No business these days can just sit pretty. But the extent and nature of changes confuses many. Brands evolve. Or die. But they must also retain something of what consumers know. Or they fade. So which is more important? And how should a brand act, when? I get asked about this a lot. So here are my takes on what must stay and what can go (sometimes):
1. Your good name (in every sense) – it’s the thing people know you by. Unless of course you need to re-engineer your reputation or your old name doesn’t fit what you do anymore.
2. Your purpose – the ways you intend to change the world should remain an inspiring constant for staff and customers (providing it’s inspiring to start with, of course)
3. Your values – only change them if you’re going to make them more challenging
4. Your promises – trust is the basis for any brand’s success. Without that, you’re nothing.
5. Your principles – in today’s transparent markets, transgressions will be discovered. It’s just a question of time.
6. The category you compete in – if the current category isn’t working for you, if you can’t achieve breakthrough in that space or if there is a disruption opportunity in another market, look for a different place to compete, or change the business model under which you compete.
7. How others must compete against you – look for ways to shift how you do business so that any reaction from a competitor disadvantages them by forcing them to work in ways and/or places where you have advantages.
8. Where you’re positioned – adjust your market position to put daylight between yourself and others.
9. Who you target – if your current market isn’t buying, go in search of new segments and/or change your current offerings to better meet the changing needs of your customers.
10. Your story – adjust your story to reflect the other changes in your business. Tell people a story that haven’t heard yet.
11. Your personality – to better fit with what people want. Bring an attitude that inspires and excites people.
12. Your language – visual and verbal, to better converse with the people you’re trying to reach. But be aware too that complete overhauls of your identity in low-attention sectors can literally see customers walking past your brand.
13. How people perceive you – use advertising and smart content marketing to give people different perspectives.
14. What you offer people – through improvements, upgrades and limited edition versions of your products
15. How people experience the brand – reach them through new channels and/or change the levels of service that you offer customers
16. How people access the brand – by giving them a value alternative to get them started or by offering them different ways to acquire what the brand offers.
17. What people feel they get for their money – particularly important in budget-conscious sectors. That doesn’t necessarily mean you discount. It can mean you have to demonstrate more actively why you’re worth what you’re worth through added features, improved performance, complementary offers etc.
Evolution vs Transformation
The distinction between evolution and transformation lies in the extent of the changes rather than whether to change or not.
In the course of normal brand evolution, core beliefs and behaviors should remain constant but product lines, experiences and competitive approach need to keep pace with shifts across the marketplace. In this context, brands modernize but within a context that consumers clearly recognize.
A transformation process by contrast challenges the whole premise of the organization and in so doing brings into question every aspect of the brand’s credo by requiring the business to redefine its ‘reason for value’. In this scenario, everything’s up for scrutiny including all the things that you might otherwise keep. The brand becomes something it has never been before by questioning everything it has previously held dear. This pulls the seat out from underneath everyone – but get it right, as organizations like IBM have done on a number of occasions, and new markets literally open up in front of you.
One thing we can safely assume: brands that don’t continue to change to the extent required of them (however radical that might be) must, in time, become extinct.
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Branding Strategy Insider is a service of The Blake Project: A strategic brand consultancy specializing in Brand Research, Brand Strategy, Brand Licensing and Brand Education