Critical brand updates for the post-2020 world

How long has it been since you updated your brand? Not your logo, your brand? A lot changed in 2020, and you need to make sure your brand is ready for 2021.

2020 was the year that many silos came crashing down. Business organizations began shifting from a sole focus on driving shareholder value to a more multi-faceted focus on all stakeholders. It’s almost like in 2020, a light went off for many business organizations. They came to better grasp their roles and impact on the environment, society and politics. This awakening is great and long overdue, but as they face decisions in these areas, these decisions need to be made within the context of their brand to be viewed as credible and sincere. Brands help bring consistency to decisions.

A couple of quick proof points for this shift. Over 10 brands sat out from the Super Bowl this year, and a number of them chose to spend that money on social causes instead… That means that they prioritized an unknown number of hearts over 150MM eyeballs. I’m sorry, but that’s huge.

In recent research conducted by Fast Company, they found that purpose-driven brands held huge advantages over their competitors in terms of memory, loyalty, motivation, perceptions of quality and reduced-price sensitivity.

Finally, here are some of our clients’ top performers for 2020.

In hindsight, showing support and empathy during a pandemic seems obvious and easy, but as many of you were probably faced with this same decision, was it easy? What guided your decision to wade into this potentially fraught topic? What guided your actions? How did you find the right tone and topic? For us, it was the brand. Reality is that, based on changing consumer expectation of brands and businesses, you will need to make these decisions with increasing frequency, and they will be even harder due to the very polarized nature of our times. Social media has allowed brands to become more like people, building closer relationships than ever with their customers. You need to build your brand so that it can help guide these decisions.

A lot goes into building brands, and there are many components in a brand strategy, but for the purpose of this discussion, we are going to focus on the brand mission and brand promise. The brand promise is the heart of the brand because it creates the relationship between the brand and its customers. The brand mission was traditionally created to help focus the brand’s organization on how to behave to deliver on the brand promise. In the past few years, the brand mission has become increasingly important as expectations of brands and businesses have evolved.

Since our founding, we have always believed that a brand is a promise that the whole organization makes, because for challenger brands, everything needs to be working together to take down their larger, better funded, more dominant competitors. For this reason, when we develop or update a brand, we involve the whole organization, not just marketing. Think about the role of HR in delivering on your brand’s promise to all stakeholders. They need to recruit people who share those values; they help structure the criteria for how those employees’ performance will be evaluated to ensure that it is on-brand. Many conduct employee satisfaction surveys to make sure the organization is delivering on its promise to them.

So, here are a few tips to make your brand most effective for 2021 and beyond:

1) Make sure your brand mission and promise are relevant and resonate with all stakeholders.

  1. Start by assembling a group of representatives from all stakeholder groups, such as marketing, sales, product development, operations, human resources and investor relations. Pick peer-level people. Also, pick an executive sponsor who will be the voice and face of the brand, both internally and externally.
  2. Have each representative discuss the challenges they face and if/how the brand mission and promise provide guidance for how they should address those challenges.
  3. By the time you are done, you should have a clear picture of where your brand needs additional work.

2) Build your brand from the inside out.

  1. Working with that same stakeholder representative group, start with the brand mission, as, based on the changes in 2020, it is the place that you will most likely need to make updates. The brand mission became more external in 2020 and it came to embrace a larger constituency.
  2. Brainstorm how your mission will need to be modified based on the challenges discussed earlier.
  3. Based on your mission and the challenges that you face, brainstorm the Moments of Truth that those challenges will create for your organization, and your Key Differentiators, aka the behaviors that you want your organization to exhibit when faced with them. These will provide guidance to your organization to help you make the right on-brand decisions as the world continues to change, challenge and evolve.

3) Build an environment that will help guide the organization to make choices that are consistent with your brand, even when no one is looking.

  1. Brand guidelines aren’t just for marketing, and they aren’t just about logos and brand safety. The brand guidelines belong in job descriptions, performance reviews and internal communications to name just a few. Every department, whether it’s operations and sourcing or investor and government relations, will need brand guidelines.
  2. Track your progress with periodic research among your various constituents. What’s important to them? How closely does your brand fit with what is most important to them?

4) Now do something about it.

  1. With your same stakeholder group, brainstorm some larger programs that span all stakeholders, big ideas that can have a big impact communicating what your brand stands for.
  2. Also, brainstorm smaller ideas that are not newsworthy but that can make an impact on your mission and be a critical demonstration that your organization lives its brand mission.

If your brand just sits on the shelf and is not intimately woven into your organization, then it is not worth the paper it is printed on, or the bytes it occupies on your servers. Your job is to bring it to life in every aspect of what your organization does. No small task. If you need help, just send me an email. I am happy to provide whatever advice I can on how we have done this successfully in the past.

Wishing you a happy and healthy 2021.

Dan Collins

SVP, Chief Strategy Officer

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