is particularly true for fresh FMCG product networks, which, utilising the daily logistics linked to supermarkets, and therefore with a particularly diffuse territorial presence, are capable of handling the distribution connected to e-commerce while also subdividing the logistics costs.
  • Survival: Many companies will not survive without constructing a data-driven business model.This means only in part the collection of data and its use for segmentation, targeting, and the construction of adequate pricing policies. In fact it also introduces the possibility of building personalised, intimate and long-term relationships, to give consumers greater value.
  • Evolution: Working on DTC means accelerating “servitisation”, implementing the mandatory transition from product to holistic solution around the job to be done. And so, Lancômeno longer sells lipstick, but rather a mode of empowerment. Tannico doesn’t sell wine, but enables you to feel that you are a sommelier. And this is achieved by means of the service, activated by the storytelling around the content and by a seamless, integrated digital platform.
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A new baseline from which it is hard to emerge

However, these three forms of leverage, absolutely crucial for consolidated structures, are no longer something innovative for consumers, who in the meantime have developed new expectations: the bar has been raised, to the point that the public does not just desire, but positively expects, an impeccable customer care, excellent design, faultless wow experiences, a website and social media packed with entertaining content, backed up by an exciting community.

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Many, above all at an international level, have interpreted this moment in history as a wave to be surfed, a golden opportunity for standing out on the market. But the result is exactly the opposite. In other words, there is a standardisation in terms of what is offered, created by the desire to follow “DTC laws” to the letter: considering a product category, such as electric toothbrushes, we see that the market is becoming saturated with identical products, with the same business model, the same design, the same communication strategy and tone of voice. We are witnessing a progressive uniformity of supply, and consumers find it difficult to find their way around, because all brands are responding to the same need in exactly the same way.

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We are also seeing an increase in CPA(cost per acquisition), precisely because the powerful model based on social media communications, adopted early on by DTC brands, has become the principal sales channel for most DTCs, pushing costs sky-high.

There is yet more: DTC brands, in their DNA, have a specific response to the needs of a niche target. This “obsession” with a specific niche, something that for some time has denoted these brands’ power and success, is now beginning to crumble: by now, the niche has beenreached, if not by the brand itself, by one of its competitors, and growth, in terms of volume, has become very hard to attain, unless by applying new strategies for expanding the portfolio and/or services.

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What is the added value that big brands can bring to this by now saturated market?

The entry of big brands into this market could make waves and bring some interesting innovations at a moment of notable difficulty for the smaller players:

  • 1 – Differentiation of supply. In a market in which everyone is talking to the Millennials, the big brands, thanks to their diffuse grassroots presence, have the chance to create new responses to different needs expressed by different targets. Even for niches that have long been forgotten, such as, for example, the less-young generations, or people living in the provinces. No longer a single reference niche, but a constellation of niches and needs for which a single brand can provide a response.
  • 2 – From purpose to action. Every DTC brand is born with an ethical social or environmental decision in its DNA, but often this is not enough to achieve tangible results. Big brands, unlike small DTC brands, have the muscle to make the difference, to have a strong impact, not just through tangible operations, but also as promoters of powerful ideas capable of influencing and activating the masses.
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A new shared enemy

BUT… There is still a big BUT.

Both DTC brands and big brands will soon find themselves fighting a shared enemy…

Having eliminated the old intermediaries is no longer enough. New middlemen are appearing and they will steal the privileged position of direct contact with consumers. Just think of the inexorable growth of voice shopping.

Insight Strategy BigBrandsDTC 9 1

In an ever-nearer future, voice assistants will choose for us, according to our purchasing habits, but also strongly promoting proprietary brands, or those willing to pay in order to be selected automatically. This will lead to the arrival of incidental loyalty, in other words, the birth of a fidelity linked to decisions over which the user has no control.

So, the fight for disintermediation continues…

Gender and inequality: a never-ending story

The history of inequality between men and women is as long as “the history of man” (sic!). Yet today, we are seeing significant changes and signs which seem to go beyond the symbolic mimosas of 8 March, both at the level of political movements and at the cultural and economic level, with the activism of the more committed brands. On the front of women’s civic engagement, recent years have seen the birth of various phenomena such as the #MeToo movement, which arose in the United States against the sexual harassment and assault of women, later followed by other movements such as “Non una di meno” [“Not One Woman Less”] in Italy, or viral events such as flashmobs protesting gender violence organised by Chilean collective Las Tesis, which has now spread around the world. (Las Tesis – video YouTube).

