As business leaders consider their next phase of growth and evolution, there are a number of options available that can change the fundamental business. At these inflection points, brand strategy can become a very effective catalyst to drive growth and unlock business potential.
Change can be painful or exhilarating. Or perhaps more likely, it starts as one and you hope it ultimately becomes the other. The decision to re-evaluate a corporate brand does not come lightly or without risk. More often business situations drive the need, which may be causing pain across the board. But if you can successfully evolve your brand alongside your business evolution, the path toward exhilaration will become much more clear.
Here are five situations your business may face that demonstrate how powerful a tool branding can be in your success.
Over time, companies evolve, but too often the brand remains stuck in the past.
And it’s not always just the brand but key people throughout the organization who are resistant to change. Which means leadership isn’t on the same page.
They can’t agree on “who” the company is anymore, “what” it stands for and “where” it is going.
This disjointed approach sends negative signals to the marketplace and the company starts losing key internal people and competition begins luring away valuable customers.
In almost all cases, in order to move forward, a new story must be told – one that is relevant to target audiences and also differentiated from the competition.
Beyond the need to tell a new, consistent story, the visual brand also needs to evolve. People typically remember more what they see than what they hear. Refreshing an outdated logo with a new identity system is a very compelling way to reintroduce the brand to key audiences.
Growth presents other challenges as well.
Sometimes the company’s name becomes limiting, only representing the past – and no longer representing what the company has become or the company’s future potential. Or worse yet, the brand has developed a damaged reputation that is holding back growth.
Often, the sense of urgency for rebranding is delayed by the audience that can benefit from it the most – the senior leadership team. They are often too close to it, not realizing the extent of the issue. A guest on one of our recent podcasts shared a related story: The company was now in its second generation and had grown to over $1B in sales – but they were still perceived to be a much smaller company. Leadership was implementing an aggressive growth plan taking them from being a distributor of products to a industry leader in product design – but their image was holding them back. Once they heard enough comments from the “field” they realized they needed to revitalize the brand with new energy and emotion.
2. Acquisition & Integration
M&A activity is at an all-time high. With a vibrant economy, low interest rates, new tax laws and plenty of investment money on the sidelines, acquisition is a proven growth strategy. And most economists predict that M&A will continue to be prevalent for quite some time.
If the acquisition is small, it’s quite easy to absorb the company, retire the brand and move on.
But if it’s a sizable company with good brand recognition, there is much more at stake. Typically, one brand goes forward and one brand is retired. Or both brands are replaced by a new brand – uniting the two work forces under a new unified brand. Such was the case with LaMi and ATA, fierce competitors who were acquired by private equity and merged together. By renaming the organization Jacent, the two cultures could unite under one name, vision and value proposition, becoming the dominant leader in retail store merchandising.
As with this example of a “merger of equals” or for any sizable acquisition, a process to unite the two cultures is of critical importance. Over 90% of all mergers fail due to the lack of cultural integration. Uncertainty peaks during this time. Beyond the mashing of two cultures, redundant jobs are eliminated, roles are reassigned and anxiety is heightened.
At this time, leadership must clearly communicate the company’s new vision so people understand how they fit in and how they can feel fulfilled in their role.
Often the process of defining the vision is linked together with the process of defining the organization’s new brand promise. Through internal and external research and executive-level workshops, the company’s new value proposition can be clarified and the organization’s future potential communicated in the guiding statements of purpose, vision and mission.
Part of the brand development process is the evaluation of all branded assets. Beyond the financial value of these assets, the emotional value of company names, products and brands must be considered – which is both science and art. People are naturally resistant to seeing the brand they helped build and nurture go the way of the Dodo bird. By sharing key insights revealed through internal and external perspectives, a rational and emotional story can be told to support these significant decisions. To most people, change is hard and emotions are heavily involved – yet through ongoing communications with key audiences, the path forward will be accepted and if done right, celebrated.
3. Industry Roll-up
This is a common practice by private equity firms or companies who are preparing themselves for a future liquidity event. Doing this “heavy lifting” of integrating companies can significantly increase the value of the combined business.
Which brands stay, which brands go. In either case, 1+1+1 shouldn’t equal 3 but rather 6. As you can imagine, employee alignment and communication are very important – as everyone is worried about their job – could lose some talented people.
Part of the brand development process is to determine if the new organization should be a “branded house” or a “house of brands.” In either case, the branded assets need to be considered, as each will require support, nurturing and financial commitments. Once again data and insights from key audiences offer significant guidance for final decisions. In most cases of a B2B roll-up, a branded house is the most efficient path forward.
The end result of the roll-up strategy should be a relevant and defendable value proposition that resonates with key audiences. The industry has been waiting to see what will be done with all the acquisitions – make sure the launch of the new brand strategy is clear and supported by consistent, constant communications for maximum impact.
As companies grow, opportunities emerge, strategic risks must be evaluated and decisions must be made.
Often leadership can’t agree on the best path forward.
A well-defined process that includes key audience research can provide the necessary insights to make decisions with confidence.
One suggestion is to develop a strategic hypothesis on the path forward and use “voice of the customer” research to validate or evolve the strategy.
In most cases business and brand strategy merge at this moment. By agreeing on the business strategy, brand strategy can then clarify the value proposition, amplify the benefits and create an emotional connection with the new audience.
When a company sees an opportunity to reach a new adjacent market, expand products or services – or extend the brand into new regions, a new brand story must be told to be effective with that new audience.
Competitive forces must be considered, audience personas developed, messaging strategies created.
As a starting point, the corporate brand must be evaluated. It’s a matter of whether or not the corporate brand has the “permission” or capability to expand and meet these new opportunities.
How different is this new market, region or opportunity from your current situation and brand promise? The big question is: Can you evolve your brand without diluting your focus? If the answer is no, a new brand should be considered. In this case, each brand stands for a clear and relevant promise of distinction to a very specific and important audience.
Brand lessons learned from business challenges
Times of change can be painful or exhilarating.
The corporate brand can be a key driver for success or a hindrance to growth, holding the business back from reaching its potential.
Relevant data, strategic insights and a well designed process involving cross functional leaders is the best path for alignment and a successful outcome.
If your business is going through any of these five situations involving change, use the challenges you’re facing in this moment as a catalyst to unlock business potential.