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Changing of the Guard: From Building Longevity to Living Brands

August 07, 2020


Changing of the Guard: From Building Longevity to Living Brands

With the growth of digital technologies, it sometimes feels like the world is changing faster than ever. Change seems to have sped up even more over the last few months too.

 It’s little wonder that the techniques our brands used in the 1990s or early 2000s no longer resonate. The Internet and social media promised a revolution in the way brands connect with people. Gone are the days of mass-market broadcast advertising. Streaming services like Netflix and Spotify let us watch and listen to whatever we want, whenever we want. That means no more gathering around the ‘tube at a designated time to catch this week’s episode of our favourite show. (In fact, there’s often no waiting at all—we can binge whole seasons of shows.)

The speed of cultural consumption has increased. A new show drops on Netflix, we talk about it on social media for a week or two, and then we move on to the next thing. The same is true with the news: the ongoing protests in the US dominated the news cycle in late May and early June. Now these stories have all but disappeared from people’s timelines, even though they’re still ongoing.

Breakneck speed and individualized service means we can’t rely on the techniques of a bygone era. It also means we can’t focus on “building” longevity for our brands. That requires a stable base, and we live in a very unstable world.

As culture evolves and changes, we need to shift from building longevity to creating living brands.

What’s a Living Brand?

The living business has cropped up as a response to the speed of information and culture. Think about memes. In 2005, you could jump on a meme months after it was first created, and people would still think it was funny. Flash-forward to now, and memes generally peak within a couple of days or weeks.

Brand managers trying to capitalize must be ready to jump on any cultural flashpoint. But this can be tricky to do if we don’t have a guiding philosophy. Take a look at some of the “social media fails” out there, and you’ll see what I’m talking about. It’s all too easy for us to misread the room.

This doesn’t just happen with memes, though. We can misread other cultural flashpoints, like the US protests. We might see that our latest ad campaign upset people, but if we don’t understand why, we run the risk of getting the response wrong.

The living business is designed for this kind of ecosystem. We’re always anticipating customers’ needs, trying to stay one step ahead. We’re not merely reacting to what’s happening in our environment—we’re evolving as a response to it.

Anticipating and responding helps us meet every customer’s needs, both in the moment and in the future. In this way, our brands become much more like living creatures. We're dynamic and ever-changing.

How Do We Become Living Brands?

The question for Marketers is how we can make our brands into “living” ones. We might feel this is particularly tough if our brands have been around for a while. Older brands might still use the idea of “longevity.” With this paradigm, we treat our businesses like buildings.

While that idea still has some merit, we can become living brands by changing how we talk about our brands. Are we buildings with solid foundations that need remodeling every now and then? Or are we trees with deep roots, sprouting new branches and always growing?

Like a tree, a living brand is capable of growing in all kinds of directions. If we lose a few branches to a storm, we can keep growing in a different direction. If another, taller tree blocks our light, we can try growing taller or in a different way.

And, much like trees, our brands also have deep roots. These roots keep us anchored in the ground—much like our building foundation. They also help us reach water, so we can keep our brands healthy.

Once we can envision our brands like this—with a firm anchor, but dynamic and ever-changing—we're ready to embrace the living brand model.

A living brand has four key dimensions we need to consider:

·         Intelligent experiences that anticipate the customer’s needs

·         Responsive innovation that allow us to take advantage of opportunities

·         Agile operating models that let us respond to our customers’ needs

·         A guiding philosophy that informs our behaviours, beliefs, and values

The guiding philosophy is the roots of our tree. An agile operating model gives us a solid trunk that will bend and sway in the breeze (instead of breaking). Responsive innovation and intelligent experiences are the branches that help us grow our brand and provide for our customers.

Moving the Focus to Brand Relationships

I’ve always said I “feel” my brands, right down to their cellular level. Getting that engaged, the relationship becomes like a human relationship. You cheer your brand’s successes. You’re excited when you see them making a positive impact with other people. You can also sense when the brand’s hurting, when consumers are misunderstanding it.

When we turn to the “living business” model, this kind of connection isn’t actually all that far-fetched. When our brands become living things, evolving, it’s easy to have this kind of deep relationship. You’re more engaged. You want to be part of the brand’s successes and you want to help when things seem like they’re going wrong. You have this sense of ownership and pride in everything the brand accomplishes.

This is so key in the age of social media, when consumers are connecting with brands on a one-to-one level. Consumers want this kind of engaged relationship with their brands. They want to feel proud, knowing they buy from a company that upholds the same values they do. When you donate to a charity or win a prize, they want to feel a little bit of that ownership, that pride. They helped you get there by sticking with you, by choosing to shop with you!

Thinking of our brands as living beings gives them the space to develop these relationships. Let’s think of our trees again: people develop relationships with trees all the time! Some people have a favorite tree at the park because it provides excellent shade. You could have a tree in your yard you planted with a loved one. Or maybe your favorite tree has flowers in the spring. There might be one that speaks to you because it grew in a strange way as it adapted to a new fence.

The tree is an inanimate object—just like our brands—but it can still develop relationships with people and between people.

The Flexibility to Evolve

In today’s environment, Brand Managers often feel a need to respond as soon as possible. We’ll do one-eighties, change our claims, drop a product, add a product, all to respond to what it seems like people want. This can put us behind the eight ball, leave us scrambling to deliver. And we often make those changes as split-second decisions, without understanding what people really want from us. In a lot of cases, we react from a place of fear—we fear what customers will say if we don’t act right now. We’re afraid we’ll lose customers to our competition if we don’t offer the same features.

A living brand doesn’t just let us respond. It lets us evolve. When we know our roots, making the right move is easier. We don’t attempt to clone what the competition is doing, because we understand what makes us unique. If our brand tree is a maple, it’s never going to have showy flowers like a magnolia—and our customers know that. That’s not why they’re with us.

Connecting with our roots and developing an understanding of what makes our brands unique is what helps us create the flexibility we need to respond quickly. What's more is it lets us develop that flexibility in a way that makes sense for our brands. We can continue to adapt as the environment around us changes, growing in new directions.

A living brand develops from healthy roots, so remember to start with the why!


Meet Margo…brand visioning & marketing

Margo Jay is a Master Brand Strategist with a career leading globally recognized brands; developing and launching a proven model that maximizes competitive sales potential and consumer appeal. She has built the model to help companies of all sizes. Her Client roster includes entrepreneurs through to Fortune 100 brands: NHL teams, Global QSR brands, CPG brands, Broadcast brands, Agencies, Non Profit brands, Hard goods…this model and process provides competitive advantage in any category.

Complete clarity. Ownable distinct selling proposition. Shared values. Brand Clarity. Brand Focus. Brand Inspiration. Brand Obsession. Unlocking brand potential is what she does.

And it all starts with why!

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