Commitment, activism and the role of brands

What is being created in parallel in the business world is a new sense of awareness and a new approach by brands in terms of gender and women’s needs, addressing the needs of those who do not have the time, desire or ability to take part in these new feminist movements but who identify with and support the cause.

As trend researchers, we have come across numerous examples of brands taking a new approach to gender issues.

They highlight the idea of women’s empowerment by coming into people’s daily lives with services and products designed for women and featuring messages and actions which promote their self-determination and which help to remove taboos around issues such as menstruation and menopause.

From body positivity to women’s empowerment

In the world of business and brands, we all remember the example set by Dove, a forerunner of the issue of body positivity with the “Dove Self-Esteem Project”, a campaign which even included workshops for schools on the acceptance of one’s own appearance. Many large corporations followed suit, and we can see two different levels of change which have taken place.

The first sees more well-established brands starting to address women in a different way, trying to somehow “make amends” for what happened in the past (sexist and stereotyped representations which limited women) with campaigns and individual initiatives; the second is more bold and innovative, and is championed by many newer brands who make women’s empowerment their very purpose, their raison d’être.

An example of the first approach from the field of music is the collaboration between companies such as Smirnoff and Spotify, which created the equality-themed “Playlist Equaliser” tool, ensuring that both male and female artists are represented in equal measure, contrary to what still happens in the music industry (amongst others), which is still largely dominated by men.

In the world of telecoms, Vodafone created a short film entitled “Raising Voices” which goes in the same direction by addressing the stereotypes and inequalities that determine the horizontal segmentation of the labour market, using the voices of child actors who wonder “why are all IT specialists men?” and “why are almost all superheroes men?”. Over the years, even several major brands have “learnt their lesson” by adopting the issue of empowerment, such as Nike with their “All Woman Project”, which collected the stories of New York’s female athletes: women of all shapes and sizes, all races and ethnicities, in the name of inclusiveness, their common trait being their “toughness” as women who are different but who have made it, celebrating their exceptionally unique and unmatched diversity (

Then there are new brands which are created with a specifically female target market and an even more inclusive approach; often markedly feminist, they make empowerment their brand mission.

In sportswear, there are brands such as Outdoor Voices which perfectly represent the theme of inclusiveness, bringing their purpose to life: “We’re on a mission to get the world moving. Moving your body generates endorphins. Endorphins Make You Happy”. As such, they represent a world where sport is for everyone, male and female, and not just for athletes, distancing it from the traditional idea of sport being a solely performative and competitive arena. (

A classic example of this in the underwear sector is the crisis that Victoria’s Secret, the biggest player on the US market, has been suffering in recent years. Its market share has dropped from 33% to 24% in 2 years, and it closed 52 of its shops in 2019. New players are popping up in its place: brands such as Lonely, which selects models with more curvy and realistic physiques than the picture-perfect “Angels” used by VS, making it a brand with a strong and genuine identity and an unusual photographic style featuring stretch marks, body hair and models who seem much more relatable and human than the top models favoured by VS. Victoria’s Secret’s problem lies in the underlying reasons for its foundation, namely the fact that in 1977, businessman Ray Raymond wanted to create “an underwear shop where men could go to buy something nice for their wives”. This model, which focused on the stereotyped aesthetic of the top model, aimed at meeting the needs of the husbands rather than the actual end users, is exactly what is being challenged nowadays. Agent Provocateur – a brand with an eloquent name – was also famous for its extremely provocative adverts, until it filed for bankruptcy, was acquired by Four Holdings, and is now rethinking its identity entirely: “Lingerie doesn’t have to be serious. It should be fun and playful and empowering” – this is the new approach from Agent Provocateur’s creative director.

In the same sector, brands whose unique selling point is their comfort and practicality for end users are starting to flourish. Thinx, for example, whose period underwear offers a range of female underwear designed especially for that time of the month, with an “absorption capacity equal to that of 4 tampons”. Their site not only showcases the product, but is filled with content about women’s health and speaks an empathetic language, aimed at normalising the topic of menstruation in the everyday life of women (and men).

The beauty sector, too, has examples such as Fenty Beauty by Rihanna, the make-up brand created by the singer in collaboration with the giant LVMH, whose entire identity lies in the idea that putting on make-up no longer means applying a uniform to standardise beauty, but rather a creative tool which can be used to express yourself, accessible to all and inclusive as it is designed for each and every skin tone and complexion.

