Opinion: Can a slower approach to branding protect and build brand value?
As a company that works with brand owners on a day-to-day basis, we at Dragon Rouge recognise that the role is especially challenging these days. With a high turnover among CMOs, there’s great pressure to prove the short-term impact of brand investment. Those in charge of the brand want to make an immediate impression; overhauling positioning, communication and innovation, as well as reappointing agencies.
But the problem with this constant change is that our brains are not wired up for the ongoing reassessment of brands it demands. Building a place for strong brands in our subconscious brain relies on repetition and recognition, adding to existing associations and memory structures over time.
In this context, we advocate the concept of ‘slow branding:’ defining and managing a distinctive and inspiring brand for the long term, based on an organising idea that creates enduring value.
Strong brands should have indefinite lifespans. At the core are the enduring elements of a brand: the ‘why’ (organising idea) and the ‘how’ (identity and behaviours). ‘What’ a brand offers (portfolio and propositions) will likely evolve over time, even into totally different business models.
The organising idea is the single thought at the heart of the brand. It may be called a purpose, essence or positioning. A good organising idea should give you enough clarity to make decisions, and balance current reality with future aspiration.
You then need to determine your key brand assets, the elements of your expression and experience that are repeated to make the brand distinctive, identifiable and memorable. These form the basis of those all-important memory structures, so treat them with care and invest in them wisely.
Slow branding isn’t about stasis or stifling creativity; but having a strong commitment to a core brand idea and using this as a continual focus and inspiration to steer through change. It isn’t about looking backward or standing still, either. A strong brand should be able to see its own future and use its organising idea to guide an innovation strategy that form long- to medium- to short-term innovations. Our ‘brand futures’ approach starts from the premise that strong brands should be able to make and shape their own agendas – we’ve explored what 2030 might look like for brands like Primark, Bupa and easyJet – using their existing brand ideas to unlock more radical innovation.
As well as investing in the continuity and memorability of your brand, you’ll also need to be prepared to defend it against boredom and personal ambition. There’s something refreshingly honest about Sir Terry Leahy’s confession, “Talking about the same values for 14 years [during his leadership of Tesco] bored me to death,” but the challenge is to keep things fresh. You need to get colleagues on board and make them take responsibility. It’s also important to set metrics that prioritise long-term brand investment and stewardship over short-term returns.
Finding and sticking to one organising idea isn’t easy; but pursued over the long term it’ll drive efficient decision-making and protect investment in brand growth.
Dragon Rouge is a global design and innovation consultancy that helps brands to inspire, change and grow. We believe in creating generously, working with our clients to make the world a better, more rewarding place to be.
David Partington is a senior consultant at Dragon Rouge UK