Who Are You?
“Brands exist because people want them to exist. Though owned in law by companies, they are in every other sense the property of people. There is no need for a brand to die. Under the cause of death on a brand’s death certificate it should usually read arrogance, greed or complacency.” -Niall Fitzgerald, Chairman of Unilever.
There is no need for a brand to die. That statement best captures our philosophy about brands. Your brand is not your product, it’s what you stand for and promise to customers. It doesn’t have to die, but like Mr. Fitzgerald states and we all know, brands die all the time. The key is to recognize the signs that could lead to a decline and take proactive steps to correct the course before it’s too late. In our experience working with hundreds of brands going through this transformation, we’ve identified five steps or “gates” that brands must continuously evaluate and pass through to remain viable: Position, Offer, Audience, Message and Delivery.
A brand must continue to move forward through these gates or it will perish. Here is a look at the first and most important of these gates.
A Brand’s Strength Starts with Its Position
The basis for a strong brand is its position. This is the space or reputation that a brand claims in the market place. It is the “who are you?” existential question that companies have to truthfully ask and answer themselves. This is the idea that will support everything that follows. Like Fitzgerald states, brands are “the property of people.” If you aren’t honest, your audience will know you will be found out, and you will fail. The people will know.
With more than 25 years of experience working with leading brands, this is consistently the most difficult for brands to unlock and open. Once the positioning foundation is established, the others gates typically fall into place rather smoothly.
What Makes a Strong Brand Position?
Your strongest position is at the intersection of what your customers want and what your brand does best and better than the competition. Where many brands stumble is that they don’t realize that the key to a strong position is to exclude the extraneous and sharpen their focus. The natural tendency is to include everything possible—bigger is better, right? Not so, especially with a brand facing decline. All around the intersection of what your customers want and what you do well are pitfalls. There are things your competitors do better, things you don’t offer, and/or things you do that customers don’t find interesting. Spending time here wastes your resources while diluting your identity and failing to differentiate who you are in the market.
For established brands, this might involve moving away from existing positions they’ve held for years. That can be a tough decision—but going to market with a weak brand will result in an undesirable outcome in the long run. It’s more important to reinvigorate your position to stay alive than submit to arrogance or greed as noted in the beginning quote.
Signs of an Aging Brand
There are many signs that a brand might have aged out of its positioning. For example, a decrease in overall market share. This could be caused by new competitors moving into the space or a result of the audience just losing interest. For public traded companies, fluctuations and changes in stock price and activity could indicate shifts in the market. A decline in customer satisfaction scores could be another sign of aging. These scores could be impacted by competitors or decline just due to general familiarity with the product or service, resulting in less enthusiasm than when it was new. It’s also possible that the entire market aged out of that position, in which case you’ll have to follow them or find a new one. The most important component of a brand aging beyond its position is the inability to innovate. Remaining stagnant is no longer a component of business lifecycle success.
Because brands are multi-faceted, you’ll need to encompass multiple angles to create an accurate representation of your brand position. This takes several steps.
First, you need to record what your purpose is, what your brand does best, what your consumers want from a business in your industry, and why consumers when they have choices, choose the competition. There are an infinite number of worksheets and templates to accomplish this, but it is the first and most critical step in identifying your differentiator. Collaborate with your team, share perspectives and findings from conversations everyone is having with customers in their respective department and ensure alignment. Once you create a list of all your brand characteristics then you can create alignment on your strongest characteristics.
Secondly, you need outside perspectives, preferably from your current consumers and relevant but unbiased outsiders. Ideally these external sources would represent both prospects and experts in the field. Evaluating this feedback will enable you to either validate your perception or call out how far off course you were so you can outline a path to return you to the core position.
With that information you can begin the process of focusing your brand and moving it forward through the other gates: Offer, Audience, Message and Delivery.
Learn more about how mature brands can discover renewed growth in our ebook, Five Gates of Branding.