AW LAB itself, in conjunction with CBA, has created the new retail brand “HERE”, a store just for women which is also a platform for events and workshops aimed at providing young women with the tools to learn, to be themselves outside of the pre-packaged models, and to fulfil their potential in the professional world, especially within the fashion system. What’s more, this is not the first time that AW LAB has organised initiatives like this one: last year in Milan, they organised the #WMNStogether project, where 6 talented ambassadors were invited to hold all-female talks, workshops and DJ sets to show young women once again that superheroes can also be female, that they can be whatever they want and that they can make their dreams come true. In this sense, AW LAB has closed the circle on both levels, moving from a single initiative to the creation of a fully-fledged brand like HERE, which is entirely dedicated to the personal development of young women.

Francesco Saviola, Strategic Designer at CBA

The theme of sustainability is becoming more and more pressing in every productive and economic sphere, touching also different areas, from the attention to the environment, to the social and economic impact of the single choices of the brands. In this scenario, design takes on different roles: from being synonymous with the production of increasingly sustainable (and at the same time profitable) products and services to a true holistic and systemic approach to design, u0022sustainableu0022 in its own premises, regardless of the result that that particular form of u0022designu0022 can produce.

Needless to mention, in the first case, the numerous examples of products and services that use materials, processes, production techniques that have little impact on the over-exploitation of natural resources and that, at the same time, do not see their profitability undermined.

Patagonia is one of the most famous brands in this direction: born in California in 1972 from a small company that produced equipment for climbers, today it produces and sells clothing for sport, all in a sustainable way. Since 1994, for example, all Patagonia cotton garments are made from 100% organic cotton, instead of the one grown with massive use of pesticides.

Insight Design Sustainability 01 Patagonia 1

Even Apple, although at first glance in our imagination may seem far from the idea of “sustainabilityu0022, has made a serious contribution signing an agreement in 2015 worth $ 1B with First Solar, the largest park builder in the United States. Using their technology, Apple is able to power its stores, offices and data centers in California with solar energy.

Insight Design Sustainability 02 Apple

Another well-known example is Lush Cosmetics, a brand of completely natural beauty products who invoices about $ 1B per year. Since its inception, Lush has been dedicated to producing eco-friendly products and practices. Their success and their dedication to respecting the environment are paving the way for other beauty companies, increasingly dispelling the myth that u0022being too sustainable costs too muchu0022.

But the combination of design and sustainability has taken a step further: today it is no longer u0022justu0022 devoted to the production of sustainable products (or in their final result, as in the case of Patagonia and Lush, or in its production process as in the case of Apple).

Insight Design Sustainability 03 LUSH

If it is true that design has become increasingly synonymous with a design approach even before the visual and concrete result of a creative work, even “sustainabilityu0022 is becoming increasingly synonymous, first and foremost, with a design approach.

We are talking about a systemic approach that is “sustainable” by nature, at the very moment in which it proves capable of taking into account the entire network and the context in which it is immersed. An approach that considers challenges in a holistic way, focusing on solving problems at a higher level, making much more radical changes possible that affect changes in consumer habits and behavior.

It is therefore a question of broadening the gaze to understand how to respond to a specific need for well-being. Designing product and service systems within which companies, consumers, institutions and all social actors live together in respect of their mutual interactions.

Think for example of the phenomenon of car sharing: the holistic and systemic design approach with which it was designed, has turned its attention to the broader concept of mobility, exploring it in all its meanings, even before moving towards the design of less polluting vehicles.

In this perspective, u0022sustainableu0022 design tends to reason not only in terms of product and service but in building profitable relationships and new partnerships to tackle problems differently.

Through a systemic approach to the resolution of needs that companies – as always – cultivate the ambition of wanting to answer, it is possible to imagine u0022new worldsu0022 by designing interactions with users never seen before.

Francesco Saviola, Strategic Designer

A growing number of brands have started talking to the world about “illnesses” (and, in turn, cures) using a completely new language and approach.

This is the case for Keeps, which deals with the issue of baldness (the bitter enemy to all men, especially the younger ones) with an ironic and uninhibited tone. Having a problem is no longer an embarrassing thing to be hidden. The real embarrassment, today, lies in not doing anything to fix it. Hims is of the same opinion, a company which is helping to break the taboos surrounding men’s sexual health, using irony to allow them to talk about their issues. Photos of a cactus, at first shown in its full vigour, and then withered, are the not so concealed metaphors used to present the range of products for erectile disfunction. Lastly, Queen V wants to put an end to the stigma surrounding female hygiene. With an easy 3 step process, it offers products to achieve, maintain and consequently enjoy one’s health freely and without a care in the world.


