November 30, 2016

How to avoid brand growing pains

Growing cacti image

Let me ask you a very important question: what does your brand want to be when it grows up?

And, more importantly – how will you get there?

Rebrand, rebirth, or a coming-of-age, every brand goes through stages of growth and decline in its (hopefully) never-ending lifecycle.  When it comes time for that change, ask yourself these questions, and you’ll be that much closer to the dream of your brand taking flight again.

1. Do we know where we’ve come from?

It’s tough to find where you need to go if you don’t know where you’re starting. To effectively guide your brand forward, you must have a stable baseline. Understand your core values and how you currently communicate them. Immerse yourself in your brand’s backstory. Discover its successes and failures.

2. What’s driving our current brand review?

The first decision in a brand review should be “Do we need to make adjustments or not?” – If you’ve jumped straight to “What do we need to change?” I encourage you to take a step back and ask if it’s even necessary. You will always find something to change if that’s your only goal.

Knowing whether this is a scheduled brand health-check, has been inspired by concerning market feedback, is the result of an agency pitch, or is in reaction to poor sales performance, will shed light on what – if anything – needs to be done.

3. We’re growing up – is our target audience?

Your brand is maturing. Your offerings may have changed, or perhaps your core values have experienced a shift. The same may be true for your target audience.

Are you targeting an age group, generation, or a particular type of person? If it’s the latter, then ensuring your values are aligned to attract the right people is key. When targeting for a generation, you need to look at how recent disruptions and culture shifts have changed their outlook. And, if your target audience happens to be a particular age group, you might be in for a major overhaul. Depending on the size of the age bracket, you may be facing a whole – extremely – different generation than you were, even five years ago.

4. Whose vision is guiding us on this journey?

This is a fundamental question that’s often overlooked. Are you building your brand around the vision of its founder, its board or employees, or are you focused on your customers’ vision?

There’s no hard and fast rule as to what works best here. It depends on your brand. Whether you are building from within and attracting those who share your values or aligning your brand with your customer’s values, the key here is that you know where your passion, inspiration and direction are coming from.

5. Are we innovating, iterating or imitating?

Beware the third one – just don’t do it! Imitation may be the highest form of flattery, but it’s also the biggest waste of your money and time. Be different, brand different.

Just like an individual, your brand should be ever-growing, ever-evolving – and on occasion, may need to reinvent itself.  Understanding what is required for your brand to grow – or survive, in some cases – will ensure all of your energy and resources can be focused effectively.

And focus you must. When evolving, maintain those links to your roots, work your history and traditions, and keep that connection – this is just the next step in your brand’s natural progression.  Simple iterations may be in order, to adjust your ‘flight pattern’ slightly. Or if an advantageous technology / customer insight avails itself to you, be open to the opportunity and innovate.

On the other hand, a major shift from your current brand needs to be easily ‘noticeable’ (no half-measures please), but also easily ‘understandable.’ Brand innovation is useless if people just don’t get it.

6. What’s our brand prototyping process?

You know why you’re rebranding, whose vision is behind it, and what your target audience expects – so, armed with this knowledge, how will you make sure you’re on the right track?  Focus groups (formal, informal, social), stakeholder surveys, employee engagement, industry experts, trusted advisors, boardroom ‘discussions’ – these are all possible avenues for effective checks and balances throughout your rebranding progress.  That’s the ‘who.’  The ‘who’ is the easy part.

The real challenge comes with deciding ‘how much,’ ‘how often’ – and just ‘how.’

You can build your rebrand ‘by committee’, or you may prefer a singular decision maker (or small team) with ample, controlled, avenues of feedback.  My personal preference is the latter; as I believe it usually leads to less compromise and a closer adherence to the core brand – as long as the right decision maker is selected.

7. How will we guide the brand through this transition?

What plan do you have in place to implement your new improved brand?  Consistency is key, and confusion is a killer.

Are you heading for a ‘big reveal’, or do logistics call for a longer term implementation strategy?  How you execute your brand changeover will be a major player in how well (or poorly) it catches on.

8. How will we measure our success?

Take a quick step back to questions one and two. You know where you are, and why the change is needed – so logic dictates that you can probably work out a metering for success based on that.  Clearly define success indicators – before you start – and ensure you share the focus over both the short and long term.

The trick here is to measure not only the success of the rebrand itself but your entire rebranding experience. How smooth was the transition? Did your prototyping feedback match with that of the live brand? If not, what went wrong? These things can save you time and resources, and increase your rebrand ROI next time around.

9. Do we have the resources and expertise that we need?

Before you launch into action, it’s time to review and ensure you have all the requisite pieces in place.  It will be much easier to succeed if you have the right tools and talent around you.

Get the right technology in place to research, review, rebuild, and relaunch your brand.  It may not be a case of buying new systems at all, rather, updating software and adjusting how your current systems perform.  Find a balance that allows you to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the rebrand, without adding any more unnecessary change management headaches.

Then address the rebrand team. How much of it is internal, and how much will be handled by external contractors? Check for missing or weak links in the brand supply and support chain that may hamper your success.

Done well, your new brand can last you a lifetime. The only question is, how long will that ‘lifetime’ be? The lifetime of a technology? A generation? Or do you have research confirming the average brand lifecycle for your industry? Because, in this ever-changing world, no brand can remain motionless forever, and we all have dreams to fly to new heights.