How To Determine When A Brand Elevation Is Necessary: Clear Indicators It’s Time To Refine

I want to share some lessons from the trenches, on how to determine if and when making a brand shift is the next move for your growth strategy, and some of the potential indicators you may be seeing in your business.

When you go through a branding refinement process, there are different levels of transformation. You can calibrate aspects to elevate your brand, you can renovate your brand, or you can completely transform your brand. So what are the distinctions and how can you evaluate an elevation?

First Priority: The Business Case

The very first thing we ask is, what is the business case for the refinements? Because, let’s face it, it is completely disruptive. It takes time, it takes resources, it takes your mindshare, and it takes your team away from other efforts. It affects every single piece of communication, both physical and digital that you use to communicate with your market, with the media, with your prospective clients, the sales process, fulfillment, everything. So it’s a bit of a PITA, a pain in the “butt” we will say here.

So it’s not something to embark on just because you’d like a new look, or just think it’d be a good thing to do. It’s a process that is going to affect your business internally as well as externally. So the very first thing we look for is, “Is there a solid business case?” We look at what’s happening in the market, are you seeing a shift in who is resonating with your brand? Are you seeing a downturn in sales? Are you looking to swing into a new arena, or grow in your category and you’re not getting any traction? If your sales team is not closing enough business, that would be a definite market indicator, right?

Put Numbers to It

So there are a few things that you can do to quantify what’s happening. So, the very first thing would be looking at the numbers associated with making a pivot. Is there good financial support to go ahead and make that decision? A Brand Elevation is absolutely one of those small hinges that can move and swing a really big door, and when done well, can literally kick a door open into a whole new arena with just some small brand messaging modifications.

We rebranded our own agency last year. Now, as Inspire Fire, we find we are no longer confused, by audiences and potential clients brands, with being a digital marketing agency, and we’re not being compared on price, we’re not commoditized anymore. Those are some of the indicators we were starting to experience in own brand after seven years, as Brandscape Atelier. We were categorized with the wrong peer set, and getting opportunities for engagements we did not want, or were not staffed to complete. Our messaging was sending the wrong signals, and we found they were not specific and targeted enough.

We evaluated what was occurring, and put numbers to it. The missed opportunity costs, as well as the potential for the right clients and engagements. When we had the clarity, and a solid business case for making the shift, we were able to make the decision with certainty, so much so, that we went full-out with a complete transformation, following our Rebrand to Expand™ service model. We changed our name, we changed everything. And what we really did, is, we brought the inner core of our business to the forefront of our business and messaging. We actually niched down and got very, very clear and let the other stuff fall away. Instead of being broad, we dialed-down into the thing that we are the most unique at, our market differentiator, which is leveraging emotional connection between brands and people, specializing in premium digital brands, specifically. We are focused on B2C, fast-growing, scaling small businesses. So we became really aware how Brandscape Atelier didn’t convey any of that. Our messaging was too broad.

How To Evaluate if It’s Time to Refine

These are some tips for you about how to evaluate if it’s time. Is a brand change initiative the next right move? Here are some indicators that are signaling that a pivot is warranted.

Incongruence

You’ve been aggressively marketing, and you’re not getting traction. That’s a pretty decent indicator that there’s an incongruence somewhere. Potentially you’ve established that business case, “We need to do this, because we no longer resonate.” The number one thing could be that you’re simply incongruent with what you’re doing now. You outgrew, or your service has shifted with your client base, and what your brand conveys and what it conveys emotionally, what it stirs in your audience is totally incongruent with what you’re actually providing. That is a dead ringer for needing some modification. Whether that’s a brand elevation of language and messaging so you can tune that back in, like a tune-up, or a complete transformation would be something you need to look at.

I can give you some examples of a complete transformation. If the business name is solid and it will grow with you over the next five, 10 years, the name might not need to get looked at, at all. Then it’s more about the bold brand voice and the bold brand messages that are now going to resonate with the audience about those services or products that you deliver, and the customer experience that you provide. Really dial into that deeper and deeper, to better connect emotionally, and with clarity.

You could have outgrown your message, as I just explained a pivot. You slowly floated down-wind with the client “tide” and now you find yourself a bit further away from your origin. Let’s say you thought you were a copywriter, and actually you’re creating marketing communication programs and systems to raise money for higher education. So that’s much more specific, and you are really dialing into a niche and finding great success. You will need to adjust your communication, your brand messaging and adjust your brand experience, such as your website experience, to better communicate that, and better resonate with the right audiences.

Commoditization

This sneaks up on growing brands quickly, and painfully. As a startup, what you were doing was innovative and even disruptive. Then, you wake up one morning, and there are 10 other competitors in your space. You had such a great idea, and you owned a category. Let’s take home delivery meal-kit services, premium, lifestyle, and digital brands like Blue Apron or Purple Carrot. At inception, home delivered meal-kits were a disruptive, and a category was born online. And then, in a very short amount of time, you wake up and there’s a plethora of choice. There’s a problem because your brand has gone from [what can feel like overnight] being a category leader to being a commodity. Now you don’t differentiate at all. That’s when you absolutely need to do some brand modification, because that is just a downward spiral of your market share erosion and relevance to your customer base. Your customers will defect if they can’t feel what you stand for, if they can’t feel what your values are, and the customer experience that you promise, deliver, and even surprise them with. If that’s not happening, that absolutely needs to get done.

