Start with story.
When it comes to rebooting your brand, why you should get your story straight first.
If the past year has provided any lessons, it’s that change is the only constant.
Life isn’t lived in a straight line. We must often tack and jibe towards a destination. And from time to time, the destination itself must be called into question.
And so it is with brands. They must constantly correct their course to reflect changing tides in culture, fluctuations in demand, spurts in growth, or surfacing threats. And, sometimes, they must change strategy entirely, often following a plunge in sales, or after falling victim to their own success.
It’s often at dramatic points of inflection in a brand’s journey that marketers feel their brand needs fundamental reappraisal.
This intuition is normally utterly right, with evidence for change showing clearly in the numbers. But it’s often at this crucial juncture, where things go wrong.
A common mistake is
to think a brand
revamp starts with a change in design.
A design agency is duly called, in the search of
‘a whole new look and
feel’ that signals renewal. A brief is written, mapping out the business and marketing context, the desired target audience, and so on. Boxes are filled in. Points are debated - like which brand equities to retain or discard.
The agency responds with multiple design routes, (dis)respecting visual equities or category norms to differing degrees.
And then the head scratching begins. Which route is the most appropriate? How should we decide? At this point, the brief looks like a wholly inadequate yardstick by which to measure the work and personal subjectivities come into play. Research?
The process suddenly becomes messy
And for good reason. The fundamental problem with starting with design is that the solution can only ever be superficial by nature. Design does indeed change how consumers perceive a brand, but if you haven’t worked out the deeper meaning of the brand beforehand, all the changes will be purely cosmetic. Unclear meaning leads to unclear design.
A pitch! What could signal change more clearly than lots of creative people thinking creatively on the problem? How disruptive and exciting.
A few weeks later, the marketing team sits through a series of dramatic presentations. Impeccable strategic thinking sets out a stage
for creative pyrotechnics. Every ‘big idea’ is pushed through every major channel, platform, and touchpoint.
After effusive thanks and firm handshakes…more head scratching. Which route is the
best route forward? Is the big brand idea anything more than a short-lived strap line? Will the line stand the test of time? How will it translate into design?
The process suddenly becomes messy
And for good reason. The fundamental problem with looking to a comms idea as the basis of a brand revamp is that it is by necessity, reductive. Whole aspects of branding are cast aside in deference to the juggernaut logic of the big, hairy campaign idea: art direction trumps brand design, copywriting trumps strategic messaging. The solutions are often insubstantial and short-lived. There will always be another campaign.
If you’ve got this far, and you’re shaking your head, you’re probably thinking that a good marketer would have foreseen these problems by means of proper brand planning. By spelling out the new brand direction in a rigorously thought out brand profile.
These normally take the shape of neatly labelled boxes arranged to form an evocative shape.
And it’s true. Setting out the true meaning of a brand before engaging any agency is a reasonable way forward. Certainly better than writing a long brief and hoping for the best.
But there is a fundamental flaw with this approach. No consumer who ever lived thinks of a brand in terms of a house, onion or a pyramid.
The truth is that brand profiles are wholly unnatural constructs that contort and confuse. No-one separates out their values in real life, for instance. They come attached to our beliefs and intentions, like a hero draws on their convictions to guide their actions. Brand profiles separate out what should be unitary. They divide the rational from the emotional, intuition from logic, strategy from creative, and design from comms.
It’s time to stop taking things apart and start putting them back together.
Humans are storytelling animals. Narrative is a pattern of information that we easily distinguish in the noise, like stripes in design, or melody in music. We perceive our lives as episodic, but unfolding narratives. We see stories in the blizzard of overwhelming information, determining the success of political campaigns and the reputation of celebrities.
Stories existed well before branding. So it makes sense to harness their structure and power to define and distinguish a brand.
Instead of thinking in terms of marketing (insight, functional benefit, brand truth, emotional benefit, brand values, all the boxes in a brand profile) an enlightened marketer should think in terms of narrative (frame, desire-line, beliefs, magic, allies, jeopardy).
It’s a way of thinking about a brand that comes easily once explained. Because stories come easily to us all.
And once defined, your brand becomes just that: more definitive. More compelling for consumers and better at setting a clear creative direction.
Your next chapter
From fledgling to famous. From tired to
The moral is: If you want to grow by reassessing your brand - before design, before advertising…get your story straight.