Brand continuity in a world of fads

How to stay constant in a world of fads

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Every marketer is haunted by fear of missing out. As trends are identified and balloon, the decision to ignore or capitalise becomes more urgent. How do you decide what to pay attention to and what do you let pass you by?

The push to tactics is everywhere. The business press, media and forums are packed with the opinions of consultants who have a panacea they believe in to the exclusion of other considerations. Advertising is dead, story packs the greatest punch, if you’re not digital you’re not relevant, branded content rocks, experience is everything, social media works, SEO is more relevant than ever … There’s an e-book and a webinar for every agenda.

Achieving brand mindfulness

Don’t get me wrong. I too believe there are parts of the marketing mix that remain under-utilised. Within a well-thought-through strategy, I’m all for a specialised focus to achieve a specific aim, but I get annoyed when one idea is championed as the all-seeing, all-knowing trick pony. And I get even more annoyed when people suggest that just by doing whatever it is they’re selling, a brand will succeed.

All the moving parts of a brand need to report back to first principles.

I think we need to step back. The critical consideration for me is not which tactic to champion to keep up with the rest of the marketing community, but rather how marketing teams can achieve and maintain brand mindfulness in a world of flux. What increasingly interests me is  what must stand still – and why? That’s because, in my opinion, all the moving parts of a brand need to report back to first principles. If they don’t, the brand could be in danger of responding itself to death.

Six principles of consistency

Six principles are crucial in ensuring that a brand understands its own identity and communicates who it is and why it matters in a consistent way to consumers across time:

  1. Know what success is – most brands can define their own success by their own numbers; far fewer can define what makes them successful in the eyes of their consumers. What do buyers see in you that they must always see in you if you are to succeed? That’s the trust factor and it varies hugely from industry to industry.
  1. Pick your moment(s) – most shoppers don’t want to know most brands for the vast majority of their lives. The window of relevance in any given day is so small. It takes pinpoint accuracy and impeccable timing to be at the moment when people are in the moment. As one of my colleagues said about the cereal market one day. “If you’re lucky, you’re going to be a priority for three seconds out of 24 hours in a day. Make that count, or lose.” That’s the relevance factor. Focus your impact within that window.
  1. Understand your speech patterns – not every brand needs to be loud. In fact, there are powerful reasons to choose to be a quiet brand. The critical thing for shoppers is that when you participate, you do so in ways that are consistent with who you are. This is about tone and manner and the consistent use of phrases and ideas that are attributed to you. It’s about predictability – in a good way. Quiet brands often stay silent for long periods of time but then make sure that any word they do utter counts. Exuberant brands fill the world with a colourful articulation of their opinions and ideas. Both can work. What fails is when a brand that talks with tempo suddenly stops talking (usually because of inner confusion). Voids kill talkative brands. They create unexpected silence and those stops turn the brand’s market presence into dead space; space that is quickly overtaken and over-written by others. So talk to help people listen. And once that pattern is set, and it’s working, keep talking in that manner.
  1. Ring-fence engagement – it’s tempting in a world of conversations to want to participate in what the world is talking about. Unfortunately, too many brands don’t put boundaries around that. Instead they look to be part of whatever’s trending, often in ways that feel awkward and forced. The much-touted Oreo cookies intervention at the Superbowl was a one-off, not a precedent. Understand where you should be seen and equally where you don’t need to be seen. Know when to just stand back and let others chat, so that when you do speak, it makes sense to all why you are participating.
  1. Champion what endures not just what shines – brands love to release news. But there’s a very big difference between what people should be hearing and what they should identify you with. Beyond who you’ve appointed and what you’ve released, what should people always know about you? What do you continue to stand for? So many brands in this age of personality make their brand an expression of something that is actually beyond their control. They look to get on-trend with a topic or they build their brand around a celebrity for example. And when they do that they succumb to the temptation of the finite and shiny because it’s there and it’s “hot”. As I said in this piece about brand codes, “Too often, the presence of the celebrity masks a brand that lacks something significant to say in its own right.” Be careful where you place your faith. Be defined by what you have control of, over the long term.
  1. Be recognisable in everything you do – how many times have you gone to the supermarket and not seen the product you want because the brand has changed the packaging? It seems so elemental to be pointing out that you should always be you, but it only needs saying because too many brands get bored with being themselves. The ability to say “we don’t do that” takes acuity and courage in today’s world because it sits alongside the dichotomy of “we can’t keep doing that”. My guideline whenever I’m asked how much change is too much is this: When consumers widen their eyes, you’ve got it right. If they roll their eyes, you’ve gone too far or you haven’t gone far enough. Familiarity is not about you. It’s about what consumers look for, and take comfort from, that stops them looking elsewhere.

Note: A version of this post has been published elsewhere under the title 6 Ways To Maintain Brand Continuity.

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