Changing the brand context

Changing the brand context

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There’s a tendency to see disruption and innovation as huge moments of significance that shake the status quo to its core. Ultimately though neither is about that at all. It’s often about having the courage, vision and confidence to (gently) do big things. And to do them when and where they were least expected.

As Walker Smith has observed, “Nothing matters more than context. What consumers see, hear and think about a brand is wholly shaped by the context in which they encounter it, which in turn directly affects what they do and buy.” Changing the backdrop for a brand, for example, changes not just how buyers see the brand but their understanding of how the brand sees itself. “What can brand marketers do to put their brands in the best light when consumers are ready to buy? The answer is not simply the best possible product. … It’s about the best possible context.”

Placing the brand in an also-ran context simply adds to the noise in that environment

Context is not just about where you are seen, it’s about how you are seen and of course when you are seen. That in itself is a balancing act. Placing the brand in an also-ran context at any time simply adds to the noise in that environment, which does the brand itself few favours. But equally, placing a brand in a jarring environment for no reason beyond achieving that clash will only serve to confuse everyone. The brand must be seen in a context that makes sense or comes to make sense. That context must be a direct expression of a distinctive premise, and if it is not then it risks literally being out of place.

So often brand owners and managers mistake what they should be striving for when they think about brand execution. They plan for what they know and where they know. Ben Fullerton draws an important, and very neat, distinction between creating consistency and creating coherency.

The all too familiar

Consistency, he says, is built on repetition (which is where brand managers feel most at home). Fullerton’s specific reference is to repetition in design, but I think the idea equally extends to repetition of place. We tend to always see brands in contexts that are all too familiar.

Coherency occurs when consistency of design is married with a system of meaning to create what he refers to as “the brand pattern”. Brand coherency is about keeping to the spirit of the brand, so that, even though the brand may be expressed in different ways across channels, it always feels like the brand in what it portrays and how it speaks.

A new context doesn’t just change how you are seen now. Even more importantly, it establishes an opportunity for a brand to be seen in new ways and new places from then on.

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