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Change Is The Mother Of Brand Innovation

May 27, 2019

ChangeQ – How do you know when its time to consider making a change to your brand?

A – When there’s been a change in your business.

In point of fact, that’s not entirely true. There are actually quite a few different symptoms that could possibly indicate a branding problem. Symptoms like flattening sales or high employee turnover, among others. (All of these symptoms will be addressed in a future blog post.) However, when high turnover occurs, most businesses look elsewhere for answers. They almost never consider that a weak brand might be a significant contributing factor to the problem. But a change in the business itself? That is one time when management is likely to think about their brand. Because any significant change at all could have a serious knock-on effect. It could result in a change in company culture, a change in positioning, or some other important change in the way the business relates to its market. Let’s look a little closer at how change can affect your brand.

If change is the only constant, management should prepare for it. The idea is not to turn back the tide but to be in a position to surf the wave and not get swamped. There are three types of changes that can force a business to consider its brand and launch a brand innovation exploration. They are:

Disruptive change
This is the kind of change that can wipe out an entire industry. Disruption in the marketplace is sexy. People get exited by new technology with far-reaching, ripple effects. We marvel at the soaring valuations of the latest killer app. We love speculating about the possible futures brought on by nanotechnology, quantum computers and artificial intelligence. But if you’re at the wrong end of the disruption, if it makes your brand irrelevant or obsolete, you can watch your brand value plummet overnight and sales quickly whither down to nothing. My first job out of college was at a commercial typesetter. Today, typesetting has gone the way of basketweaving, a craft with no real commercial value and practiced only by a very few die-hard enthusiasts. Disruptive change, if you’re in its way, is as devastating as a wildfire. And, since technology advances exponentially, we can surmise the number of industries we’ve seen erased so far is just foreshadowing for what’s coming.

What disruption do you see on your industry’s horizon? Will you want to reposition because of it? What does that mean for your brand? If your brand must change to survive, when would be the optimum time to make that change?

Incremental change
Far more brands fall victim to the subtle and insidious transformation known as death by a thousand cuts. This happens when management spends all its time sticking to its knitting, keeping the tried-and-true business model going while remaining blissfully ignorant to the millions of subtle changes that are happening in the market all around it. “If it ain’t broke, don’t
fix it.” is the motto for this management style. The problem with this sort of thinking is there are plenty of obsolete technologies that still work perfectly well. They’re just not in demand anymore. The fashion industry is accustomed to change on a seasonal basis. They keep professional fashionistas and trend spotters in the field at all times documenting anything new that young, 

Ask Boardwalk if it’s time to engage in
a little brand innovation of your own.

creative types are wearing. They can’t afford to be caught short and miss a market trend. Unfortunately, many other businesses, small and large, have their heads in the sand, too busy to see the barely noticeable market shifts that are slowly eliminating demand for their offerings. By the time they finally see the writing on the wall, its too late.

Does your business have a formal process for noting incremental change in your market? Who is in charge of spotting new trends and/or cultural micro-shifts? Is your market getting older? Younger? Is it changing its purchasing habits? What does it all mean for your brand?

Planned change
Change is a natural, periodic occurrence that happens in every life – and in every business. Planned changes might not disrupt whole industries. They may not sneak up, unnoticed. But they can still create a big difference in a company’s relationship with its market. A difference that could warrant a new or revised brand strategy. Let’s look at a few, typical planned changes.

Key personnel – A new CEO or a CMO might feel a rebrand is necessary in order to achieve the goals they’ve set for the company. Note: It’s the CEO who will have to lead the change so, if the CMO is pushing for a rebrand, but the CEO is not 100% behind the effort, watch out.
Tech breakthrough – When a firm achieves a technological breakthrough, it will change the firm’s relationship to the market. It could even propel the firm into a more competitive market sector. Management must reinforce its brand strategy at this point or the market itself will rebrand the firm, and possibly not in a good way.
Offerings – Product and service lines change all the time. Most of those changes are natural line extensions and so do not affect the company’s overall brand. But sometimes a new product or service will be a total game changer. When that happens, an improperly managed brand can be adversely affected
Rapid growth – The cannabis sector is seeing this right now. Growth is so phenomenal that brand relationships are constantly changing. Most cannabis offerings have yet to establish any real mindshare in the market. But, as in any rapid-growth environment, those who develop solid brand strategies now will be well positioned when the market levels off.
Process – When a business makes changes to its methodologies it can cause uncertainty in the market and so its brand can possibly suffer. Management should control the change by anticipating the possible damage and taking measures to mitigate it. They then should follow up with a strong brand-building effort to reassert their positioning.
Geographical expansion – Some brands might not translate well to other countries. Truly, some might not translate well to other states! Management should take steps to ensure their brands are universally acceptable before launching outside their comfort zones.
M&A – More damage has been done to perfectly good brands through mergers, acquisitions and roll-ups than, perhaps, any other sort of change. Very often, the parties involved want to do the deal quickly, take their payouts and go home. But, unless care is taken to avoid it, the new management team can be saddled with a destroyed brand that can frustrate the new company’s plans for years to come.

Brand innovation is triggered by change. The trick for management is to understand the scale of that change and the level of innovation required to manage it. Does the change require the brand strategy be reaffirmed? Revised? Or replaced altogether?

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