The items sold by Keeps, Hims and Queen V are not so different from those of their many other competitors found on the shelves of chemists and supermarkets, in terms of “products”. The difference is rather the way in which they present themselves and communicate. For example, the brand images that use unusual colours, fonts and visual language for pharmacological remedies are the ones that will catch your eye straight away.

But it doesn’t stop there. The (successful) undertakings carried out by these brands goes well beyond simply embellishing an already existing product. The aesthetic depiction of the brand and how it is advertised are just the tip of the iceberg. The real difference lies in the definition of the illness (or the physical or psychological “issue” being faced) presented in the image of these brands.

From a one-off intervention to a course of treatment

The first change in perspective took the form of responding to a specific issue not with a one-off intervention but with a course of treatment. This is often used for incurable conditions, necessitating the repeated use of drugs and an often-radical change in one’s behaviour.

The solution is not a miraculous cure that you take as soon as the problem appears, but a course of treatment. This may consist of pills, ointments or syrups, but these are to be taken according to a dosage that is adapted to the individual and the current status of the illness and should be accompanied by behaviour and good habits that, altogether, make for a new lifestyle.

To allow the user to take immediate and regular action, without stressing and turning their day-to-day life upside down, these new brands offer a subscription-based business model. Care of personalises its vitamins and supplements packages based on the needs and preferences of the user, which are conveyed through an online questionnaire. The products are then regularly delivered to their home according to their requirements, which can be edited online at any time.


Curology goes a step further in tailoring their skincare creams to the needs of individuals. This is achieved by putting each user in contact with a professional who can identify and combine the right ingredients, creating a lotion that is right for them. In order to avoid miscommunications, the lotion takes the name of the user. The professional then tracks their progress.


Another way in which users are looked after and guided in their daily life is through specially created content that educates consumers, advising them about good behaviour patterns, debunking myths and keeping them up to date with news and initiatives. By signing up to receive Callaly’s tampons, you can also read their journal, which includes special guides, interviews with experts, stories from real women and information about social initiatives.

From embarrassment to pride

The second crucial change in perspective came in considering your health no longer as a source of embarrassment but as something that you can talk about. The brands tune into their users and no longer offer them a mask to cover up their problem and pretend it doesn’t exist. Quite the opposite, they want to help people who are suffering talk about their condition, so they see that they are not alone, drawing comfort and strength from the stories of others.

The irony used by Hims to normalise and tackle issues is common across many brands. Meanwhile Blume adopts a more empathetic and personal approach. The two sisters who founded this company have experienced first-hand the distress of not being able to find effective yet convenient products for intimate hygiene and body care during one’s teenage years. That’s why they used their own experience as a springboard and, also taking inspiration from the stories of other girls, created what they call a “gang” of products for which their users’ stories act as the best testimonials.


Having broken the ice and opened up a conversation, real communities have been formed around the brands. Genneve presents itself more as an online listening clinic than an e-commerce portal for menopause products. The type of conversations that it opens up to its users take every possible form, from one-to-one discussions with an expert, to the forum where you can talk with other members of the community.

From fear to freedom

The last change in perspective is related to leading users to transform their fear into freedom. The real aim of the above-mentioned brands has been to allow their consumers to be free to live their life, without worries or fears about their health. When brands tackle conditions that come up at a certain time in their users’ lives, shaking up the norms they were used to, they need to know a way to tell them that it is possible to carry on living. Not only is it possible, it is also wonderful and fun.


Queen V is launching an ode to freedom, with gaudy colours and photos of real, happy women. They want to give all women the freedom to “say the word vagina without getting embarrassed” and to stop worrying about their health and hygiene, because it is possible to deal with it anywhere, any time. Hers is another brand that creates content and offers online prescriptions that put women back in control of their health. Convinced that no one can do it better than themselves, they help women to get to know their own body and meet their needs. Thinx dispels any uncertainties surrounding periods and looking after your underwear during your menstrual cycle, using real life simulations. User influencers demonstrate this further, as they give details of their days on social media.

