August 28, 2020|
8 min read
Crafting a Living Brand: Tips from the Trenches
Marketers used to talk a lot about building brands, creating solid foundations. These were brands that were built to last. Even if our building went out of style or we ended up with a leak or something, we could always renovate or restore.
Now, though, Marketers are starting to think about our brands a little differently. We’re thinking of our brands not as inanimate objects but as living organisms. And, with this thought, I don’t mean crafting a representative Customer like a Susan that we hypothetically use to make executional decisions with.
A living thing can grow and change. It adapts to its environment, and it changes so it can keep thriving, even as the world around it changes. This living brand concept is perfect for the environment we find ourselves in today. More and more, our brands are being asked to adapt as people, the world around us change. And we need to think about how we relate to those around us.
So perhaps the question is how do we get from built to last to running our business as a living brand?
1. Find the Taproot of the Brand
The best analogy for a living brand is a tree. Trees are amazingly adaptable! You may have seen one growing on the side of a rocky cliff and wondered just how it managed to survive there for years. Trees grow tall, but they also grow sideways or in a corkscrew; they grow around fences we put in their way. They wave in the wind so their branches don’t snap off. And they grow intricate root systems that both anchor them and help them find the water they need to thrive.
The taproot is the most important part of that network, because it brings in the water. That sustains the tree, so we can think of this as the core of the tree.
Our brands have taproots that nourish them and replenish them. I like to call this this essence of a brand. It represents your higher purpose.
Now, consider a “bucket” concept of kindness. Everyone has a bucket filled with kindness. When you compliment someone, you’re helping to fill their bucket. They can then help fill other people’s buckets. Kindness is what replenishes the bucket.
Your brand’s essence works a little bit like that. When you accomplish your purpose, your brand is nourished. The taproot can draw on this well of purpose for inspiration and satisfaction.
It’s a little bit like capitalizing on your successes. The more you fulfill your purpose, the more you’ll be able to grow the brand.
2. Feeling Your Brand
Living brands exist in relationship with the world around them. They relate to our customers, to our communities—and yes, to us.
The important thing for us as Marketers is to feel our brands. We need to connect to them on an emotional level. We need to care about them.
This often happens as a result of finding our taproot. When we know our brand’s higher purpose, we’re more likely to feel inspired by it. When we believe in that purpose, we can get emotionally invested. We want to help our brands succeed—sort of like how we care about the scraggly little plant in our window that’s hanging on by a thread.
(Did you know that plants thrive on positivity?)
When we connect with our brands on this level, we’re more motivated to help them find success. We also feel failure more acutely, and we’re driven to turn it around. We look for answers and solutions. We know when our brand’s being misunderstood in the public arena, and we want to fix it.
That brings us to the next point: building relationships.
3. Existing in Relationship
Our emotional investment in our living brand is only one of the many relationships our brand has. Trees exist in relationship with hundreds or thousands of other organisms. Birds nest there, animals make their home there, etc., etc.
Our brands also exist in a dense web of relationships. There’s relationships with every customer, with the communities we operate in, with ourselves and other employees. Our brands are even in relationship with other brands and the public at large.
Much like trees compete with each other for sunlight and other resources, so too do our brands compete with other brands. We might also be in relationship with our customers, who see our brand as somewhere to seek shelter or find sustenance.
These may not be literal—someone buying jeans or sneakers isn’t eating them. But they may find an emotional kind of nourishment in buying shoes from a fair-trade brand. Maybe they feel “at home” in our jeans, because they’re that comfortable.
The point is, we exist in relationship, and these relationships are dynamic. That means they’re also changing, always evolving. Our brands have to be ready to adapt to changesin these relationships.
Maybe competition heats up, so we need to amplify our strategy to get more of a particular resource. Or our customers turn to our brand expecting something, so we need to rejuvenate the brand so we can deliver. We don’t want to change the brand’s DNA—a maple tree can’t produce walnuts—but we can do more of the thing our customers look to us for.
4. Communicating Values (and Show, Don’t Tell)
Let’s think about the tree metaphor again. There is an ecosystem that exists around each type of tree that supports life inside a forest: animals, birds, ants, bees…etc. The health of the tree can also be an indicator of the health of the environment that the tree exists within.
We can think of our brand values as the features that deliver the benefits to all the customers within the ecosystem. It is through these features that customers feel our brand’s values. The greater degree of alignment felt between themselves and our brands, the greater the degree of personal benefit and growing sense of loyalty. Living our values means the culture of the organization must support those beliefs, such that employees who are working to deliver our brand’s experience understand the importance of their role. For example, a brand cannot be perceived as caring, if employees are no feeling cared for. That misalignment eventually comes out. A living brand is brought to life through all employees, and if the higher purpose is clear, can lead to an internal movement. Think of Southwest Airlines and their internal movement of employees being Freedom Fighters and recognizing that every action taken can reduce costs so more people can travel.
We need to remember not to simply tell our customers about our values. Our customers want to see us live our values, through actions. Again, we have to think of our values as part of our brand DNA. A brand that’s known for customer centric through delivering ongoing innovation isn’t necessarily going to win fans by deciding to “stay the course." That’s a bit like asking an apple tree to grow cherries—it’s not in the DNA.
That doesn’t mean we can’t do something different. An apple tree can grow bigger apples or rounder apples or even sweeter apples. And it does that in response, usually, to environmental factors, the world around it. The tree—much like our brands—is responsive!
5. Adaptation in Motion
Responsiveness is a key word for Marketers in the third decade of the 21st century. More and more, we’re expected to respond to the world around us. Whether it’s commenting on a political issue or answering someone on Twitter, we’re expected to respond.
We may need to respond on the large-scale. Think policy initiatives, new laws, emerging technology that can threaten us or help us. We may also need to respond small-scale: that individual customer who had a bad experience and wants to vent about it on Facebook.
We can respond to these situations, and we can adapt to them. In some ways, being able to respond to that upset customer is part of a large-scale adaptation! Social media has made it possible for customers to air their grievances like this. Before, we might never have known someone was upset!
Being responsive means being flexible and ready to evolve. Our tree metaphor works here again: most trees are actually pretty flexible! This allows them to bend to the wind, instead of snapping in half. And trees are also evolving, much like our brands.
Growth and flexibility take place over the short term. Evolution happens over the long term. It’s a very slow, purposeful change in our brand’s DNA.
We need all three—flexibility, growth, and evolution—to develop thriving brands. A living brand may have certain things coded into its DNA, but it’s the environment—and the response to the environment—that determines how large it can grow.
We can help our brands thrive by looking again to the taproot. If we know what’s feeding our brands, then we can make sure we’re nourishing them as we grow and evolve. So start with the why, and give your brand the best chance at thriving in our brave new world.
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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