Okay, so COVID-19 just hit a giant pause button on the global economy. This is having a seriously detrimental impact on all of our lives and most of our businesses. And there’s a compelling argument for just hunkering down and getting through it. However, this might be an opportunity – although we sure wish under different circumstances — to act on longer-term business and brand development initiatives that require more serious thinking and orchestration than time usually permits.
In a normal recession, you’d likely be re-orienting the entirety of your business and marketing mix to survive 12+ months of business slowdown. But this is far from normal and hopefully, sooner than later, the switch will get flipped back on. Many categories will be dealing with pent up demand, and we’ll likely see a fair amount competitive jockeying as things get moving again. Importantly, the nature of how demand is generated and managed might need to evolve. For example, brands dependent upon events for primary exposure might need to rethink things, etc.
So how do you ensure your brand is optimally aligned with your business realities and growth opportunities for when things begin moving forward again? It starts with making the most of the opportunity afforded by this global pause, and really doing it right – from vision, mission and values, to marketing programs – to achieve a significant and valuable evolution.
The evolution of a brand is something companies need to undertake when business, cultural and behavioral shifts require brand shifts to not just survive, but thrive, amidst new realities. And this global pandemic certainly qualifies as a new reality, on multiple fronts. True brand evolution needs to consider a wide range of inputs, including emerging product and service offerings, all consumer touchpoints, future digital disruptions, consumer trends, evolving brand values, employee motivation, and more. Which is why, when brand transformation projects are successful, it’s because marketing leadership isn’t shy about positioning the project as being about so much more than marketing. This means the C-Suite is involved throughout. Extensive research is conducted to drive strategy and alignment across all touchpoints…way beyond marketing. The brand team isn’t afraid to tackle updating Vision, Mission and Values at the same time. HR is consulted for the talent branding side of the equation. And nearly as much time is spent thinking about the internal as the external rollout. All of this work takes meticulous execution and requires inspiration and input from a broad spectrum of internal teams in order to properly make the company change for external stakeholders apparent.
If we try to simplify all this complexity through the lens of our experiences a couple of things become apparent:
Use data not for an absolute answer, but rather to spark the right conversations
If you’re serious about repositioning the entirety of your brand experience across touchpoints, then you absolutely must rally a wide range of cross-functional stakeholders around a focused brand positioning. Achieving this in an actionable, singular manner requires using research and data to surface options, narrow focus and spark the kinds of conversations that ultimately foster alignment. This is a necessarily iterative process that uses data to inspire conversations that ultimately engender buy-in from a broad group of leaders. Ideally, while the data collection and synthesis takes weeks, even months, the actual evaluation of options and decision on best path forward takes place in one carefully orchestrated day, with all key stakeholders present.
This can’t just be Marketing’s show
A top-to-bottom rebrand can’t just be another marketing scheme. It’s a comprehensive evolution meant to significantly lean away from the old image and pave the way for the new at a deep level, beyond just paid touchpoints. In order to successfully evolve your brand, marketing, HR, creative, product development, and other leaders within the company must not just be on board with the new changes but feel like they were actually part of the process to arrive at the ultimate solution.
Internal alignment is as important (if not more so) as the external launch
Your employees are the face of the company and their willingness to evolve with your brand is vital to the process. Building the right talent brand will attract and inspire the employees capable of fostering a successful brand evolution, and it starts with defining a vision, mission and values that serve as the core foundation then rolling that out in an engaging, creative manner.
Neighborhood Health Partners, for example, sought to fully transform their brand from positioning, to naming to visual brand identity to the entirety of the brand experience across all touchpoints. This was driven by a fundamental shift in their business strategy. Along with the name change to AllWays Health Partners, the tagline of “You in Every Way” was developed to support a higher, more differentiated promise. Beyond projecting AllWays Health Partners’ unconventional (for the industry) commitment to creating consumer-centric policies, it served as a rallying cry for internal teams and motivated them to stand behind their company’s mission. The company’s vision, mission and values were also retooled to support this promise, focusing on recognizing and celebrating the “Invisible superheroes” who make up the Allways workforce and are so critical to delivering on a higher-order brand promise.
Quality of creative execution matters…a lot
In all the process, procedure and consensus building required to transform the entirety of a brand experience, it’s easy to forget the importance of the creative quality and distinctiveness of each and every one of the executional puzzle pieces. Gaining consensus is a lot easier when you cut a lot of deals and make a lot of compromises. But it’s really important to keep “fighting the good fight” and champion great creative execution throughout. Because ultimately your evolved brand’s authenticity and appeal – especially in this social media age – will hinge on those most ephemeral qualities and symbols of re-evaluation that can only come from meticulous craftsmanship.
Significant brand evolution is no simple task. Success requires time, thoughtfulness, internal buy-in and careful orchestration to succeed. But it’s truly one of the most exhilarating and satisfying experiences that marketers and their leadership teams get to undertake. And the opportunity to actually move your brand forward – while everyone else is hitting pause during a global economic reset – might be just the nudge you’ve been waiting for.