Times have changed in the branding world. In the past, the rule of thumb was to brand once and move on to marketing strategies, but the smart guys and gals have proved this to be a detrimental practice. Today’s successful entrepreneur needs to evolve their brand identity on a regular basis to stay relevant and authentic in the marketplace.
We've said it before. The delicate dance between branding and marketing is an ongoing tango that requires both partners to communicate efficiently and play off each other’s moves. When one partner changes course, the other must follow suit. If one partner falls, the other is thrown off balance. This holds true for brand evolution, so it is important to take small strides together to create a smooth and easy transition. Here are the steps of brand evolution you should follow to advance your marketing efforts, and your audience, without missing a beat.
Step One: Identify the Reason for the Evolution
Entrepreneurs tend to be creative thinkers. Creatives hate stagnancy. But the mere fact of becoming bored with your brand is not a good reason to embark on evolution. Instead, you must analyze many aspects of your brand on an ongoing basis to see if there is an actual need to evolve.
So, where do you look? Your own data!
The data and feedback that you receive from your marketing strategy will tell you so much about what is happening with your brand. This is where you will learn about your audience and any potential shifts in the marketplace. This is also where you will discover any negative external narratives that could harm the business you have built. Listen to what your audience is saying and watch how they are interacting with your brand. Over time, you will see a trend.
Another potential reason for brand evolution is if you experience your own personal evolution. As your brand is so closely tied to your personal lifestyle and values, a shift here should necessitate a brand shift.
Sit back and check the marketplace data, the external narratives, and your own personal evolution. If any of these are affecting the authenticity of your core pillars, then you should move on to Step Two.
Step Two: Identify which Pillar Needs Updated/Altered
To evolve slowly and avoid a dangerous rebrand, you should not change all your brand pillars at once. If you are always engaged in Step Four (don’t skip ahead!), then chances are this will not be an issue. Dig into each core pillar and discover which one may be outdated or inaccurate, then focus on how to correct the issue. Remove the bad pillar from the Brand Matrix and if the remaining core pillars are still authentic and competitive then the correct course of action is to phase out the bad pillar from the brand strategy. If, on the other hand, the remaining pillars cannot stand on their own, identify a new, fresh, and authentic brand pillar to the Brand Matrix that will make your brand identity stand strong. Either way, you’ll need to embark on Step Three to incorporate that new brand pillar and/or phase the old one out.
Step Three: Understand that Changing One Pillar May Affect Many Elements of the Brand
Each core brand pillar touches every main element of your brand: the image, narrative, and product/service. Therefore, you must prepare to readdress and update all three to present a cohesive brand identity to the audience. Everything from font to packaging is game.
The goal with this step is not to drastically run in and alter course, because that would be a rebrand. The goal instead is to lean into your stable and unchanged brand pillars to let the consumer know they are getting the same quality product/service with the same values and purpose.
For example, you recently discovered you have a new brand pillar that supersedes an older, less defined, pillar. That new pillar is “soft.” And now you notice that one of your brand fonts is a little jagged. Although the jagged font is“fun” (one of your tried-and-true pillars), you realize the rough font is the antithesis of “soft” and should be replaced. What should you do? Simple! Find a new font that still embraces FUN but is a little less jarring on the eyes with softer edges. By leaning into your steadfast pillars, the tweak of one brand font, and not all, will help the consumer understand your brand in an elevated way without getting whiplash.
Step Four: Continue to Check In
Once you have completed Step Three and have evolved the brand, you are done! Congratulations!
Just kidding, not so fast. We wish it was that easy! To make sure you can incorporate slight tweaks every year or two, it is imperative to continually check in with your data so that you can see any brand issues before they arise.
You do not want to shock your consumer with a change they will consciously notice. In marketing, we call this staying below the just noticeable difference threshold. Brands use this psychological trick to either go above the threshold and make a bold statement they want noticed or dance below the threshold to make any changes that will go unnoticed. For instance, cereal manufacturers wanting to increase margins will make their boxes just 10% smaller which will be undetectable by shoppers on the breakfast aisle. Or they can raise the price a few cents instead of $1.
Brand strategy is not a one time thing - By constantly checking in with your consumer’s behaviors and lifestyles, as well as your own, you are ensuring you both grow at the same rate as your company.
The key take away with brand evolution is to incorporate action steps in the overall brand strategy. You know that the marketplace will change. You know your consumer will change. And you know you will change over the next twenty years. These changes will all affect your brand identity and, if you aren’t paying attention, can sink the brand. Stay engaged and stay active! Maintain authenticity at all costs and you’ll be successful for evolutions to come.