By Andy Stalman, CEO TOTEM Branding

Crises amplify what brands were before it. Excellent brands react excellently, while mediocre brands react in such a way. We are witnessing a global health crisis that collaterally affects the economy with virulence.

Andy Stalman – Totem Branding

Some of the world’s most valuable assets are brands – that intangible combination of expectations, certainties, and promises that we associate with a product, an organization, a person, or even an entire country. Not only have I accumulated a great practical experience on how brands are born, grow, change or die, but I have also known how to distill that experience in my daily work for more than two decades.

Updated VUCA

VUCA was the way to describe the volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity of the world that would be born in the early 1990s.

More than three decades ago the volatility, the uncertainty, the complexity and the ambiguity of the world were framed in a more geostrategic, political and military environment than business. Let’s add that almost coinciding with the beginning of the post-Cold War period, the emergence of the Internet and new technologies would also shake the global business board. But there are concepts, like VUCA, that transcend the passage of time, precisely because there are things that do not change over time. These elements constitute the context in which organizations live their current and future situation, and they appear together in ways that complicate decisions or allow to sharpen the capacity to look, plan and move in an increasingly complex world.

The world no longer faces the challenges of the early 1990s, yet in business fields this expression is often heard as if it were novel, and not at all. What is worthwhile is transforming the origin of VUCA and understanding how it can help us move to the next level, both at a business and organizational level. For the many contemporary organizations — from the military to business, from business schools to governments — VUCA is a body of learning and knowledge about anticipation, evolution, and intervention. Therefore, it is related to the way in which leaders and decision-makers contemplate, analyze and resolve to plan, manage risks and solve problems or, ideally, prevent them.

Digital Changed The Game

As you can read in the HumanOffOn book, the internet has transformed our daily experience. Our mobile devices connect us beyond limits, providing direct, personal awareness of the world in real time. Unlimited media and entertainment options compete for our attention, global supply chains allow any product to be available anywhere, while new exchange platforms allow complete strangers to take us, feed us and give us a place where to sleep at night.

No wonder, then, that our relationship with brands is changing. Brands are no longer hermetically sealed and controlled by their owners. They cannot be contained in their form, communication or geography. Now they are completely in the hands of the consumer.

The way we think about brands in the 21st century is especially essential in the context of the emerging Latin American digital market.

It is worth paying attention to where the Spanish-speaking segment is going, and not just because of the size of its consumer markets. While many of today’s technologies may have originated in Silicon Valley, it will be in the dynamic and socially connected markets of Latin America that some of the most exciting consumer innovations will be born.

In this new era of consumer-driven brands, we cannot define channels, only values. We cannot write rules, only encourage mindsets. When consumer behavior changes faster than the marketing planning cycle, it is the sellers who really need to change. To survive and thrive in this environment, leaders must effortlessly combine creativity with science, intuition with data.

For anyone passionate about building and managing tomorrow’s brands, understanding emerging technologies and new patterns of human behavior is just the beginning. Brands in the future will not be designed, but will emerge from your total customer experience.

Reengineering your brand based on customer experience seems attractive, but in truth, it is not an easy task. It requires a total commitment from the company and its leaders to digital transformation.

Value Creation In Times Of Crisis

Brands can and should take advantage of the crisis as an opportunity to rethink their relationship with the coming society, to build a product, service or ecosystem more suitable for the future. This is not the time for half measures or funky brands. It is time for brands to be brave. And it is the actions that matter, not the words.

Here are some companies that were founded during previous recessions: Airbnb, Amgen, Burger King, Chevrolet, CNN, Disney, Denny’s, Electronic Arts, Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Genzyme, Goldman Sachs, Hershey, Hyatt, IBM, Kraft Foods, Marriott, MTV, Procter & Gamble, Slack, Square, Trader Joe’s, Uber, UPS or Urban Outfitters to name a few.

Crisis And After

The good news is that beyond the size of the company, for all, the opportunity is served.

These days I am getting a lot of questions about how brands have to be managed in the midst of the coronavirus crisis. Beyond their size or industry, there are five cross-cutting aspects to all of them.


Five essential pillars for brands, before, during and after the crisis. Obviously there are many brands. And the same advice does not apply for a toilet paper brand as for an air transportation brand. What I also see transverse to all is: put yourself in the people’s shoes. Be sensitive, empathetic. And remember that the line between opportunity, opportunism and opportunism is always thin.

During this crisis, successful brands are reacting successfully, while mediocre brands are mediocre. The crisis has not defined brands, it has only exposed them. The brands that behave best during the crisis will come out stronger.