When to reinforce, evolve or recreate your brand?

When responsible for leading a brand, you are faced with the choice of staying the course, evolving or rebranding entirely. The drivers behind this decision may be market driven, strategic, political or personal. Understanding the motivation to reinforce or change a brand is imperative to affecting the brand in a meaningful way. Although there may be some ambiguity as to whether or not your brand should change, there are concrete criteria to examine before embarking on such an initiative.

Brand Performance

How is your brand performing competitively? What perceptions do your key external and internal constituents have of the brand? Are these perceptions accurate? Do they align with how you want the brand to be understood? This assessment must plunge much deeper than awareness and identity. It needs to determine what elements are leading to or limiting brand adoption. Part of this exercise is identifying whether your brand has established equity and is valued by your target audiences. Remember to assess both external and internal audiences. Often internal constituents are overlooked, but these audiences comprise the source of brand championship. If internal audiences are not in sync with the brand strategy and cannot earnestly believe in the brand, then they will not be able to support the brand effectively or with integrity. If the brand has established equity, the question is whether you should amplify your efforts or evolve it to capitalize on underdeveloped opportunities. If equity has not yet been established, you need to ask yourself why. Is it because the brand is new to the market? Is it that funding has not permitted proper communication and engagement? Is it because the brand is misaligned with market and customer need? A lack of established equity serves as a warning sign that evolution or change may be in order.

Brand Strategy

Every successful brand is guided by a sound strategy. Your strategy should be based on what makes your brand unique and valued by its constituents. Strategy should be informed by market research, data and differentiators. Brand strategies must be pragmatic, realistic and fluid. Because the market is dynamic, you need to assess your brand regularly to determine not only if you are achieving your brand objectives, but also how your brand is fitting into the competitive landscape (as well as potentially changing customer demands). As new technologies and competitive challenges arise, how will your brand retain or grow its standing in the market? How can you prevent deterioration of share? Strategy should provide a roadmap to meet brand and customer objectives. In addition to being market-driven, brand strategy must also be shaped by your specific business objectives. At times business objectives and market need are not perfectly unified. The mandate then is to find ways to address both sets of objectives. As strategy evolves, so must your brand.

Political Change

Companies, much like the individuals who comprise them, are imperfect. Sometimes change results from unbiased information or specific market feedback. Other times, however, change is imposed for internal political reasons. This type of change can be difficult to accept as power and relationships have to be carefully navigated. Politically motivated change can be in direct conflict with logic. Rational arguments may carry surprisingly little influence. The question becomes how to accommodate politically driven directives while preserving brand integrity. Simply said, internal politics should not influence branding. Although challenging, brand stewards must be well armed with unequivocal information, and marshal support and consensus (fighting politics with politics) with the end goal of doing what’s right for the brand.

Personal Preference

The choice to evolve or change a brand should never be based on personal preference. Personal experience perhaps, but not mere preferences. Too many times managers develop brand fatigue. Their proximity to the brand is so close and constant, that they grow tired of it. What’s worse, and more dangerous, is then changing the brand based on individual likes and dislikes. The reality is that your target audiences are bombarded with so many brands, so many experiences, so many messages and so many choices, that our brand is a mere blip on their radar. Our brand comes into play when it is relevant within their lives. When a brand is performing well in the market, consistency can play an enormous role in reinforcing the brand facilitating penetration through communication clutter. If the brand is not performing well, then change needs to occur, but only after understanding the root of the problem. We do not brand for ourselves, we brand for our audiences. Therefore, personal preferences must be parked -- and the customer’s perspective empowered.

Page Turns and the Past

Not every brand has a history, but some have either a reputation problem or challenges that have grown from associations with the brand. In these situations, it is important to carefully assess the impact of rebranding. If the image problems are legitimate, they will need to be addressed regardless of whether you choose to rebrand. You will not want to saddle the new brand with baggage, nor will you want to raise skepticism with target audiences. The very most important characteristic in branding is integrity. The brand must be able to deliver upon its promise. Sometimes new leadership or technology will enable a credible rebranding. In these situations, especially when the problem issues have been addressed appropriately, rebranding enables a clean slate and invites constituents to take a fresh look at your offering. Above all in these situations, the rebranding must be developed and executed with integrity. Anything less, and you will quickly squander your second, and most likely last, chance.

The decision to reinforce, evolve or recreate a brand is never an easy one. It should be evaluated regularly and carefully. Let the market and business strategy guide you and remind people that politics and personal preferences do not play a role in the process. Remember to assess internal audiences as well as external. Often important cracks in the brand foundation show up first internally. Repairing these fissures first will enable greater brand support as you move forward. Ultimately, branding is as fluid as the markets you serve. Keep a step ahead. Try to anticipate. It’s easier to evolve than reinvent. But there are times when rebranding, done with integrity, is your best option.

by Jonathan D. Katz