The Key to Keeping Your Brand Fresh...


Keeping brands fresh. It's become something of an obsession. In a world where disruption is the new norm, marketers are feeling ever more pressured to continually update and reinvent their brands.

Yet traditional marketing theory tells us that a brand should stay consistent over time, so that it becomes instantly recognizable.

It's a tension that marketers have always wrestled with, but it's now more acute than ever. 

I had the privilege of attending an excellent Brandworks University recently which explored the science behind habit, with such luminaries as Charles Duhigg, Phil Barden and B.J. Fogg.  This offered some interesting advice on managing this tension.

It's more important to stay consistent to brand meaning, rather than to execution. The brain is more flexible than we have traditionally given it credit for. 

Take Angelina Jolie, for example. We instantly recognize her name in text, regardless of the font. We recognize her from pictures, regardless of what she's wearing or whom she's with, and in movies, whatever the character she's portraying. The way she's presented is not consistent, but the brain still recognizes the meaning of 'Angelina Jolie'. 

The same holds true for brands. We recognize the meaning of Starbucks whether we see the name in text, someone carrying their coffee cup, a bag of coffee in the grocery aisle, or the green umbrellas outside.

Instead of obsessing over the consistency of visuals, colors, font types, shapes, etc, across all executions,  the key question for marketers should be whether a particular execution is consistent with the meaning of the brand.

The meaning is stronger if the brand is linked to fulfilling just one human need. While it's tempting to try and broaden the brand's appeal by meeting several needs, it turns out that this weakens the association of the brand with the ability to fulfill any of them.

The infamous Tropicana packaging design change, which resulted in a 20% drop in sales, is a case in point. Not only did it remove the visual cues which customers subconsciously used to identify Tropicana at the shelf (What Marketers Should Know About Lapsed Customers...), but it also confused the brand meaning. By replacing the iconic picture of a whole orange by a picture of orange juice in a champagne glass, it suggested exclusivity and special occasion rather than something that's good for the family everyday - which Tropicana had hitherto stood for. 

The meaning, linked to meeting just one human need, should flow through everything the brand does and how it behaves (In Search Of Brand Coherence...).

If you do need to change the meaning of the brand, it's better to take several small steps than one big pivot. If Angelina Jolie had declared that she was a humanitarian ambassador in her early years as an actress, she'd have been laughed out of court. But by gradually building up her credentials over time, it became part of the meaning of 'Angelina Jolie'.

So too with brands. Take Apple. If it had jumped from desktop computing straight to mobile phones, it would have been very difficult - just ask Microsoft. But by first moving to mobile music with the iPod, which was in many ways an extension of file sharing, the move to the iPhone then seemed a natural next step.

Finally, underpinning all this was an interesting perspective on the nature of brand meaning itself. We tend to think of brand meaning as a combination of a brand's ability to fulfill a rational need (usefulness) and the personality it portrays (likeability). However, rather than personality, the meaning of a brand needs to link to one of the three key subconscious goals that motivate humans: namely, security, autonomy or excitement.

Let's take Dove as an example. Since the Dove beauty bar in the 1950s, it has sought to fulfill the rational need for moisturizing. However, with the advent of the Real Beauty campaign, it connected this to the idea that every woman should be secure in their own skin. While executions have varied over time keeping the brand interesting and fresh, it has consistently reinforced this meaning, turning Dove into a global powerhouse.

Bottom line, to manage the tension between brand consistency and freshness, marketers should stay focused on the right brand meaning and vary the execution - keeping the brand freshly consistent...


Simon's new book "Creating Loyal Brands" out now.