The pace of change in business has rocketed with globalization, the internet, and social media forces. Brands have had to adjust, and do so quickly. In a frenetic business and competitive environment, agility seems necessary and “pivoting” is on-trend.
But there’s a difference between a brand adapting to change and self-destructing.
Here, I’ll touch on the warning signs of imminent brand death, the characteristics of a flexible and adaptive brand, and how to take charge of your brand in an ever-changing world.
When is a Brand in Trouble?
When I speak of “brand”, I am not meaning a logo, icon, or wordmark. Rather, I’m referring to the matrix of perceptions, emotions, associations, and beliefs that surround an entity, such as a company (Shopify), product (Samsung Galaxy), service (Mailchimp), or individual (Obama).
Sure signs that a brand is in trouble are:
The packaging is in continuous flux. If the brand’s visual/physical presentation keeps shifting (e.g. its logo, colour palate, design), the brand is in trouble. If design teams keep coming up with new ways to visualize the brand’s messages, concepts, and materials, it’s in trouble. If the website is frequently being overhauled or has been stuck for months or years trying to launch, something fundamental is broken.
The core messages are in flux. Core messages express a brand’s promise, beliefs, values, differentiation, and offerings. If the core messages change from audience to audience, situation to situation, or depending on which employee/manager/executive is speaking about the brand—that’s a sure sign the brand is in trouble.
It’s not connecting. When the brand and/or message doesn’t seem to connect with or engage the audiences it’s intended for, something’s wrong. If it attracts the wrong people, the brand and/or messaging platform is in trouble.
It can’t stand up to competitive volleys. A strong brand that comes under attack can respond with confidence and grace. Under pressure, great brands prove their mettle. A brand that crumbles under competitive threats or in the face of crisis is in trouble.
Its own people aren’t buying in. If staff, managers, or executives can’t confidently state the brand promise, aren’t on board with its core principles and values, don’t get excited about the brand and its message, or can’t confidently convey the value the brand delivers, there’s a problem. Another sign of trouble is individuals going rogue with their own promises and values on behalf of the brand.
The Foundation of an Adaptable Brand
By its very definition, a “brand” is a definable entity—a THING that people can form opinions and perceptions of. That doesn’t mean a brand is static, however. In today’s world, the most viable brands are adaptable. But where is the line between adaptable and in crisis?
The key lies in a solid foundation.
Like a building, a strong brand and messaging foundation supports a variety of changes, upgrades, and reconfigurations without altering the footprint.
Or, think of the human body—its cells change constantly yet it remains recognizable because of it is guided by a blueprint called DNA.
These are the components of a strong brand foundation:
Promise and follow-through. A strong brand has a clear promise about what it does and how it does it. It has PRINCIPLES—fundamental truths or assumptions that underly its various instances and representations. A evolves authentically and consistently by following through on its core promise and adhering to its principles. Its evolution is enabled by answering the question: How will we deliver our promise in these new circumstances, or to this new market? If promises and principles are in flux, the brand loses meaning, becomes volatile and untrustworthy.
Value focused. A strong brand delivers value to its target audience(s). It is constantly seeking relevance to those it intends to serve—but not at the expense of its core promise and principles. Strong brands are educated about and responsive to their target audiences. The most effective brands are a conversation between brand and audience, sometimes to the point of becoming mirrors or extensions of audiences.
Voice. A strong brand has a recognizable “voice”, which I conceive as the sum of its personality and expression through tone and style.
Multi-channel experience. A strong brand maintains authentic presence across various media channels, platforms, and experiences. It does so by keeping its core promise, sticking to its principles, and focusing on delivering value at every turn. An adaptable brand may express one aspect of its personality more or less depending on the channel, but it is never a different voice just because the channel has changed.
Building the Foundation
The strategic Essential Story process builds (or often repairs) the foundation of a brand. It’s based on a proven methodology rooted in promise, principles, values, and voice. Talk to me about building a strong brand or taming an unruly one, and read about companies that have done so.