Make your brand useful before you make it amazing

Make your brand useful

It’s tempting to believe that every brand must be vastly different and that every opportunity to push the boundaries should be taken if the brand is to win. But is there a case for normality that we’re missing here? Should, as Jay Bauer has suggested, brands stop trying to be amazing and just get on with being useful?

There’s a certain power in being mundane – in the sense that an everyday brand is exactly that. It has habit and predictability built into its very being. And as Riley Gibson points out, there’s a proof factor in that regularity that so many brands overlook in their bid to find the next big bang. He cites two great examples. The first, based on work that Professor Laura Kornish has done on consumer interactions, shows that “Sometimes it’s far more valuable to find patterns in what people are requesting than to find that one, big *I never thought of that* idea.” The second, based on studying how teens see their TV and internet usage, showed that “Sometimes, products are far ahead of their time because they assume a level of comfort that isn’t yet there in the consumer. That’s where the insights of the collective can be used to help us question everything.”

Focus on the customer experience

In both cases, the brands in question risked missing the small opportunities in their bid to find the great leap forward. What regularity offers is enough recurring events to form patterns and discover a moment for inflection that consumers may recognise but not necessarily know how to get past.

An everyday brand has habit and predictability built into its very being

The learning here: that brands looking to improve their offering should first look to improve how and when the product is used and how else and where else it could be used. Easily. Quick win changes that may seem mundane, even unnecessary, to your brand’s technical and product people can add up to important improvements for consumers.

We tend to think of mundane as an alternative to amazing, but as Paul Allen reminds us, they are actually a continuum, “At some stage in the life cycle of every great invention or innovation it will become an expectation … Truly significant innovations even after a short time will appear to be invisible”. Amazing, in other words, is relative, time-bound and subjective.

The power of useful

Useful works because it’s shippable, immediate and practical. Building on something that people know and feel comfortable with is also easier and faster than asking them to learn or accept something new. Buyers know what to do with improvements. The groundbreaking is less predictable. It might fly or stall or fail – which is a lot to bet the brand on. To me, there’s no one formula for success. My key take-out from Bauer’s point is that brands must above all else remain grounded: focused on what their customers want and not absorbed in their own cleverness. That same discipline should apply to brand strategy. The secret to brand success lies in perceiving when to change and how much to change.

Should you have an innovation portfolio?

As Scott Berkun has so astutely observed, “The idea of an innovation portfolio, where a range of risk is assumed across multiple ideas, is more honest.” His thought suggests to me that rather than framing useful and amazing as options, brands should look to pursue a range of improvements simultaneously. The majority of those improvements should be useful and based on customer feedback. Some should be amazing. They may or may not eventuate. And the rest? Quite possibly the rest should be meaningful – more than useful, relevant, interesting but less than completely-out-there.

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