The brand image of these new trademarks gives us with a wider view, which goes beyond simple packaging and slogans: it is the illness that needs new approaches and a new language, not the pharmacological products. Through a change in perspective, the brand acts as a beacon, able to direct the way it comes across in all circumstances, from its visuals to the business model.

Marta Fontana, Strategic Designer at CBA

The indirect brand economy which spanned more than a century (from 1879 to 2010) was based on a tried and tested process. Brands passed through various intermediaries, beginning with the advertising agency, via publishing houses and distributors, and coming, at the very end, to the consumers.

Dominating the distribution chain thus meant dominating the market.

Now, the growth resulting from digital distribution is undergoing a shift towards the direct-to-consumer formula: the existence of the cloud allows never-before-seen ways to enter into contact with the market, pushing brands to ever increasingly connect directly with consumers.

What are the ingredients for this new winning formula? By taking advantage of the transformation in the supply chain panorama which is centred on information technology and the net, native digital players (mattresses, kitchenware, luggage and even sheets, to name but a few) are capable of proposing a higher-quality product and service experience at a quarter of the typical price. But how?

They listen to their consumers

The New York brand Care Of presents its clients with a thorough 48-question survey before putting together a proposal for supplements which is suited to their specific requirements and/or deficiencies.

CBA Insight DirectBrand 001

An obsessive focus on customer experience

Every month, Birchbox, a subscription make-up service, offers its clients as many as 5 samples of new cosmetic products to try. This provides for a successful surprise effect, accompanied by a particularly captivating unboxing experience (every month there is a package with a particular design).

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They use content as a differentiating element

Storytelling is a central element in their communication. Huel offers its consumers a new and articulated point of view of nutrition via a range of recipes studied by professional nutritionists. They do not limit themselves to promoting the quality of their product. Instead, they fight to raise awareness on the food emergency and the excessive exploitation of environmental resources for the production of food of animal origin.

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Their mission is their story

One outstanding example is the Ohne brand of organic cotton sanitary pads which focuses its communication on overcoming the taboo of menstruation, still often seen as a source of embarrassment. The brand has embraced the mission of combating all of the gender stereotypes, going beyond the specific theme of menstruation.

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They begin with data

They independently collect data on their clients in order to guarantee a tailor-made approach. Graze analyses the tastes of its consumers before sending them the monthly box of snacks, thus selecting only the items which are most in line with their preferences.

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They have a new strategy for opening retail points

Boll & Branch, which proposes organic cotton sheets, has decided to open a bricks-and-mortar retail store in response to the desire of its clientele to have hands-on experience of the pleasure and quality of the products, demonstrating the modern and unusual passage from online to offline (rather than the opposite, which was the case in the past).

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Where does the innovation lie? How do they manage to stand out so much from the crowd?

By side-stepping traditional channels, designing the product in-house and creating a relationship of extreme trust with clients which is based on shared values.

These brands have been consolidating growth and turnover for a number of years now, becoming reference points rather than a flash in the pan. In illustration, Gillette’s market share for men’s razors in the USA fell in 2016 to 54% from the 2010 level of 70%, while the shares of the Dollar Shave Club and Harry’s have climbed to 12.2% from 7.2% in 2015 (Fox Business, 2017); the increase in turnover of grocery stores in general is forecast to be around 1% in 2022, while the meal kit market is expected to grow ten-fold in the same period2.

The fundamental idea of these small emerging entities is that their business model is based on a relationship with the client. It is a relationship which takes the form of personalised services and with a customer experience which has never been tried before, where what really counts is the overall service, embodying positive desires, values and emotions more than the physical product itself. Through continuous feedback and two-way communication, brands can constantly improve this relational aspect.

All of this has an effect not only on entities which are currently emerging, but also on those which are already established, leading to a re-thinking of the roles of all the channels of communication and contact with brands, including bricks-and-mortar stores which far from disappearing are ever increasingly conceived to complete (or begin) that which digital spaces have started. It is no coincidence that even a brand such as Nike is following the example of new, small-scale entities, adapting to direct-to-consumer trends, and between 2010 and 2020, the forecasts for the results of its new direct-to-consumer strategies show a shift in turnover from 19 billion dollars to 50 billion.

Irene Serafica
Chief Strategy Officer at CBA

We have been discussing how brands should behave in the digital switch. We are now moving on to talk about the other main aspect involving the increase in online shopping: the retail world, commercialising brand products, that is the “box” leading our purchase choices.

