At a recent conference on the future of retail, one speaker’s presentation left people feeling pretty worried.

At a recent conference on the future of retail, one speaker’s presentation left people feeling pretty worried.

He argued that today’s consumers no longer care about brands. He said that brands that no longer serve their purpose are doomed because consumers are more fickle, less tolerant and more plugged in to information that they search for and share online.

Recent research by Havas Media on ‘meaningful brands’ found a majority of respondents said that they wouldn’t miss 73% of today’s brands.

Another study showed that only 37% of people could name a brand that made them feel truly happy.

I’m not sure that happiness is necessarily the key factor, but trust surely is. Earlier this year, The New Yorker published a piece called ‘Twilight of the Brands’ inspired by the hero to zero story of activewear brand Lululemon.

A year ago it was a hot brand. But customer complaints about quality started increasing, then the founder suggested that some women were too fat to wear its clothes. The crash in credibility and sales was instant.

For retailers and brands, understanding how consumers perceive you has to be a high priority.

Perhaps businesses should go back to their roots to understand what they exist for. This thought came to mind at last month’s World Retail Congress Asia Pacific.

Two speakers alluded to their founding principles and values. Scott Price, chief executive of Walmart Asia, recited founder Sam Walton’s statement that he founded the business to tackle his observation back in the 1950s that “those with the least seem to have to pay the most”. From that came his mission to offer ‘everyday low prices’.

Seah Kian Peng, chief executive of Singapore food retailer Fair Price, said that the business’s founding aim was, and remains, to “moderate the cost of living in Singapore”.

Have too many retailers forgotten what they stand for? Either way, consumers want brands to serve their needs. They don’t want to have to be persuaded to like them.