How to Manage Brands Over Time

As people living in the world, we know that it’s tough to manage so many needs and wants while maintaining a strong sense of personal identity. The same holds for brands—especially those in the consumer packaged goods category, which run the risk of causing upset in the aisles in their efforts to evolve.

From Coca-Cola’s holiday can confusion to (Pepsi-owned) Tropicana’s Pure Premium refresh that fell flat, even veteran brands have gotten tripped up by towing the fine line between change and keeping loyalists happy. So how can brands continue to grow while avoiding an identity crisis?

Christine Sech, Interbrand’s Senior Director of Strategy and Research, unwraps this issue in her article, “How to Manage Brands Over Time,” published in the March 2016 edition of BRANDPackaging:


 

‘‘When is it time for a brand refresh?” “Is our brand story still relevant?” “Which brand attributes will grow market share, and which should be left behind?”

These questions likely sound familiar if you happen to be a steward of brand growth and brand value. And, you’ve probably found that there isn’t a definitive answer for them.

We often look to the icons—Apple, Nike, and Coca-Cola—and their models of success. From their beginnings, they qualified their performance benefits as well as their purposes (e.g., what they stand for). They leveraged distinctive visual and verbal elements to create awareness and understanding. And over time, they have held true to these core beliefs and unique assets, evolving as needed to maintain relevance.

It takes discipline and commitment to achieve the iconic status of these three brands, and even they have had missteps along the way. Remember Coca-Cola’s white seasonal can? Consumers were highly vocal about the absence of the brand’s signature red color and the confusion it caused.

HOW CAN A BRAND BE CONTINUALLY RELEVANT AND HONOR ITS HERITAGE?

As a living business asset, a brand is influenced by ever-changing market dynamics. Cultural behaviors shift; target segments evolve, and competition increases. Remaining static and resting on past laurels isn’t an option today. However, with established brands, we know consumers and customers are seeking recognition of what they know and trust. There is often a fine line between evolving to meet market demands and isolating your loyal buyers.

One way to answer this question is to consider factors that impact the strength of a brand and its attributes.

When evaluating strength from an internal perspective, focus on brand fundamentals and culture. Consider the following:

– Is there clarity about the brand’s values and the needs of its target audience?
– Is there commitment to investing in the brand and protecting its unique assets?
– Does the brand have the ability to effectually respond to market changes?

If there is uncertainty in one of these areas, it may be time to revisit business or brand strategy.

The way a brand presents itself and engages externally is equally as critical. A successful brand experience is one that consistently brings to life the brand to create understanding, connection, and affinity. Contemporizing a brand’s visual identity or messaging strategy may be necessary to keep pace with target audience needs and desires, or to separate itself from the crowd if its current experience is viewed as being on par with competitors. Additionally, revisiting go-to-market strategies may be warranted if the brand’s presence is intermittent and diminishing in perception.

Method Dish Soap
method brings sophisticated design to planet-friendly home care products. Moves such as a recent partnership of limited-edition designs with Rebecca Atwood evolve both brands while staying true to their purposes. Image via BRANDPackaging, courtesy of method.

Internal and external factors are also applicable for new brands. As consumers and customers leverage category knowledge to create context, it is imperative to communicate a clear point of difference, commit to a consistent brand experience, and keep close tabs on audience relevancy and understanding from the start to ensure a successful future. method is a great example of a brand entering an established category with a distinct position that not only met the needs of eco-conscious consumers but also set a new standard for a brand experience that was relevant far beyond this core audience through its design philosophy.

MANAGING BRANDS IS A BALANCE

Jack Daniel’s has consistently made Interbrand’s Best Global Brands rankings as a result of the company’s ability to maintain a strong brand over time. Its authentic brand story remains relevant and distinct because of its commitment to long-term growth. The brand has responded to market changes and opportunities such as flavor extensions, but in a way that reflects the brand heritage, so as not to diminish what consumers know and love about the original product. Additionally, the shared affinity people have for the brand is prevalent online, and the brand has smartly engaged in this space through relevant programs that enhance the brand experience for loyal followers.

MB_Interbrand_Jack Daniels_638
The lineup of Gentleman Jack, Tennessee Honey, Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7, and Single Barrel whiskey demonstrates how the brand has grown stronger with each product addition instead of letting its story become muddled or irrelevant. Image via BRANDPackaging.

The brand’s example illustrates how managing a brand over time is a continual process: that filtering opportunities through the brand’s core beliefs and attributes is key to ensuring success—as is staying close to what consumers find relevant and meaningful in their lives.

Citation
Christine Sech. “How to Manage Brands Over Time.” BRANDPackaging. March 2016, 16 (2). http://www.brandpackaging.com/articles/85280-how-to-manage-brands-over-time

Senior Director, Strategy & Research