Until today, offline retail has played a key role in defining the customer’s purchase experience, especially in its first stages: awareness, testing, search and selection of the product. Today these phases are happening on digital platforms. How can we re-think them related to the purchase behaviours we assume? How can we make them attractive, different from a simple search engine or customised advice? How can we imagine the future digital shelf, able to catch the customer’s attention and to respond effectively to different needs?

An answer to these questions emerges from the results of qualitative research we conducted interviewing a selected sample of people from Paris, Milan and San Francisco, investigating their purchase habits: by doing so, we found 5 purchase behaviours that characterise us as customers, depending on our shopping habits and on the item purchased. We have therefore imagined a possible digital solution for each purchase behaviour that can make every customer’s journey relevant to every need.


It’s the typical behaviour of consumers that meticulously read every information label on every product they handle, comparing features, to understand which product best fits their specific needs. The amount of time and money are not drivers for the choice, instead it is specific information and the possibility to compare many products in a simple way. In this case a “product comparator” on the e-commerce platform is the ideal tool for this kind of consumer, to be applied to specific products suitable for comparisons (i.e. not salt or sugar).

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It’s the purchase behaviour of people who are enchanted by aesthetically appealing and innovative products, with shapes, visuals and design that deserve to be posted on Instagram. There is no loyalty to brands, but a continuous search and experimentation of new products that from time to time seem attractive to the customer’s eyes, generating compulsive purchases. An e-commerce platform that is relevant for this purchase behaviour should have a dedicated section that really concentrates on the visual content that could surprise and satisfy the aesthetic search. This can be developed by accurately selecting the best products available in store. These pictures should be taken in detail, mainly about objects in their actual context of use, thus capturing customer’s attention much more than the small standardised images, on a white background, which are typical of e-commerce catalogues. 21 Buttons is an example, in the fashion field, of how products can be visualised in a catchy way and how influencers and models can also be involved in this kind of product presentation.

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It’s a purchase behaviour clearly related to the price as a fundamental driver of every purchase. It’s not about the cheapest price but about the deal you are getting. We are talking here about the real pleasure experienced by those who know they have bought something at a lower price than what is perceived as the “true value”. So why not equip the e-commerce platforms with a configurator that collects the purchase data, and through a path of choice guided by simple questions, proposes to the user the best in-store deals available? This system could be based on a choice linked to the consumption opportunities rather than on the concept of the shopping list: do you have to make dinner for four people, with fish, on a shoestring budget? The system is able to offer you a basket of suitable products at a super-affordable price. The Nordstrom Gifting app, for example, helps users to find beautiful and surprising gifts at the best price, conversing with a chatbot that uses artificial intelligence.

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The key decision driver is the time, or rather the small amount of time, that you want to dedicate to grocery shopping. How can you minimise the time and energy spent on an activity that is considered boring or even unnerving? If the price does not matter, the brand does not count and the product details are not relevant. The ideal solution for a platform that wants to meet this need is to provide a shortcut to purchase by totally removing the selection phase, providing a grocery subscription. Through an initial profiling of the user basing on important information, a connection with their calendar and a machine learning approach, the platform is able to model products and frequency, with no involvement on the user’s side. Consumers will be able to easily provide feedback and suggestions, when and if they decide to. There is a similar example in the travel world: it is Anywhr, which provides a complete tour operator service, upon subscription, taking away any kind of thought related to the organisation of a trip. You provide the dates, Anywhr decides the destination and organises accommodation, transfers and visits. Clearly, for these solutions to be successful, the initial profiling phase is crucial where the user declare his tastes and preferences, intolerances or general restrictions, so that the system can provide a fast and simple service, which is truly satisfying for the user.

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It’s the purchase behaviour that focuses on the brands, the ones to which we are attached. It’s a kind of purchase that finds in the brand a certainty, a reliability and also a certain dose of affection for everyday products. To be relevant in a scenario where the choice of the product has already been taken by definition (the choice of the brand is already done), it may be interesting to reduce the effort and the timing of re-purchase of the desired product to the minimum. For example, online shopping platforms could develop a service based on an initial profiling process in which the users indicate their favourite brands. Once this is done, all the shoppers have to do is to upload a shopping list, or send it by WhatsApp, and the platform will take care of shopping for them, making them skip the search phase and optimising consumer’s time. Also, with its Dash button, Amazon has devised a system to make reordering your favourite brands extremely easy.

