June 18, 2018 / Point of View
No doubt about it, building and preserving a brand is more challenging today than it has been at any time in history. How challenging is it? In a word, extremely. Think about it: advertising’s primary brand-awareness tool—paid media—is being pulled apart at the poles, with a duopoly on one end and a frayed rope of niche touch points on the other. Consumer trust in brands is at an all-time low. And, with record levels of start-up activity leading to peak disruption, the proverbial “What keeps you up at night?” question, no matter to whom it is posed, may now have a single worry: “Will my company even be here tomorrow?”
To win in this new normal, where change is constant and consumers are increasingly empowered, brands will need to be built in new ways that involve the total enterprise, not just the marketing department. We also need to consider how “brand” is defined. I’ve heard it described as the quality of the product or service itself, the values a company keeps, the way you are made to feel as a customer or what others say about a company. However you define it, we know that a brand isn't just an identity system, well-designed packaging or a great campaign. Therefore, we brand builders can't just be in the design, advertising, PR and communications business. We have to build brands as consumers judge them, using what we call a Total Brand Approach—where every aspect of the brand experience is scrutinized and judged just the way people do.
But thinking about the brand as consumers do can be bewildering. If what actually comprises a brand is as varied and unique as the individual who defines it, what are we actually looking for? How can we survey and have an impact on such a vast and esoteric canvas?
Just like the definition for brand, there is no simple answer. But, we believe there is a philosophical framework that tomorrow’s successful brands will adopt. It requires a Total Brand Approach and thinking about the complete brand PIE (purpose, innovation and experience).
Brand leaders are often focused on bringing a brand to life with real people in the real world—the audience, target, consumers. Yet, brand is often an overlooked and undervalued asset inside the company. Brand belief starts at home and if your company doesn’t believe in it, why would anyone else? Brand codifies a company's ethos and values. We call this purpose. And tomorrow’s companies know that the brand purpose should be a guiding force for making decisions across the entire enterprise. They put the brand at the heart of the company and everyone—from the CEO to the intern— knows the company's missions and values and acts in accordance. In this way, every action by anyone in the company has the potential to contribute to the brand.
Often, younger companies naturally revolve around purpose. But, as the brand scales, that organic spirit is often not enough to connect teams and inform the future activities of the company. Such was the case with Invisalign, a company that disrupted the traditional wires-and-brackets orthodontia category less than 20 years ago. Even while enjoying a meteoric rise in value, Invisalign recognized the importance of codifying its ethos into a purpose framework that was true to the brand’s roots and had the potential to fuel its future. Working with company leaders and conducting global research, Colle McVoy helped Invisalign capture its purpose: Made to Move. Made to Move is about more than just moving teeth and improving smiles. Tomorrow, it may lead to any number of ventures centered on the idea of moving people forward in life.
"Our company, our customers, our patients and our technology. They are all moving forward. Made to Move is what we do, is what we’ve been doing. It unites our history with our future.”
CEO, Align Technology, makers of Invisalign clear aligners
Ours is an unprecedented time of change. That’s why “transformation” is the word of the day. However, too often those who manage the brand don’t oversee, much less have input into, the business decisions often controlled by other members of the C-suite, specifically the CEO, COO and, increasingly, the CTO. Because brand can play such a critical role in informing business change, we believe brand managers need a seat at the transformation table.
Airbnb uses its brand purpose to guide innovations, and we believe successful companies do the same by looking at their brand to guide change and help transform the business. Airbnb knows its purpose is to help people belong. Using this idea, the company is now expanding into real estate and long-term apartments, and it is considering a play in the airline space. As long as it helps people belong, it's within Airbnb's brand jurisdiction.
Another great example of brand-powered innovation is Red Bull. Of course, the lion's share of revenues for Red Bull come from its energy drinks. But at its heart, Red Bull is a company organized around the purpose of adrenaline. And it’s using this purpose to inform its holdings, which are diversifying to include sports team ownership, windscreen improvements for Formula 1, a record label, a media house and publications, and even a mobile network carrier offering in eastern Europe.
Brand managers and agencies are often concerned with building the brand via marketing and communications. But in an era where consumers, particularly younger audiences, distrust or dislike advertising, it’s increasingly vital to adopt a total brand approach and judge your proposition as consumers do: by looking at the experience you offer in your core product or service (what you Make), examining your internal and consumer-facing behaviors (what you Do), and evaluating how you communicate internally and with consumers (what you Say).
Michael Eisner, former CEO of Disney, once said, “A brand is a living entity … the product of a thousand small gestures.” For today’s empowered and connected consumers, these thousand small gestures are not just those intended for an external consumer audience, they also include what was formally confidential internal corporate activities.
For example, consider the impact of the 2017 #DeleteUber movement, which was sparked in part because of allegations of terrible corporate culture and sexual harassment. In the past, these types of corporate missteps may have gone unnoticed. In our connected world, poor corporate behavior is immediately visible and can have a direct impact on consumers’ brand preference and purchase decisions. In effect, every company must behave as if there is a window into the center of the company and conduct itself with the knowledge that consumers are watching. Tomorrow’s successful brands will thrive by understanding this phenomenon and using it to their advantage, ensuring their every move is conducted in accordance with their purpose.
Adopting a total brand approach that considers purpose, innovation and experience will help today’s brands be ready for tomorrow. Tomorrow’s brand leaders know that the power of brand is much bigger than marketing. They put brand purpose at the heart of the company to build meaningful differentiation from the core. They bring the brand to life in the total experience they offer to the world, across what the company makes, does and says. And they use brand purpose to guide innovation and business transformation to keep pace in this era of accelerating change.