Perception Malfunction

Another version of commoditization is when you’re starting to get compared to other industry players that may or may not actually be your industry competitors. Or, a significant tell that this is the culprit is when you’re starting to be compared on price. That means you’re not demonstrating enough differentiation, enough value, and you’re not emerging as a category of one. You’re looking like the rest of the guys, using our example and experience of digital marketing agencies. They’re now a dime a dozen. You can throw a dime in a well and hit 10 of them. That’s not where you want to be. You want to figure out, yes, you can be a digital marketing agency, but you really want to dial into why you, for who, where, what emotional solution you deliver. Run, don’t walk, and create that messaging, and get that onto your website and into your brand voice. Then you’ll start to resonate again, and emerge as a category leader once again.

Market Factors

Another example for required refinement and elevation is to adapt to the market. Over time, your target audience has changed. You may have always marketed to new families, or 30 year olds and above. But today’s 30 year olds are very different than the last generation. Their values have shifted, maybe the audience is younger demographically and psychographically. If you’re marketing to more Millennials, what resonates has most certainly shifted. Today, you’re being evaluated on what you stand for and where you put your money. Across the board with all audience sectors this is true, that we’re voting more with our wallet every day. So as customers we’re doing research about the companies we support, what they vote for, what they are aligned to and involved in, and if we don’t align to those values, we’re not going to shop there. We’re going to pull our dollars. I do that every day, even when I need something and I know that that place has it, I will still boycott shopping there.

A case for brand refinement and elevation is to adapt to the market. Over time, your target #audience will change. Their values may have shifted or have become younger demographically and psychographically. #rebranding Click To Tweet

Okay, so that’s all that elevation and the level of refinement or tuning up or calibrating your brand. The next area is really whether or not you need a complete gut job. You need a renovation, you know, like a kitchen renovation and a bath renovation. It’s funny, sometimes people ask us, “Well, what’s it going to cost?” It’s like, well, what’s a serious renovation that’s going to change everything about the experience of that kitchen or bath? That can be done sort of DIY and like a flip, contractor level, or that can be done very high-end using luxurious lifestyle plumbing products. So the budgets are wide. But a renovation is gutting what’s there and rebranding to expand. So that could be a brand transformation or a rebrand to expand.

Consolidating Chaos

When we work with our fast-growing small business customers, one of the biggest reasons we do a rebrand, is chaos. They started out with one offering, and then they’re doing three different things, and have in essence, created three different brands. That’s chaotic. It’s time to consolidate that into one brand. Maybe all three of them are successful and there needs to be sort of a papa or a mama overarching umbrella brand so all of those can go under one roof. The reason is because you’ll be known for one thing at the highest brand architecture level.

You’ll be known for one thing, maybe it’s innovation or creativity. You’ll be known for the emotion that you deliver no matter what you’re doing. For example, lets say you might have been a photographer, and now you’re doing video and now you’re staging experiences on stages, world stages. But what you bring to and how you approach all of those different things are the same. But as they were developed, you set them up to be separate little businesses, almost like test pilots. They’re successful proof of concepts, and they’re good, and it’s now time to roll them up. We see this even on an iconic scale when we see Kinko’s and what they did, it became FedEx Office, okay? So on a grand scale there’s consolidation and it’s a business expansion. It’s building a bigger unified brand and a bigger value in one brand, but it’s paradoxically an expansion.

Expansion

The opposite is the other time that we often get called, in that there is one brand that’s done very, very well and it’s time to grow a platform and actually create a foundation. Separate businesses that support the overall brand platform. We just did that recently for a financial services organization. The brand vision, the brand expansion, was to go from one to many, to go to five to support what that leader wanted to see happen in the world. What he wanted to be responsible for and leave his legacy of making an impact in these categories. So we looked at the brand strategy, we architected an expansion into five distinct properties and platforms that all rolled up into what the brand will stand for. So there was a rebrand as well. There are different names now to some of the entities, where the leader has emerged as a thought-leader that now has a holding company that stands over all of those properties.

We have a new engagement in the agency that we are working on now where there’s a very solid, wonderful, well monetized revenue-generating brand. It’s time to change the architecture of how that business is structured and that brand works in the world, so that leader can start something else in tandem that is more of a calling or a passion project, but it’s really their evolution to their next level of impact in the world.

I hope this was helpful, and you are inspired to stop and evaluate for yourself whether a brand refinement is needed to move your business forward. Is there a business case, are their market conditions, are you sales people leaving or not closing, is there competitors cropping up and do you not look differentiated? Or is it simply incongruent with what you’re doing now, or doesn’t convey the values your brand holds, what you stand for? Or, it’s just simply not there? We see that in a lot of new projects, where the needed messaging is just not there.

The CX Imperative

CX, customer experience, must be your brand marketing priority. The time is now to get CX-centric in your brand marketing, customer experience-centric. To survive and thrive in today’s marketplace, you must harness and maximize the ROI of emotional connection to captivate your customers, own your category and gain market dominance.

 

Kerri Konik is a seasoned brand strategist and leading expert in igniting emotional connection and optimizing customer experience to drive business growth. She is a consultant, advisor and speaker on catalyzing the emotional bonds between customers, brands, and leaders to increase value, progress, and accelerate the speed of change, growth and desired impact. An entrepreneur at heart, Kerri has launched five businesses, and is the CEO of InspireFire, a women-owned brand strategy and marketing consultancy based in Philadelphia.

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