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Online grocery shopping in growing 3 times faster than offline (Food Marketing Institute and Nielsen “Digital shoppers”). Online supermarkets sales on digital platforms are predicted to capture 20% of total sales by 2015, reaching $100 billion in US (Kantar Worldpanel’s latest report u0022The Future of E-commerce in FMCG, November 2017).

The reason why? Faster and cheaper delivery, online exclusive deals, easier returns and 24/7 availability. Even if many people still prefer the hands-on approach of shopping in a store, high street outlets are starting to suffer as more and more people chose the comfort of online shopping rather than bothering to leave the house.

The leading actor of the offline shelves is undoubtedly the pack, one of the first touchpoint with whom we get in contact with the brand. When we switch channel and we find ourselves surfing on digital shelves, what is its role? How does it change?

The colors of packs, their fonts and call to action, pounce upon us from offline shelves redirecting our attention and our choices. On the other hand, when we’re on the online shelf, the pack often loses completely its function and it becomes a search engine support, a slideshow that over and over portrays the product with little effect on the user. If offline I can touch, see and read the pack, online I just can “recognize” it (from far away).

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To deeply understand how the role of packaging changes online and how does it influence customer experience and purchasing choice, we went out in the field and talked with consumers. We did this in order to understand their purchasing behaviors and then we identified opportunity areas for brands and retailers as well as actions aimed at strengthening the relationship with their consumers online.

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Offline, the packaging has always been crucial in the first stages of customer journey, where it orientates the products search, and in final stages, when we use the product and we store it in the larder. Differently from grocery offline shopping on the e-commerce platforms we can’t rely any more on packaging to attract and inform the customer on our products. On the other side, the central stages of customer journey – the using and the conservation of the product – are the first and unique phases in which online customer comes in contact with the packaging.

Provide engaging assets to better comunicate your product on the platform.

Goal number one of all the brands today is to be visible, easily recognizable on the platform and to be chosen among all the other products. Working on a strategy based on the creation of a series of emotional visual assets, varying from pictures to videos, to better visualize and understand the product. This will help the consumer’s navigation on the platform towards your product. This is what FLAVIAR proposes, alcoholic drinks brand, that presents users with visual depictions of the flavors associated with particular alcoholic drinks.

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Collaborate to improve the experience on the retailer platform

Collaborate to improve the experience on the retailer platform, in order to make your brand more visible than the others. When purchasing, online platforms are the ones taking the lead over products and packaging. There are several brands that, with specific agreements, get higher visibility on supermarkets’ online platforms. For instance, on Auchan’s e-commerce there are brands like Mulino Bianco, Granarolo, Citterio and Mutti that stand out on the homepage. Or on Carrefour website home there is a “magazine” section where brands like Rio Mare explain how to prepare the best tuna salads.

Create packaging dedicated to the online channel in order to solve new needs and expectations

Delivery, unboxing, usage and storage are phases that are not considered enough when designing a pack. Working on the role that packaging can fulfill in these late stages of the customer’s journey can be a key differentiator to strengthen the relationship with your consumers. GLOSSIER‘s packaging is like a ziplock bag with pink bubble wrap inside, and it became a must in every woman’s handbag. It become such a hit that on the website that they even started selling the empty pack by itself.

What does constructing a brand identity mean? Form a personality for the brand through a visual and iconographic language, effective communication, or even the design of every single touchpoint: these are all elements which determine the perception and reputation of the brand from the point of view of its public. A perception which is not only rational but also profoundly emotive and instinctive, on which the approval and the consequent success of the brand depends.

The visual image is, however, not the only answer.

How can I get my brand onto the market? How can I reach my consumers? Through which channels and actions? Through what forms is the brand perceived by its consumers? How can we reach the heads (and hearts) of users? The go-to-market strategy is the answer. Answering these questions means planning a strategy aimed at constructing a relationship with our clients. According to the combination of factors chosen for implementation, brand perception by users varies considerably and, consequently, the brand identity is also affected.

Brand identity is therefore not (only) the result of its visual image but also of the combination of all channels and actions which are carried out by the brand in order to construct a relationship with its clients.

The various combinations create differing brand perceptions and, consequently, this significantly influences the brand identity.

