Brand Stewardship: Making the Right Move at the Right Time

04.01.15

 

Even financial analysts agree at this point that brand equity is, while intangible, probably the most valuable asset on a company’s balance sheet. Stewardship of that asset is of foremost importance in the strategy of running a company. And the launch of a new brand, while exciting and full of promise, is merely one point on a sliding scale of actions that ensure nurturing of a long-term successful brand entity.

 

As with any business, brands progress through a life cycle of launch, growth, maturity, and either rejuvenation, reinvention, or fading from the market landscape. Enduring victory, therefore, depends upon making choices about brand consistency versus change. Those choices are affected by timing, the economy, customer needs, competition, and other factors that require thorough evaluation.

 

Consider Crest® toothpaste, the first with fluoride, introduced to the public in 1955. Crest, while ubiquitous, is not the world’s top-selling toothpaste, but it’s a star in the crown of Procter & Gamble, the number-31 company on the Fortune 500 list. With revenues of $84.2 billion as a result of its standouts, including Tide®, Pantene®, and Crest, P&G can certainly afford to adapt to circumstances by investing in product enhancements—and it has. With Crest, P&G moved from the initial fluoride differentiator to now include tartar control, whitening, whitening strips, and complete multi-benefit herbal expressions. For 60 years, Crest has rejuvenated and expanded its scope many times over to keep those kiddies brushing and their parents smiling brightly. Relevance. Crest has it, because it’s stewarded the brand wisely, keeping its eye on the market and recognizing when it was time to invest in brand extensions and enhancements.

 

Not Everybody Has $84 Billion

 

What if you’re not Crest? Suppose you’re a 5-year-old mid-sized commercial lender with a strong product positioning. You’ve spent a lot of time and effort to develop a memorable brand image and message that’s resonating with your industrial customers. Until now, you’ve been staunch in requiring consistency in every aspect of your collateral, business cards, messaging, and online presence in order to build awareness of your brand. You’ve begun to enjoy growth regionally, yet you’re not quite a household name. You don’t have billions to reinvest in every new trick in the book, but you want to keep your brand healthy and growing.

 

At the same time, your competition’s new product offerings are coming online. This is where consistency meets adaptability, and you have to decide: stay the course, or begin to refresh and deviate from the well-entrenched image and positioning you’ve created.

 

A good example of brand evolution in the B2B space is Adobe Systems Inc. Adobe was founded in 1982 by Charles Geschke and John Warnock to develop and sell the PostScript® page-description language. Today it’s a multinational computer software company with approximately $4.147 billion in revenues. Adobe’s product line has evolved from software products (such as Photoshop®) that individuals purchased to a suite of digital media and marketing solutions served up for a monthly fee with automatic upgrades. Recently described in an article by CBS News online as one of few software companies that survived Microsoft’s competition, the article cites Adobe as one of “10 companies with insanely great marketing.”

 

Beginning as a single tool primarily for the graphics and publishing market, Adobe’s product line has become requisite for anyone who wants to edit video or save files in PDF format. In a larger sense, the company describes its business this way: “Our digital media and marketing solutions empower businesses to make, manage, measure and monetize content.”

 

Adobe’s history has not been without difficulty. It competes in a fast-paced industry with significant players that are larger by far. It endured a major security breach in 2013 with far-reaching consequences for customers. Yet Adobe has secured its destiny through its dedication to giving customers what they want. Adobe claims that four value characteristics drive its business: to be genuine, exceptional, innovative, and involved. Their website features these two facts that validate their lofty position:

 

  • Over 90% of the world’s creative professionals use Photoshop.
  • More than two-thirds of Fortune 50 companies use Adobe® Marketing Cloud, including 17 of the top 20 Internet retailers; 10 of the top 10 commercial banks; 5 of the top 5 media companies; and 5 of the top 5 automakers.

 

With ever-evolving graphic design tools at its beck and call, Adobe still retains its original logo, designed by founder John Warnock’s wife, Marva. Visual consistency with product evolution—Adobe’s formula for success.

 

How to Balance Consistency and Change

 

Adobe didn’t reinvent the primary visual representation of its brand—its logo. But it did adjust, fine-tune, acquire, develop, and adapt in ways that kept it in favor with its market. How do YOU do that?

 

First and foremost, stay true to your brand promise. This is what brought your customers to you, and it’s what will keep them coming back. No matter what other changes you consider, you have to be all in when it comes to living up to your mission and purpose. Every experience your customers have should remind them of that promise.

 

Don’t wait until your customers begin shifting to competitors for services you don’t offer.
To continue to grow, you have to be in front of demand, not behind it. To do this:

 

  • Listen to your customers. Learn what services they’d like to have or what products they’ve seen in other markets that intrigue them.
  • Watch your competition closely to see whether they’re taking an aggressive future stance or merely a hold-down-the-fort approach.
  • Look at other markets and at business literature to see what’s new outside your arena.

 

Consider the implications for your company if you invest in new products, services, technology, or other enhancements. Do you need a new product line? What’s the payback if you develop it, and what’s the drawback if you don’t?

 

  • Test your theory with your customers to see their reaction. Test it with potential customers.
  • If you’re expanding geographically, you may find that your more locally flavored marketing campaigns and materials don’t represent the broader picture. Call in the experts to help you evaluate how your image plays among those other markets.
  • As your company grows, you may discover that you need to create variations on the brand, expanding your product line, tweaking existing products, and perhaps even eliminating some non-performing elements. For example, in 2011 Adobe ceased development of Flash for mobile devices because Apple refused to support it on the popular iOS platform.

 

One example of a local-to-more transition is the Starbucks story. Below, see the iterations of the logo as the company grew and changed. Starbucks didn’t start out as number 196 on the Fortune 500 list, where it is today; in 1971 it was a Seattle coffee bean roaster and retailer. Notice that it took 16 years to deviate from the original tried-and-true image.

 

starbucks_horiz

 

The Starbucks story may be beyond what you envision for your company. But it helps to see that the company held true to its original course until it was evident that the future held more in store. And even today, after adding food products and Fizzio™ hand-crafted sodas, it has maintained its quality experience. The logo has changed, but the story is the same. And so should yours be.

 

Crest, Adobe, and Starbucks all undertook change that was well thought out: meeting consumers’ needs, anticipating what the next must-have would be, and even creating a need where none existed. Remaining successful is all about knowing what’s working, quickly jettisoning what isn’t, and building new products at the right time. The “right time” is when you’ve researched the marketplace and your specific target audiences, and you’ve weighed the pros and cons of making a move or staying the course.

 

You can change your logo like Starbucks, or hold on to your original like Adobe, but you can’t stanch the tide of marketplace change, especially not today. A sustained stewardship discipline is paramount to the successful evolution of any brand. The marketing saying “If you’re not growing, you’re dying” is as true today as ever. It’s just a matter of knowing when and how to create growth. That’s the art and science of success.

 

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