One of the intriguing aspects of understanding brands is that one must be prepared not just to balance but to actively address the contradictions that humans happily live with. Blogger Daniel Walsch sums up those inconsistencies beautifully: “We want to be alone. We want to be part of groups. We are benevolent. We are selfish. We want to be independent. We want guidelines. We are self serving. We are generous. We stick to the truth. We shade the truth. We have violent tendencies. We desire peace. And on and on it goes.”
Brands mirror that humanity in the pace at which they are increasingly asked to compete. And that pace is simultaneously handbrake and accelerator.
Handbrake – in that customers want consistency. They want brands they can recognise, that they feel they know, that make sense to them, that they can depend on. They want brands that they can just reach for, without giving them a second thought. They want brands that feel like part of their normal, ordinary lives. Customers look to recognition and reputation as guidelines for brand preference. They form their longest-lasting impressions from those elements, which as we all know, take years to build. These static elements underpin the very structure and nature of the brand itself: identity and story. That’s why Coke is Coke and Chanel is Chanel. We know them. They are deeply and intrinsically familiar to us as trustmarks.
But, at the same time, and in virtually the same breath, customers also want foot-to-the-floor excitement. They want brands to stimulate them, to give them new things to think about, to upgrade and improve what they get for their money. They want their brands to solve problems for them, give them things to talk about, to be interesting. This sense of excitement is part of what entices people to buy. New products and regular updates are how a brand gets noticed in a world thirsty for the new and the shiny. Which is why the world goes crazy when its favourite brands release new versions or do things they’ve never done before – like have a man front for an iconic perfume. Because, in today’s “upgrade culture”, patience is a diminishing virtue. Increasingly, as I have pointed out before, all brands, not just clothing and lifestyle brands, are adopting the speed and dynamics of fashion.
How can these contradictions work together? With the help of my good friend and creative colleague Di Fuller, I’ve sought to capture this brand dilemma in a simple but telling way.
The ironies don’t end there it seems to me. The more often a brand iterates, the more important it is that it stays true to, and connected with, its roots. That requires amazing discipline, because the temptation is for the brand to spin off into new areas that bear little resemblance to the brand’s core business in ever more frantic searches to remain relevant and interesting. Identity, story and purpose keep a brand grounded, at the same time as offerings, news and social media ensure it remains always on consumers’ minds.
The consequences of failing to resolve permanence and centrifugal motion are harsh. Brian Solis quotes Edward Lauder in saying that 40% of the Fortune 500 companies in 2000 were no longer there in 2010, and 70% of Fortune 1000 companies will be replaced in the next few years.
GFC not withstanding, there’s a clear take-out and challenge for brand owners here. Celebrate the recognition/excitement dichotomy rather than trying to tame it. Stay wedded to a single long idea, but tease out every nuance in constant re-interpretation.
Photo of “Chanel 5”, taken by César, sourced from Flickr
Brand Dynamics diagram, from my keynote presentation “I forgot you and I can’t remember why”, designed by Di Fuller, 2Di4Design