Everything your brand does happens within a context. You can’t ignore that, nor should you. But here’s the irony – if you allow that wider context to drive how you manage your brand, then you risk losing control because the course you are steering is no longer yours.
As Star Wars mania built to a crescendo recently, many would have been trying to work through how they could capitalise on the interest. Social media has trained marketers to hunt out and ride the trends. Marketers have become relentless chart watchers, looking for opportunities to leverage global excitement to their own ends. That makes sense. Until – your brand is so committed to being associated with a fad that it subverts its own identity. In that situation, your brand risks becoming an expression of, and endorsement for, a greater force.
Pursue your path, don’t follow someone else
My view is that every brand needs to pursue its own competitive path; a path set and guided of course by strategy and aimed at achieving both purpose and growth. Getting there means there is already plenty to think through: how will you stand out from competitors; how will you keep consumers interested; how will you balance your commercial and ethical responsibilities. Opportunities may present themselves to capitalise on other situations and events, and savvy brands will do that with panache. But you can’t form or drive a strategy through those opportunities. You can’t lurch from one trend to the next looking for a way forward, because that is simply “shiny bright object” by another name.
It’s not hard to find something to follow. The critical call is knowing when not to follow.
The hardest calls it seems to me are not finding trends to follow or beliefs to agree with, because in an age of content they are both plentiful and readily available. It’s understanding which ones to endorse, and which to ignore. And then, it’s about finding ways to agree with or support looming trends or ideas that lift your brand’s competitive platform and give you a reason to provide your own take on that trend.
Thinking through participation
So many brands rush to be associated with global events and popular uprisings because they will draw massive crowds. But what does participation say about you beyond just association? How does it add to the understanding that people have of your brand? Because if it doesn’t, and you are simply looking to piggy-back the latest “must-see”, then you may bask in the reflected glory but that’s all it will be. A reflection. For a time. It may bump your numbers. It may get you lots of positive feedback, but it also means that you are driving your brand based on popularity in an era when it has never been easier to be a global success (for a minute, an hour, a day) and doing so has heard meant so little.
7 questions to ask the next time you’re tempted to board a brand-wagon:
- How and why does this correlate with what consumers know about your brand now? In other words, what does it confirm?
- How will this alter the relationships that consumers have with your brand(s) for the better?
- Where will the association show itself – online, in store – and how will you capitalise on that?
- What are your success measures (beyond just the association itself)?
- How does this fundamentally shift you forward? What does it change that you needed to see change?
- What are you doing through your marketing to make the association a seamless extension of what you stand for?
- How long will you stay involved – and how and when will the association end without negative impact on your brand?