We’d all like to think we have a greater understanding of what’s ahead than we do. And while some ideas may seem more credible than others, the fact is that people make predictions and indeed projections every day that may, or may not, be right.
In fact, markets depend on it. Without opinion, emotion and uncertainty, they’d be no derivatives market for example, because they’d be no motive for volatility, which is, after all, the lifeblood of trading. We want our brands to be predictable too. We want to know where they’re heading. And yet, at the same time, we need them to be refreshing and interesting.
A strange alliance
To me, the art of branding is pinpointing what must change versus what must stay still. It’s a strange alliance of familiarity, response and initiative.
- Familiarity – enough of what we know about a brand needs to remain consistent enough for long enough for us to recognise it and treasure it. This is the bedrock. Change at this level happens very infrequently.
- Response – markets change, competitors change, customers change, businesses change – and brands need to be able to move with those currents. This to me is the most changeable aspect of a brand. This is where the tweaks and the upgrades happen.
- Initiative – to avoid being a passive player, brands must take the lead. They must be prepared to innovate. These are the changes that happen over the medium-term. They take that much longer because they have greater scale, require greater energy and, if done well, motivate your competitors to rethink their own position.
The role of prediction
Prediction plays a part in all of these decisions and getting any part of this mix wrong can play havoc with a brand. So here are some of the questions I ask to help arrive at the right mix of decisions.
- What are the things that a customer most looks for as signs that everything is tickety-boo? It might be the identity, it could be the service, it might be the attitude … something in people’s hearts underpins the relationship, or at least tangibilises it for customers. That’s a no-go zone unless the very fundamentals of the brand are the things holding it back.
- What are others doing? Where are they making inroads? What excitement are they generating in the marketplace and why? As a general rule, I build these decisions around how the brand will achieve its own objectives by directly confronting or countering competitor plays.
- Finally, where’s the unexplored territory in the market? What’s no-one thinking of or about that the brand could claim the high ground on? It might be a social position, it might be a service extension, it might be a learning from another market?
The key aspect is that every projection is just that. An educated guess as to what will be required in the future. And like predictions, you cannot assume that, once made, these changes will automatically make all your wishes come true. They require their own metrics and of course they need to be tracked and responded to as carefully and objectively as possible. The moment you believe you know where the market is going and how people are going to react, you set yourself up for … disappointment.