Embrace constant change, keep it new and tell dramatic stories. Freddie Baveystock, our Strategy Director, explains how brands can remain fresh as featured in The Guardian.
The ever-changing competition between which brands are hot and which are not is a relentless battle. This has been demonstrated most recently by Aesop’s research into the UK’s top storytelling brands, where Apple was (once again) ranked as number one.
Whilst this may not be a surprise – the marketing community is entirely in thrall to Apple products as well as its brand – we shouldn’t forget that the Californian tech behemoth has come under fire recently for taking its eye off the ball. It seems to have developed a certain complacency that its iconic brand, one which for so long has epitomised “cool” and “beautiful”, is strong enough to maintain its long-established position at the top of the league. So here are a few pointers to guide marketers in their quest to keep their eyes on the prize.
1) Embrace change
Brands need to embrace change as a constant principle of the contemporary cultural and marketing mix. Those that fail to keep moving with the times, presenting new ideas or a refreshed face to the world, come to seem stale much faster than before.
The challenge here is one of balancing clarity and consistency with novelty and innovation. The way to manage this is by approaching such a task as the beginning of an evolutionary process rather than a major change at a fixed point in time. Brands need to continue to surprise and engage their customers in the months and years to come – in ways that we probably don’t even know about yet. That’s why brands’ identities need to be anchored in a few core principles that will also be flexible in execution.
2) Keep it new
We Brits have come to love innovation – we’ve wholeheartedly embraced smartphones and tablets, iPlayer, Spotify and Sky on-the-go. We also know our loyalty counts, and hate being taken for granted, or excluded from those enticing offers made available to new recruits into a brand. And we don’t take ourselves too seriously; we love the humour and self-mockery of our home-grown culture (think Doctor Who, Sherlock and Downton Abbey). So we move on when brands disappoint us (Tesco and M&S clothing spring to mind) or fail to engage our attention (Morrisons and Gap have both suffered from this).
Recognising all this, the brand identities we create these days are all deliberately ambitious. We don’t play it safe. We’re determined to make people sit up and take notice, to see that these brands possess the energy and purpose that characterise the most vibrant and engaging aspects of our contemporary culture.
3) Tell stories
There has been a lot of talk recently in the world of marketing about the ancient art of storytelling. It’s hardly surprising when you think about the role of the classic storyteller: to provide shape and meaning in an otherwise disturbingly chaotic and unpredictable world.
This is also what brands have to do – to cut through the noise, not add to it. What marketers have rediscovered is how skilled we are at retaining relevant information when it forms part of a narrative. So it is the how and when that is most crucial. To keep customers engaged with a brand, you need to combine the core consistency of its story with a creative approach to its reiteration (what keeps the Shakespeare brand alive is each successive generation’s ability to reinterpret it).
It doesn’t matter if we don’t recall the precise words, so long as we know the shape of the story, the order in which things happen, and why. That’s where the drama lies.
4) Keep it brief
Only the looniest of idealists would suggest that a corporate asset as valuable as a brand be managed without formal, documented guidance. But in today’s fast-moving world, chunky brand guidelines and manuals are apt to gather dust. You need to find your guiding star – an idea that is simple and memorable enough to engage everyone in your business.
So the litmus test of any brand is whether it can come to life in one simple page of text. You need to be able to narrate your brand’s purpose, essence and attributes in a logical flow that gives shape and direction to these different elements. Ditch the jargon and make it real. Scrap the generic brand values and make it yours.
5) Invest in your brand
The brands that succeed are those that invest time and money into understanding what their customers want and making sure that they meet these evolving needs. Amazon is a great example of this, most recently seen through the introduction of Amazon Basket which enables consumers to add things to their basket whilst they are on Twitter.
The fact is, no brand is strong enough to just “be”. The rules of branding are changing and every brand (yes, that includes Apple) needs to embrace constant evolution in order to keep up in this dynamic age. We call this active brand management. Not ruthless consistency, but consistent freshness. It isn’t easy, but it’s a lot more effective than the old way of doings things.