The Four Most Important Ways to Build Brand Relevancy

Being an older brand has both its credits and debits. Awareness and trust are strong, and while relevance can be weak, it can also be rebuilt with smart choices and wise investments. The thing to keep in mind is that consumers’ lifestyles and attitudes change, competition and product technologies change, even retail channels change… everything changes.

For your brand to stay relevant, even an iconic brand, it needs to change and evolve with the times. Think about how much your own habits and attitudes have changed. My most interesting and illustrative journey would be beer. From Budweiser to Natty Boh to Heineken to Sam Adams (game-changer!) to trying every local IPA I can find. I’m not alone in this change, and fighting to stay relevant amongst upstart brands isn’t easy when everyone thinks they know everything about your brand.

So, what’s an iconic brand to do?

Well, at GKV we’ve been helping iconic brands find their inner challenger brand for a while. We have found four ways to rebuild brand relevancy, which consistently deliver good results: 1) Brand Voice, 2) Benefits, 3) Usage, and 4) Cultural Acuity.

1. Brand Voice

A brand’s voice is a function of many things, and many brands honestly don’t have very interesting brand voices. Brands today, particularly challenger brands, need a voice that gets noticed and makes your brand that person who enters the party that you’d really like to meet and talk to. From my earlier beer example, think of Corona, their brand voice is always spot on.

Back to Nature was a founding brand of the natural food movement in the 60s, so it started pretty earthy and stayed that way. Eating natural or organic foods is much more mainstream today; it’s making people feel better, not just functionally, but emotionally. Back to Nature had an opportunity to bring a new voice and attitude to snacking on foods that are not only good for you, but taste good, hence SNACK HAPPY was born. Another good brand voice example is Chock full o’Nuts, who just this year got its NY swagger (and its sales) back.

2. Benefits

A brand’s benefits need to stay relevant, and for some brands born in a different age that can mean they need to reformulate. From our research, general benefits, like organic, aren’t as motivating as some of the No’s and Free’s — no preservatives, no artificial flavors or colors, no added sugar, no high fructose corn syrup, gluten-free. For others, like seafood, Mom knows the benefits, and recent science can put an even finer point on just how much her kids will benefit from eating seafood. She also knows that wishing and having something actually happen are two different things, and she hates when her kids don’t eat their dinner. So, we needed to rethink the benefit equation with the most important audience in mind, the kids.

We asked moms what worked to get their kids to eat seafood and were overwhelmed with suggestions for simple hacks that were making their little ones little seafoodies. Stick it on a stick, do the seafood swap, dipping means yumming, etc. After the campaign, which delivered a 300% ROI, 64% of moms said they planned to serve more seafood to their kids. And to circle back to my earlier beer example, Michelob Ultra has built a sizable following with their laser-like focus on a low-calorie benefit for the athletically oriented.

3. Usage

Over the last few years, many people have rediscovered the joys of cooking thanks in large part to vastly improved fresh food availability, Instagram, Pinterest and at least initially, millennials. The interest is multi-generational now, and some like recipes, some just like to be inspired, but the opportunity to provide new ways of usage is virtually unlimited.

With our help, McCormick has been riding this wave by delivering a great mix of relevant inspiration, from Franksgiving and Easy as Frank’s to I’D OLD BAY THAT, as well as providing chances for consumers to show off a bit, all in the spirit of getting their products used more, because brands that get used more get bought more.

4. Cultural Acuity

Culture encompasses a lot of things, both our collective attitudes and values and our shared experiences. These can be deep and meaningful (#BlackLivesMatter) to fun and frivolous (the latest Star Wars movie). All brands need to be vigilant about these larger cultural issues, whether it is taking an active and vocal position or just ensuring that your brand avoids unintended missteps. In response to the coronavirus pandemic, we developed various brand relevant messages for clients including Hills Bros. and Bob Bell Automotive.

On the more fun and frivolous side, there is great opportunity to align your maybe slightly more mature brand with what’s now part of our collective culture to drive brand relevance. It can be capitalizing on the striking resemblance of your favorite spice in a tin to the true hero of Star Wars to celebrate the newest release, or a strategy of using key cultural events like the Super Bowl or the NFL Draft to get husbands and boyfriends to do the right thing for Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day. And to finish where this started, my old friend Heineken is pitch perfect with its most recent humorous advertising portraying the challenges of our current socially distanced time, demonstrating that beer, most importantly their beer, is extremely relevant right now. And not to be left out, Michelob Ultra is spot on with #UltraBuckCall.

In Summary

Keeping your iconic brand iconic means evolving and adapting to the changes in the environment that surrounds it. Updating its brand voice to speak in a way that will resonate with today’s consumers is probably the easiest and quickest fix. Emphasizing relevant benefits can take some research and possibly some reformulations, but it is a good way to level the playing field with newer competitors and use your well-known brand to put you on the top of this week’s shopping list. Determining if there are more usage ideas for your brand should start with searching Instagram and Pinterest, as you may be in for a big surprise. And lastly our culture can be your best friend or your worst enemy. Keep your brand current and it can be the former, not the latter.

Dan Collins

SVP, Chief Strategy Officer

Start the conversation today and find out what GKV can do for your brand.

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