I regularly refer to adrenalin as the chemical of change. To me, transformation must be radical and scary, because it pretty much requires the same levels of energy and momentum to get to a ‘dangerous’ place as it does to shift to somewhere a lot more comfortable. The only difference may be the time it may take for people internally to get comfortable again.
That’s particularly true if you’re a brand that has fallen behind – where the shift required to even stay alive can feel huge. And yet for all the effort, the concern, the misgivings, where your brand lands can in reality be right in the middle of the pack – meaning that sooner rather than later, the company will need to repeat the same process in order to avoid being lost.
So often, it seems, those undertaking brand change misjudge impact. People assess what has happened from the point of view of how far they have shifted rather than looking at the two things that really matter: the active difference it has made for consumers; and where the brand now lies in relative competitiveness and interest to those in the market today and those on the verge of entering.
It’s not just brands that need to catch up that face this dilemma. Even brands that lead their fields and are widely perceived as shapeshifters can agonise over decisions that, to consumers, are perfectly sensible once they do appear. I remember having this discussion one day in an airport with the Creative Director of a global clothing brand I know well. Pointing to the new imagery on the posters in the display window, I commented that I liked the way they had extended the brand a little.
He looked puzzled. “A little?” he asked. Yes, I said. I thought the new imagery was whimsical and interesting but nevertheless strongly connected (in a good way) to the brand they had always been. “We agonised over that internally for months,” he told me. “I took a lot of flak for putting the brand in so much danger.”
“I’m glad you persisted,” I replied, “for the brand’s sake.”
It’s an encounter that comes with a message for every decision maker – aim for further than you feel comfortable with. Drive to the point of pain. Because, in the vast majority of cases, providing you stay true to the spirit of the brand, the change you feel in doing so will be significantly higher than the difference anyone else, including your buyers, actually notices.
What can feel like giddy revolution to the people who are so close to it will often be greeted by customers as a welcome refreshment.
Photo of “Distance” taken by Zdenko Zivkovic, sourced from Flickr