Every brand decision is a negotiation between what has worked to date and what is required to succeed going forward.
On the one hand, a brand should look to capitalise on what rings true with customers. On the other, it must be prepared to delete those ideas and approaches that have outstayed their welcome or that no longer work from a financial perspective.
Too often, businesses fail to act fast enough. They hold onto something they value for too long in the hope that they can get more from it, or because the replacement is not yet ready. When results turn down, they look to delegate responsibility to the economy or some other outside factor. I’m sick of hearing about how “market conditions” have affected a brand’s trajectory, as if trading conditions are somehow outside the scope of what brand owners should factor for. The brutal reality is that they have become uncompetitive. Perhaps for weeks. Perhaps forever.
Either way, the only way that circumstance will change is if brands change it themselves.
It’s not about change, it’s about what changes
Change alone though is not enough – in the sense that changing in and of itself produces nothing. It is the nature of the change, and more particularly the effects of that change, that decide where your brand goes next.
There is always a price to pay. The decision is whether it will be worth it
For example, every brand must be efficient, but pursuing pure efficiency can have bad consequences, particularly when it takes the form of watering down what is offered in the hope that consumers won’t notice or care. Suddenly, if you’re a consumer, your favourite chocolate bar is just that little bit smaller, that airline seat is tighter than it was, the conditions you need to meet to qualify for that reward are more stringent … And yet brands see no reason why that should affect how customers think of them. They forget there is always a price to pay for short-changing buyers. The negotiation is whether it will be worth it over the short and long terms. When superstores cut back their full-time employees, they may reduce their costs per metre but they also reduce their experience per metre and therefore customer engagement and inclination to return.
Seems obvious but to build a brand customers value, you need to build a valuable brand. And that means actively creating customer value. Every action is a signal. If you continually discount, you will lose value. If you look like everyone else, you will be seen as interchangeable with everyone else. If you offer less, you will be less attractive. If you do something fun, people will engage.
Connecting brand and future
The sticking point I believe is that many brands have not connected the future they want with the brand they need. They haven’t worked through, at a human level, how they are going to earn the future they have projected for themselves. They have arrived at the numbers. What they have not finalised are the behavioural implications of achieving those numbers, and the impacts those behaviours will have. Which is weird when you think about it, because the whole purpose of brands is to elicit response. Here are 5 ways to check if your brand is keeping pace.
If you cut back your workforce, you will be more stark: service times will be longer; your spaces will be less populated; you will look less confident. All of these perceptions will need to be countered if the brand is to implement this change successfully. And yet so often, they are not. Instead, businesses expect customers to adapt.
They do of course. By leaving. By buying less. By being less loyal. You can’t blame the market for that. The brand made them do it.
Every brand must change. But every change must be counter-balanced. That’s hard to do well. Too hard, it seems, for too many.
The future you have is the future you earn.
Note: A version of this post has been published elsewhere under the title Brands Get What They Deserve.