Brand ecosystems exist. They perform at the speed with which loyalty is won or lost. They scale to decisions to build value. Branded ecosystems are juggernauts. So how does this happen? Brand managers have created alignment in three ways:
1. Executive engagement
Often a C-Suite executive is heralded for the vision they created for their brand. They have gone from an old version of their brand to the new one. They found some insight into the market that has allowed their brand to transform.
Laurel Culter, who recently died, was an early pioneer in this type of transformative leadership. She was once named Woman of the Year by the Advertising Federation of America and 10 years later she was named Man of the Year by the same group. She simultaneously worked at an agency and at Chrysler. She initiated direct-to-consumer advertising in advertising. While working with P&G, she successful rebranded Prego for a multi-decade success by naming the product on consumer needs, not company name. She also predicted the emergence of multi-channel shopping that has led to the growth of omni-channel thinking. More important than the vision she had: she was able to help executives imagine the behaviors of consumers. She was able to get traditional managers to go beyond vision and mission to imagine behaviors that would deliver consumer requirements.
In The MIT Sloan Management Review, Dan Ciampa identifies what CEOs get wrong about visions. When new behavior and new ways of thinking are required, an essential step is for the CEO, the board, and key managers to have a singular shared image in their minds of what the organization will look and act like after achieving its strategic goals, and they need to make sure the entire organization knows and acts upon that shared image. Unlike Laurel Cutler’s time of the consumer era, the considerations for boards and managers have evolved.
2. Systemic connections
When organizing brand strategy, a list of considerations includes basic elements of marketing, finance, supply chain, and products. These items are combined for the go-to-market position of a brand, but this framework is no longer broad enough. Each branding component requires a consideration of its societal analog.
These connections change the nature of problem solving. Instead of managing complicated problems, brand leaders are now managing complexity. Complicated problems are more stable. Blueprints of complicated solutions repeat and perform the same over time. Complex problems evolve. Results are less stable and time collapses. Linear thinking is overrun by shifts that occur in phases. For brands to scale in this environment, the relationship between the components must be understood:
- Marketing to the Zeitgest. Segmentation, profiles, personas, and the like are no longer the only consumer understanding required. Managers must monitor and consider the shifting opinions that may affect a brand through influencers and non-purchasers. Who would have considered that Facebook would be under the public scrutiny of its practices when its growth and success have been so dramatic?
- Products and Competitor Dynamics. Industry boundaries are more permeable than ever. Assessing risks is no longer only left to incumbent firms but also to those competitors who are generating insight faster than the entrenched leaders. How fast did Amazon add AWS and real stores to its profile?
- Finance and Policy. How government behaves changes who wins and loses. Is Tesla’s success owing to the subsidies it received and is its future tied to the way they are trying to block subsidies now?
- Supply Chain and Environment. There are limits to what the planet can yield and how fast supply chains can deliver those resources. Is it good to be a power generating company in California if you cannot get the fuel to run the generator?
All brands have analog relationships. The connections may or may not be impacting results currently. Low impact is not permission for limited management attention. A steady state of evaluation and consideration is necessary as these complex relationships are likely to change as underlying conditions evolve.
3. User needs
When organizing brand strategy, the final decision to make is a realistic look at the brand’s user experience. Brands have traditionally had rule-based systems that dictate how the brand needs to be managed from the brand to the consumer. Brand ecosystems are designed with the consumer at the core.
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They follow the purchase path and the bottlenecks that are occurring.
Key questions to resolve for any brand manager who is looking to create better alignment:
- Problem recognition: Users do not look for brands– they look for solutions. Brand managers need to understand if their brand equities are visible in the categories where consumers could use them. For the applications of the brand, are we in the choice set or not?
- Search and evaluation: Consumers use brands to clarify and simplify choice. As they are looking for alternative solutions, brands must understand if they have the right content available for the use case of their brands. Are we candidly comparing our brand to others? Are we building a single-minded idea that drives people to experience our brand?
- Purchase: Digital enablement of a brand is no longer optional. It is a requirement, but not a differentiator. Brands must understand how purchases are made and what is the right blend of insight, creativity, and insight delivering the brand to users in a way that stands out.
- Post-purchase: After experiencing a brand, perceptions change, and equities are reset. Brands must ask themselves: are we able to move past just reinforcing those equities? Do we have the process, systems, and technology to enable our brand equity to move with the user to the next category or next purchase occasion?
The end state of brand management is a continually-on approach. Most firms do not have enough resources to investigate the issues all by themselves. Like the user ecosystem they build, they need to harness employees and suppliers to deliver the brand experience that will rise to the top of the market.
Are you looking to create alignment for a high-value, high-function brand ecosystem? We’d love to learn what you’re working on and find solutions to any roadblocks you are experiencing. Reach out to us.