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Vorwerk Folletto

The German company entered the Italian market as far back as 1938 with a new sales technique, the door-to-door model, a technique which is still in widespread use for a number of product types. The main value that the brand wanted to project to the consumer was (and is) loyalty. The brand uses the strength of the relationship economy, based on authentic human relationships, which generate a positive feeling of trust in consumers, in order to position and differentiate its products on the competitive scene. The product that it sells costs more than those of its competitors, and it is often difficult to understand all its functions or use all of its modes. A demonstration at home, accompanied step by step by interaction with the sales representative, is fundamental in order to convince and impress the target. Consequentially, this generates a bond of trust with the seller and the brand it represents.

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Nestlé Brasile

The same door-to-door sales strategy is applied by the multinational company Nestlé in the main Brazilian cities, which uses a network of micro-distributors and individual sales representatives who, with a cart, manage to reach the most inaccessible areas of the city. By using this strategy, the brand has managed to provide employment for a large number of women from the poorest areas, and to sell its products in difficult-to-reach or completely inaccessible areas. Furthermore, by selling food at low prices, the brand has been well-received by the population, creating a feeling of trust and reciprocal support. A brand which is “close” to you, not only via that which it communicates, but also in the way it reaches you wherever you are.

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One of the currently most fashionable and talked-about strategies is that of the “drop”. Supreme applies this sales model by releasing new products every Thursday morning in its online store and its five physical stores world-wide. This strategy has generated an unprecedented level of physical and virtual traffic, approximately 1 billion views in one drop in 2016, increasing the traffic on its website by 16,800% and creating queues in front of the stores days before. This strategy, accompanied by a communication campaign which transmits the same values of exclusivity, has permitted the brand to achieve this elite, inaccessible and extremely fascinating image.

The experience of the three case studies shows how the go-to-market strategy, the choice of channels used to reach one’s clients, the method of interaction with them, the frequency of the relationship and the key actions carried out by the brand, are an integral part of the very identity of the brand. Being a loyal brand comes through the human and profound relationship with those who sell the product (in the case of Folletto); brands which respond to daily needs are those which reach you wherever you are (Nestlé); and lastly, being exclusive is not only a question of gold and sequins, but of intelligent sales strategies (Supreme).

The way I contact and address my clients is the very heart of my brand identity.

Irene Serafica

Strategic Design Lead

When it took its first steps 20 years ago, Italian craft beer mainly had to compete with wine. In an initial attempt to compete directly, it borrowed methods and visual codes: a 75cl bottle size, visuals inspired by the rural soul of the winemaking world, and price positioning and consumption occasions which all belonged to wine.

Only in the last five years we have seen a marked change in direction: the craft sector has distanced itself from traditional, artisanal positioning to move towards a more contemporary craft territory. Gradually, it started speaking the languages of the brewing industry, from the use of 33cl bottles to greater immediacy in communication, from the simplification of its packaging to the attempt to position itself as more of an everyday product.

Even beer styles and therefore product ranges followed the same shift. Initially, Italian craft beer was associated with a product that was often complex and rich, whereas nowadays it has expanded to include more simple and accessible styles, such as lagers – previously relegated to industrial production only – or styles influenced by contemporary trends, such as American IPAs

The normalisation of craft beer is destined to continue. From all fronts, an ever-growing number of products and brands will seize the middle ground between artisanal and industrial: we will see more and more craft-like industrial beers and more and more breweries with an industrial setup.

This middle ground will grow, eventually becoming the norm to the detriment of small artisan producers and the slight erosion of the industrial beer market.

An excellent example of this transition in the UK market is Camden Town Brewery. A microbrewery that was born, like so many in London, under a railway arch, with a small site and only a handful of staff who, however, have shown themselves to be strongly consumer-oriented from the outset. The creation of a taproom where they could sell their products and bring the brand experience to life, a visual identity that is based on a simplicity and directness that are instantly attention-grabbing, a flagship product that very courageously redefines the everyday lager and an entrepreneurial mindset that led them to launch a successful equity crowdfunding campaign and finally sell the business to AB Inbev.

In the coming years, the real growth will come from those who will be able to make craft beer, namely beer that average consumers would define neither industrial nor artisanal, more accessible not only in terms of distribution and price but also in terms of communication and visual languages.

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Anna Managò

With a background in Carlsberg’s Italian and Danish marketing and innovation teams, she made her way to London, where after three years as a brand strategist at Kantar Added Value she founded ByVolume, a creative agency specialising in food and drink. Her product knowledge stems from an expertise that can only come from true passion: she regularly judge at beer competitions around the world including Birra dell’Anno (Beer of the Year) in Italy, the International Beer Challenge in the UK, and the World Beer Cup in the USA.