With the cultural ground shifting at what seems a quickening pace of late I seem to be having more conversations about brand relevance and brand reinvention, with people asking how they can ensure their brands continue to thrive. This classic question is often briefed in the guise of ‘ensuring cultural relevancy’ but given that our society is made up of a diverse and shifting matrix of culture, communities of interest, and political thinking, it would be pretty difficult to be relevant to all of them at any one time.
It’s not about cultural relevance but more about a brand’s positioning.
In their classic book Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind, branding consultants Al Ries and Jack Trout proclaim, “Positioning is not what you do to a product. Positioning is what you do to the mind of a prospect,”. Brand positioning provides a strategic roadmap for creating powerful, resonant, and unique messages to help a company’s products and services stand out in the marketplace. The strongest brands are the ones that are not left to get dusty but continually revitalize themselves. Take BMW for example, who over the last 40 years annually revitalised their brand, so it’s never lost pace with the market or Coca Cola who have been synonymous with popular culture since the early 1900’s.
And the question shouldn’t be about reinvention. 9 times out of 10 any brand that tries to re-position (or even worse rebrand itself) will fail. If a brand finds itself out of touch with the market the solution is often revitalisation, which is very different to reinvention. Reinvention is completely changing the brand’s existing identity and positioning, but a brand revitalisation is where you are changing the way a brand expresses itself from the position it has always held.
There are a number of reasons why brands are prime candidates for revitalisation.
- Lack of innovation & risk – usually a brand has delivered success from being innovative and taking risks at first but now the company has become more conservative to protect this success and started to move backwards.
- Poor articulation of position – the brand has not articulated its position clearly. If you don’t have a clear brand position you tend to hang on to the existing tactics. After 5, 10, 15 years those tactics begin to age the brand itself. One of the advantages of articulating a position is it spurs the marketing team to ask ‘what does this position ask of me for the year ahead?’ It keeps the brand fresh.
- Ageing client base – if a brand has become connected to a specific segment of the market. The brand has essentially followed a customer and aged with them and not kept revitalising / rejuvenating itself for the marketplace. (A sure way to kill yourself in the long term given the evidence of the importance of recruiting new & light buyers into a brand).
There are three steps in a successful brand revitalisation:
- Go back in history – go back to a time when the brand was vibrant and when it was arguably at its best and most successful.
- Distil and identify the DNA – What made the brand successful back then? What was the value, the spirit of the brand? Try to identify it with clarity and simple words.
- Take that definition of the past and bring it forward – if this is what we stood for when we were at our most successful, if this is the core to our brand, what do these words demand of us for the year ahead?
The great Ted Levitt argued that ‘companies should not define themselves by the products they sell, but rather reorient themselves to their customers’ perspective by defining themselves through the value they produce in consumers’. This is crucial in understanding how brands are to survive in the modern age, too often brand managers come in and try to re-invent the brand thinking it needs to be more culturally relevant when in fact what it needs is a dusting off and revitalisation of what made it successful in the first place.
Eoin Corrigan is Head of Strategy at MediaCom Ireland