2021: A turning point. Ace looks ahead.

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2021: A turning point. Ace looks ahead.

By: Melle Bos, Head of Brand & Consultancy at Ace

2021. It’s going to be a turning point when real leaders take back control of the brand. Based on our shared vision of building winning brands, we formulated a future perspective from a number of our disciplines at Ace. Let’s go!

Last year was a year in which many brands were forced to accelerate their transformation. In some cases this meant staying afloat or taking advantage of changing consumer behaviour due to the COVID-19 situation. It was also a year in which we finally realised that continued reliance on big tech is not sustainable, first party data is becoming crucial and programmatic is not infallible.

The reality is that over the past decade, many organisations have lost direct contact with their clients. On the one hand, digitisation has made much of the communication and user experience uniform through the use of the same systems and techniques. On the other hand, many organisations have lost contact with third parties, who often left little room for building their own relationships and establishing a strong, recognisable brand.

The good news is that 2021 marks the start of organisations taking back control of their brand. CMOs recognise that brand strategy and identity will become the most crucial strategic capability – but in a whole new way. That new way involves connecting with their own brand ecosystems and developing into what, at Ace, we call a ‘Connected Brand. Now it’s the brand’s turn.

And that starts with the leaders of those brands. Restoring the lost connection requires independence and control, as well as a different type of brand leader (as Spencer Stuart reported). It requires open collaboration between organisations, consumers and partners, a test-and-learn mentality, a commitment to inclusivity and a positive contribution to the world. It also involves a need for true integration of the brand ecosystem with people and the business, permanently breaking down organisational silos. One brand, one goal.

At Ace, we mirror the ambitions and mentality of these new brand leaders in how we are organised, how we work together as agencies and how we work together with our clients. We explored what this means for the upcoming year from the perspectives of Born05 (digital branding), Blauw Gras (social media) and Glasnost (PR).

The brand ecosystem

Harm Balvers – Born05: “At its core, branding is an organised game of promise and proof. The classic 'promise & proof' has enabled great brand developments for many years, but as a mechanism is no longer fully applicable in the current digital age. People have more contact with brands than ever, in many different ways and at many different times. Brands have taken on an even deeper meaning in people's lives. We see that a new era has dawned, leaving behind channel-centric 'promise & proof' and beginning with people-centric 'expectations & experiences'. You can influence those expectations by controlling your brand and all those opportunities for contact. Experiences merge in the brand ecosystem. An interactive, seamless ecosystem of people, opportunities for contact, data, products and services.

Connected Brands
This requires more from brands; it requires a different type of brand management. At Ace, we call this a ‘Connected Brand'. Several things are needed in order to achieve this, from an active brand purpose to embracing technology and data as drivers of growth. Programming campaigns, content and digital services is essential in a (digital) brand ecosystem. Strategic planning becomes digital programming. Building and maintaining the connection between people and brands remains the starting point. After all, people are more than a client number, email address or a like.”

People in an equal relationship with the brand.

Gijs van der Togt – Blauw Gras: “Taking control of the entire ecosystem involves establishing the role between people and brand. On social media, people always take centre stage. Understanding what motivates people is crucial – especially in these times.

Young people, for example, started using social media differently during the second wave of the lockdown. They have become more passive, sharing fewer photos and videos with their followers (COVID youth survey, MediaTest, 2021). Especially on Facebook and Instagram, we are seeing sharp declines in active use before and during the crisis. That’s not very surprising, as we are all spending lots of time at home and going on fewer holidays. We are experiencing less, so we are sharing less.

The content that is being shared is mostly taking place in and around the home. We are also seeing a strong increase in content relating to interior and home improvements. Hashtags such as #diyhomeimprovement are being used to share the latest antics in the living room or kitchen. These community trends caused by the crisis are forcing brands to look at their content differently. Our gaze has turned more inward – quite literally. We love to use these cultural and lifestyle trends from the community to create (social) content campaigns and programmes for our clients. This makes brand interaction more topical and relevant, and of course is easily measurable from a social media perspective.

As a brand you want to be topical, but you also want to respond to the world as experienced by the consumer. We call this being in the 'here and now'. The core of a Connected Brand lies in its ability to connect with the world around it. That world expresses itself and finds others primarily through social media. It is the thermometer in today's culture, with an equal relationship between brand and client as the starting point for campaigns and content programmes. This results in a brand interaction that puts people first, but never forgets to promote the brand in a relevant way.”

Earned media is becoming increasingly important.

Amber Haank – Glasnost: “Earned media is playing an increasingly important role in clients’ brand perception – especially in these times. But managing earned media is not easy. The word says it all: attention has to be earned. That is why a mentality of open collaboration with your environment and, most importantly, transparency are essential. Never before have actions been so much more important than words.

Developing a Connected Brand is about connecting with your target group, based on the world as experienced by that target group. Engagement plays a significant role in this. And that is exactly how PR can help: earning consumers' trust instead of simply stealing their time. Consumers are – justifiably so – making ever higher demands and brands are increasingly required to actively contribute to people and society. The year 2020 was a year of great social upheaval and consumers expect organisations to respond. From a PR perspective, we therefore consider 2021 an important year for brands to act accordingly.

The world as experienced by the target group becomes essential, as does a deeper understanding of that target group: what drives them, what their intentions are and what they want to contribute. This especially applies to young people. The earned media mentality will therefore play an increasingly important role in building those brands because it happens in the community. This means that the campaign mentality is evolving into actually getting people moving. More than ever, brands will have to make choices. Otherwise the real connection will not be made. Impact in 2021.”


In 2021, brands will begin to stand out again, both on the outside and on the inside. It will be a year of conscious choices and genuine impact instead of uniformity. This requires a new kind of brand management based on inclusive collaboration and continuous improvement across all opportunities for contact. It will be a year in which we go from promises to exceeded expectations. It will be a year in which we use the latest information from earned media to become truly relevant within communities. These are both challenging and wonderful times.

Background Two CENTS 2

Two cents of Ace: Virtual sessions about Connected Branding

With Melle Bos - Head of brand and business consultancy @ Ace

What makes Connected Brands so valuable and how to start tomorrow? Register now for the first episode of Two cents of Ace. Let’s Connect!

February 18th, 2021 - 10:00 - 11:00 AM CET.

Register here