Just as brands reflect the business they are part of, so they must systemically modify how they operate to reflect technological and systemic changes in the business.
In a paper on The Digitisation of Everything, E&Y expound a business evolution model to change an organisation’s digital capabilities. As a first step, they suggest, businesses need to use digital technology to improve current manual systems. Then they can introduce ways of working that are only achievable using digital platforms. Finally, they can push out to new business and participation models that fundamentally redefine how the business interacts and engages with consumers.
All of these changes have implications for brand.
Choosing when to change your brand DNA
I’m sometimes asked by senior managers when they should change their brand DNA: before or after they have made changes to the business? I don’t have a definitive answer. There’s a good case to be made for the fact that businesses should re-organise and solidify their infrastructure before changing their brand. That way the business has everything it needs in place to fulfil new expectations before they are promised. On the other hand, it can also be argued that changing the brand first so that it projects the future of the organisation defines the direction for the business and acts as a beacon for business changes.
Before you make any changes to the business: there are things you can do to make important changes to the brand. You can rewrite your story for example to give yourselves a future narrative and you can make changes to your purpose and to your commitment to wider social change. These three measures will ensure that your brand has a clear direction forward, that the moral compass for the journey is also set and that you have identified specific elements of the community that you wish to engage with.
A B2B brand might rewrite its strategy as a story that it shares with staff, it might set itself an ambition or purpose that really challenges what the business will achieve into the future and it may work through how it will work in a responsible and socially conscious manner to achieve its goals. Putting these elements in place before changing the business changes will enable you to constantly compare the changes you are making as an organisation with the objectives and story you are telling (and want to tell) as a brand.
As you digitally enhance your traditional business models to make manual services more responsive and to shift your products and services to new platforms and payment models, you should be positioning yourselves as a more customer-focused brand. This is your first real opportunity to shift from a generic offer to one that feels so much more tailored than your competitors. This will fundamentally shift your engagement opportunities – physically and emotionally. Offer buyers more streamlined processes (including self serve) and more personalised experiences. Recognition and loyalty initiatives are key opportunities for B2C brands, particularly on digital platforms.
As you introduce new digital-only offers to enable consumers to interact with your brand in a host of ways, new channels, such as purchase via Facebook and Apple Pay, can technically redefine how customers do business with you. Making transactions seamless and effortless should help your brand feel as integrated as possible in the lives of buyers. The opportunity here is to inject a new relevance and currency into your relationships by engaging with audiences across broader swathes of lifestyle. That’s why we are seeing brands like Burberry and Amex including music in their content. They want a greater share of consumers’ digital lives. They want to blur the boundary between what people buy from them and what they look to them for.
Once you decide to invent new business models, the opportunities for consumers to participate with you become more surprising and more intriguing. The rise of collaborative economy brands such as Uber and Airbnb for example have not just changed how business is done in historically highly-defined industries, they have also offered opportunities to redefine what people look for. By reframing what a taxi or a hotel is, they have created new types of travellers and brought them together with a new sense of community. At the same time, they have birthed a whole brand category: the challenger intermediary. To compete successfully under a radical business model, you have to be a ‘punk’. You may not be overtly rude, but chances are you’re going to be mighty disrespectful of the status quo. Unless the alternative you have created in the business model is paired with a brand attitude that insists on taking people by surprise and delivering them ongoing surprises, your attitude will soon be matched and your business model copied or plagiarised by the incumbents.
Over the last five years, one in eight brands increased their favourability by just 2 percent a year
A sobering stat from John Marshall makes the case for why brand change alone won’t be enough. Over the last five years, he says, one in eight brands increased their favourability by just 2 percent a year, and the average brand repositioning results in changes of only 0.5 percent annually after the new message is revealed. “Yet a few brands see bigger leaps,” he points out, “… in looking at the companies whose brands have outperformed, we see a common pattern – the business agenda and brand agenda are truly intertwined. Marketing leadership is playing a role in identifying, catalyzing and accelerating what makes the business truly different, as opposed to thinking (hoping?) that the advertising and messaging agenda alone will move the needle. These leaders think about how their brand can not only communicate their strengths, but also be used to truly energize and accelerate the business.”
And vice versa I would suggest.
Photo of “Eclipse” taken by motjetom, sourced from Flickr