Are brand strategies evolving (why?)

Are brand strategies evolving (why?)


Are traditional brand strategies and guidelines are no longer as effective in our ever-changing business environment?

These days, it’s all about sustainable growth, digitisation, and reaching new customers and talent. Simply focusing on the old ‘positioning + visual identity’ formula in isolation may not cut it. That’s because it doesn’t answer the most pressing questions of CEOs, CPOs and CMOs;

  • How can we kick-start growth in our company?
  • How can we digitise our business to stay competitive?
  • How can we reach the next generation of customers and talent?
  • How can we adapt to  changing markets and customer expectations?
  • Are we ready for a market disruptor?

A strong brand, clearly communicated can help you answer many of these challenges.

But, the traditional formula [positioning + visual identity = branding] can be limited in providing answers to these questions. It’s mainly focused on creating a clear message and visual identity that differentiates a brand from its competition, which is important. When it comes to adapting to changes in the market and reaching new customers, it can be restrictive.

Shifting the focus from simply positioning and visual identity, to a more holistic approach, we can help companies to adapt to a changing market and reach new customers.

Wait what, holistic? Alarm bells sound. Is that a bullshit alert?

No, here’s the thing.

Brand is more than just how you look and what you say. It’s about how you grow, innovate, and delight your customers. It’s about how you engage your people and add meaning... and create value. Your brand is not a ‘project’. Not a one-time thing.

Yes, it can start with a defined piece of work, like fixing on your north star for the journey. But, it’s a continuous process that requires adaptation and experimentation along the way. Brand is a strategic and collaborative effort that needs both the CEO and the CMO, as well as bringing others, like HR, to the table.

Your brand is something you can influence. Not something you create.

It is something that reflects your actions and reputation.

Instead of focusing on just brand-ing as something skin deep, focus on the right things for your people, your customers and your business. And that can start with a well-rounded brand strategy.

Your brand is not what you say it is, it’s what they say it is.
Marty Neumeier

What does that look like?

Take a brand you know. Adidas for instance. They’ve grown as a brand by consistently offering high-quality products, innovative designs and by aligning their brand with a sustainable and increasingly, socially-responsible image. Their focus on meeting customer needs and values has resulted in a brand that is synonymous with sports and lifestyle.

Their mission is both functional and aspirational: ‘To be the best sports brand in the world’. But their purpose is more inspirational: ‘Through sport we have the power to change lives’.

And the brand’s attitude? ‘Impossible is nothing’ conveys a particular personality and relates to sporting, and business achievement. While their principles, ‘What we believe in’ give a guide and greater sense of the behaviours expected of their people.

Put these together, and they begin to create a more three dimensional view.

Adidas purpose: Through sport we have the power to change lives

By contrast look at luxury brand, Hermès. They’ve built a strong brand by focusing on craftsmanship, heritage and exclusivity. Their commitment to quality and attention to detail in every aspect of the brand has resulted in a strong brand that is synonymous with luxury and exclusivity.

Hermès operates with six values: Spirit of conquest, creativity, craftsmanship, quality, authenticity, and independence, and it details at length the true meaning of each of these.

Their purpose: ‘to create objects that withstand time and retain their beauty, while remaining faithful to the spirit of the craftsman who made them’ fits beautifully with their role in the lives of their customers, employees and makers.

In both of these cases, the brand’s purpose, personality and principles are not only communicated in words. They are visible in products, people through behaviours, and lived in experience.

So, what does it mean for you?

Well, it’s all about going a little deeper with your meaning and brand strategy – and then with its execution and constant iteration.

Your people and your customers will decide how it ultimately comes to life. But if you don’t set a clear direction of travel, how will you get there?

Stop thinking just ‘positioning’.

Think about purpose. Don’t just try to manufacture your place in the world. Define a meaningful sense of purpose. What difference do you make, socially, commercially, in the life of your customer, each of your people.’

Don’t get me wrong, positioning has a key role to play. It should be supported by purpose (Delivered with personality). And, your clear and compelling purpose will guide the positioning strategy. It will be aligned with your principles, of course. It will be inferred or echoed in your brand promise or proposition.

Any good brand strategy is an interplay of these elements. Made clear. Made simple and understandable. Made memorable.

Otherwise how will you live it? How will you even quote it when asked...

‘Every CEO should know their company’s mission and values. Good CEOs know that these statements need to amount to more than slogans for office posters and use them to influence decision making and day-to-day behaviors. Excellent CEOs go further: they reinforce and act on a corporate purpose (the “Why?”) that involves not just making money but also benefiting society. This posture, along with a granular approach to prioritizing stakeholder interactions and a sound corporate resilience plan, lets CEOs minimise the company’s exposure to customer- and stakeholder-related risks, and capitalise on new opportunities.’
McKinsey — The mindsets and practices of excellent CEOs

Think beyond visual and verbal identity.

It’s certainly important to have the right words and a standout image. But better to focus beyond that on creating whole experiences for people. You are, and must be more than a name, logo, or tagline. To lead the way, design experiences that people will remember and talk about. Again start with strategy, by setting principles that these experiences will follow.

Design is not what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.
Steve Jobs

People care about lived experience

As I often argue (when working on values) – nobody cares about your values! (Or at least that they are words written down, somewhere).

They care about your behaviours.

This is how values are lived and demonstrated. This is experience. Think ‘deeds over words’ Although having the right words is essential to articulate what you are about, and then communicate it to your people and your audience, it is not an end in itself. In fact, it’s an exciting beginning.

The high-growth businesses of the future will continue to be, at heart, purposeful. And purpose is the source of meaning. Meaning is the source of brand value creation.

To achieve a strong brand, companies should go beyond positioning to focus on developing a clear purpose and values, and then consistently deliver on them. If you align people on a strong sense of these, then focus on creating positive experiences for customers and all stakeholders — you’re in a better position to experiment and adapt to a changing market — and a strong brand will follow.

If you need a little help with building your future brand’s strategy, get in touch.

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© Garrett Reil 2012-2023.
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