Over the past 30 years, I’ve seen profound changes in how businesses define their brands and navigate the marketplace to engage with customers and consumers. The most ubiquitous and valuable brands in 2018 are defined not only by an exceptional product or service but also by the experience surrounding that offering. This envelops everything from company culture to user experience and everything in-between.
Today, successful brands must move with singular purpose informed by a cohesive strategy to create meaningful connections with their audience. Leadership must take charge and truly live the brand values. They must also cascade those values down to every individual within the organisation. With the right people in place, the brand story can be told with authenticity.
When we’re partnering with an organisation that’s undergoing a rebranding initiative, we often spend as much time developing and honing the internal messaging platform as we do rolling out that message to the relevant external touch points.
This may seem counterintuitive, but it makes sense when you consider the imperative for clear, consistent communication throughout an organisation. Put simply, if you can’t agree on what your brand is or should be, how can you ask consumers to make that leap? Today, branding is generally understood to be a holistic endeavour, which presents a stark contrast from the conventional wisdom in place three decades ago.
The Product Era
When I began working with brands in the mid-1980s, all of a brand’s touch points were managed in distinct silos. Product design was considered separate from packaging, which was considered separate from advertising, which was considered separate from public relations, and so on. Each aspect was only considered valuable as measured in its direct impact on sales.
Back then, corporations didn’t think of themselves as providing brand experiences. Rather, they took the practical yet myopic view that they simply sold products or services, and the more the better.
It was not uncommon for brands to closely associate themselves with specific demographics and/or lifestyles. Certain brands naturally garnered reputations as status symbols, while others established credibility by advertising on particular TV programs or through paid celebrity endorsements. In this era, corporate brand stewards owned and, for the most part, controlled the conversations. They managed the content of the messages and controlled how they were delivered.
The Era Of Disruption
The advent of cable TV was one interesting instigator of change, which helped feed into the narrative of the “elusive consumer.” In this new age of self-segmentation and media convergence, the pendulum of control started to swing away from brand owners to their consumers and customers. In this new landscape, businesses began to realize that the battle for mindshare and influence would necessitate new strategies for how to present their brands in cohesive ways.
As competition multiplied and intensified, it became increasingly difficult for brands to reach consumers on their own terms. No longer was it sufficient to send up a flare and hope the right audience would find you. Rather, brands needed to act proactively and think of themselves as beacons, lighting the way for consumers in search of products and experiences that reinforced their values and sense of identity.
The Landscape Today
Over years of trial, error, ingenuity and iteration, the industry has come to more broadly understand the holistic nature of the brand. Though gradual, there’s been a shift away from the transactional mentality of the 1980s to the more comprehensive and experiential approach of today. As a result, many varied inflection points have collectively redefined what it means to be in business and how an organisation can best position itself for success.
Perhaps the most profound takeaway from my 30 years spent navigating these seismic changes is this: The brand experience encompasses every touch point — not just externally, but also (and especially) internally. The consumer-facing aspects of a brand and the internal culture of an organisation are inextricably intertwined. Thus, there’s no point in embarking on a complex and costly rebranding initiative without the wholehearted buy-in of the CEO and senior leadership. It’s likewise critical not to underestimate the role of internal communication in achieving external success.
A brand is perhaps the single most valuable strategic asset a company owns. When undergoing a rebranding initiative or effort to strengthen an existing brand, it’s critical for organisations to acknowledge a few key points:
• The link between the brand as customers and consumers perceive it
• The business strategy that underscores every decision they make
• The culture that defines who they are
To best position the enterprise for success, all aspects of the brand must be aligned. With these fundamentals in place, businesses can prepare themselves to weather whatever changes the next 30 years have in store.
John is the head of marketing at the 'Australian Marketing Agency'. John's expertise lies in creating outstanding and innovative solutions to help businesses reach their full potential by developing brand stories and user experiences which viscerally connects with the target audience and delivers mind-blowing results.