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This Way Forward

Changing the world from a brand perspective

Craig Stout

This Way Forward

Change takes courage
People don’t like change. The survival instincts of human beings make us adverse to difference—we need to know our basic needs are going to be provided for safely and regularly. Historically, brands have sought to soothe our anxieties with promises of consistency and reliability.

Conversely, we are excited by the thrill of something new and better—the promise that lies on the other side of upheaval. Today’s markets are characterized by both flux and abundance, and the desires of consumers are constantly shifting. Brands now have a choice: Drive this process or lapse into irrelevance.

To survive, brands need to offer difference and newness as surely as they offer their particular product or service. And that requires a substantial investment of time, money, and creative energy, often with dividends difficult to measure. But look at the companies on Interbrand’s annual Best Global Brands list, like Google, IBM, or Coca-Cola. They all take the risks required to stay relevant in the minds of their customers and clients.

Consider the courage required to forgo advertising on the homepage of the world’s most popular search engine. Or telling the world your servers and tech consulting are going to save the planet by making it smarter.

Powerful brands redefine markets by reimagining human desires. They have the courage it takes to anticipate, drive, and embrace change. In the interaction between brands and the world, this is the definition of the creative spirit.

Change takes vision
Change is hard. It has perceived risk and tangible expense. But not changing is riskier and more expensive in the long run.

Established companies have a tendency to get complacent after initial successes, and often new ideas and investments fall by the wayside. Hugely successful brands in a variety of industries—Internet service providers, manufacturers, record labels, newspapers, and magazines—have failed to innovate and been superseded by new regimes. It takes powerful, magnetic change agents within an organization to overcome the inertia gripping a business and to make innovation a reality.

Those who undergo a branding change are, in essence, putting faith in a future that is yet to be conceived, betting on tomorrow with all its uncertainty and promise. This requires strategic thinking, to be sure, and that strategy should be grounded in science: qualitative and quantitative research, modeling, and analysis. But there comes a point where the science must be used to make art.

Change comes from within
Even with the willingness to make a leap of faith, organizations will never change the world until they can change themselves from within. It needs to start with the man in the mirror—and in this case that man or woman needs to be at the very top of the organization. When engagement is signaled from the C-suite and flows down and through the organization, it becomes part of the company’s culture.

Every organization has the untapped capacity of its own people as its greatest potential asset. Unlock that asset by engaging and energizing your team, and you are positioning yourself to make real change in the marketplace and the wider world.

If employees feel uninformed when change happens—be it mergers, acquisitions, growth, or an evolving business environment—they will become disengaged, cynical, and ultimately negative. The most brilliant strategic framework and idea will remain in a PowerPoint presentation if not embraced by your people.

Change takes inspiration
The economic events of the past several years have dramatically altered the rules of brand creation and evolution. What has become clear is this: Change that grows from aspiration­­—a vision of a different future and the energy to build it—is what motivates true leaders. They are able to use their sense of possibility to become the champions that motivate their organizations to embrace change. It just takes someone, be it executive or manager, to step up and inspire belief.

These kinds of visionary, business-changing breakthroughs go beyond marketing and advertising campaigns. Powerful ideas change the world, not the mere cosmetic executions. H&M is an idea that everyone can afford the latest fashion. Twitter is an idea that we all want to connect and share our lives minute by minute. Starbucks is an idea that we all need a third place beyond home and work. Nike is an idea that if you have a body, you are an athlete. Visionary leaders are able to tap into universal human truths through creative ideas that make brands resonate in people’s lives.

In the end, a brand needs to be more than an LLC or an Inc. with a product or service for sale. What matters most is the ability to inspire people. That means you need to be inspired yourself and to convey that inspiration in all you do. People tend to fear the unknown, yet everyone is thrilled by the new. If you’re a brand today, you need to be a guide, someone who shows us a new way to be in the world.

FYIQ

  • About Craig Stout
    Craig Stout is Senior Creative Director for Interbrand New York. When asked, “I would like to change the world’s focus on consumer-driven growth models and start focusing on happiness-growth models. Business and government need to invest in making happier, healthier people, not just in creating economies based on consumption.”
    Craig.Stout@interbrand.com
    @craigstout3000
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