Opinion: Sailing the choppy waters of change
Change requires courage. But during times of significant change, courage is in high demand and short supply, as unimaginable complexity comes into sharp relief. Times of change bring with them new leadership, new talent requirements, new customers, new competitors and new goals. These incredibly disruptive realities can discourage the kind of bold brand-building needed to capitalize on these pivotal moments.
Whatever is sparking the change; be it inorganic (mergers, acquisitions or spinoffs) or organic moments of transformation (evolving in the face of disruption), organizations must look to the power of a singular brand – one that’s grounded in context, guided by purpose, built with ambition, and designed to excite – to ride the wave of change.
As we all know, customers, employees, influencers and investors have a finely tuned sense for what is true and authentic. Our ‘BS meters’ are strong and our access to information is unprecedented. The best brands are built on truth: historical truths, current truths and future truths.
Guide an exercise in discovery, not invention, to bridge the gap between where the brand is today and the powerful strategic opportunity in the future. There is always plenty to unearth and preserve. And be prepared to challenge the historical truths – not everything that surfaces in the excavation process is worth keeping. As context shifts, so too does the value of these truths.
Indifference is the enemy in times of brand transformation. Have the courage to build a brand with a point of view, with a clear sense of purpose, ambition and aspiration. Resist the urge to be everything to everyone. The ability to know what is on-brand – and perhaps more importantly – what is off-brand, is an essential filter for the endless choices and decisions that are made in times of change.
Build your point of view with an understanding of your context – what matters most to customers, to employees, in the market and culturally, but don’t be limited by that understanding. Transformational brands are tethered in reality but not constrained by it. Be prepared to be unpopular with some audiences. You may not appeal to everyone, but you will build a powerful bond with the people who are truly important to your future.
Today people seek brands that live their values through the actions they take and the experiences they create. Symbols and slogans used to be the name of the game in rebranding efforts, but today signature experiences, products and services and useful content that pays off on the brand promise are the keys to gaining real traction. Whether it is customer service, product development or CSR activities, it is particularly important that everyone involved with the brand understands and embodies its values.
Equal parts Usain Bolt and Mo Farrah, significant moments of change require both stamina and tenacity to break through to the other side. They are fueled by coordinated quick wins, while keeping the big picture in mind and nailing each milestone along the way. There is undeniable value in that first big splash, but many brands emerge with gusto they can’t sustain. Overdoing it, then ultimately under delivering, diminishes authenticity. Keeping an eye on both consistency and continuity will build a strong, sustainable brand.
To ask people to do things differently – to take different actions and make different choices –requires a level of inspiration that goes well beyond the rational. Transformational brands should be vivid. They should have charisma. The organization should feel it. Customers should feel it. They should see themselves in it. And they must want it to be right for them, not just know that it is.
Be human. Be relatable. Be better than jargon. Involve your people in the change by allowing them to have input along the brand development journey. Create moments of dialogue and co-creation throughout the transformation so people feel a sense of ownership and investment in the outcomes.
Kari Blanchard is executive strategy director at FutureBrand