Brands have a habit of throwing challenges up that may not have been expected or anticipated at their inception. And this is not to say that the brand wasn’t originally fit for purpose, more that, that purpose has evolved as the organisation has grown and adapted.
These challenges can take many forms, from a lack of flexibility to challenges with differentiating, to inconsistency in how the brand interacts within its ecosystem (to name but a few). For many of these challenges, it can feel like the simplest solution is to ‘Rebrand’ or implement a design solution, but this is not always the most effective option for a brand in the long run. This is not to say that there are no instances where this is the best option, however, a rebrand (in particular) should be the result of deep exploration into the organisation’s goals and brand strategy.
Every brand, whether they are long-established or the new kid on the block can only stay on top or ahead of these brand challenges by regularly* undertaking one vital piece of housekeeping, brand strategy review.
The strategy developed ahead of the creation of your brand identity was created at a point in time, while invariably there was some exploration into what the future of the organisation might look like and how the brand would respond, nobody has a crystal ball.
So, the changes that might come as the organisation grows or introduces new aspects of the business demand a review of how your brand will deal with these changes through elements of the brand’s strategy such as brand architecture or positioning. This is no easy feat; we may refer to it as ‘housekeeping’ but this is a complex process that demands expertise and time to develop the solution fit for the challenge.
* Regularly can mean different things to different organisations. This may not be an annual review or even once every five years but sense checking your brand strategy in line with changes in the business plan or corporate goals can ensure that your brand keeps ahead of any potential challenges.
Let’s explore for instance a brand lacking in flexibility, on the face of it this can look like an issue with the brand identity, however, exploring the brand architecture can be a helpful exercise in understanding what the brand is demanding and what is creating the lack of flexibility. While it may sound counter, defining the framework can create space and therefore flexibility for the brand identity.
As an organisation expands and changes, the likelihood of new requirements of the brand or branded offshoots being created increases. This is the natural result of growth; however, these unanticipated changes can throw a brand into flux with knee-jerk design solutions sought out to solve a perceived problem without identifying the real issue.
This is why, in the long term, the best option is always to consider the brand’s foundation and explore the problem from a broader perspective. Our example of the ‘lack of flexibility’ may be an issue with how the brand is structured. For instance, a monolithic brand might have been the right solution for the brand at its outset while you were building the brand but now you have various sub-brands that have lives of their own, and sitting them underneath the parent brand is no longer providing you with the impact required.
While designing a load of new sub-brands identities might feel like the solution, this approach doesn’t consider what the impact might be on the parent brand. Therefore, creating a strategic solution that considers the goals and requirements of the organisation and sub-brands ahead of developing a design solution is invaluable both for the sub-brands and the parent brand.
Following this exploration, the natural outcome of this may be that a design solution is required to enhance the brand toolkit. Great! This conclusion has been reached as a consequence of defining the needs of the brand clearly and identifying an area that requires a new solution or an adaptation of an existing element of the brand identity.
It’s not only the relationship between internal brands that can be an issue, external brands can also create challenges for your brand that were not present at the brand’s inception. Ensuring that your brand can hold its own against partners or other brands within your ecosystem can be complex, however, an exploration into each brand’s relationship with the audience and a review of the partnership types can help to identify how your brand and your partners can interact to ensure maximum impact for all parties.
The result of this exploration may manifest as guidelines for partnership agreements or co-branding guidelines (or both) that will ultimately ensure your brand is able to position itself correctly within your partnerships and the wider ecosystem.
Our recent work with the sporting federation World Obstacle is a prime example of a brand struggling to have impact or stand out in a competitive environment. Previously (and officially) known as Fédération Internationale de Sports d’Obstacles, the organisation was facing challenges in raising the profile of the sport and gaining traction in its goal of becoming an Olympic-accredited sport.
With a complex brand landscape of sub-brands, associated continental federations, sports and events, the brand needed a considered strategic approach to ensure that the resulting brand identity would work for the organisation in the long term, across its ecosystem and help to deliver toward the organisation’s objectives.
Although it would have been easy to charge in and design a new brand, being mindful of the complexity of the brand landscape we first explored why the organisation was struggling to cut through, what audiences were demanding and how the brand could be impactful in achieving the organisation’s goals. We then looked to explore in detail where the brand lives, what the demands would be and how we could create the desired impact.
Through the exploration of the brand strategy, we established a strong architecture that housed each of the existing sub-brands, sports etc while ensuring space for future expansion. We also established the need to change the name, venturing away from the traditional federation naming convention toward the new ‘World Obstacle’, a better reflection of the sport and its aspirations.
As with many projects of its kind, while complex, the brand strategy work undertaken to lay the foundations for the brand identity resulted in a more robust and relevant identity and brand toolkit. So, while solving these challenges can be complicated and demand time, your brand will, in the long term, reap the rewards of your hard work.
But how do you know when you might need to explore your brand’s foundational elements? There are lots of reasons for this, but any time you are faced with a challenge with the brand it can be helpful to start with a review of your strategy, even a cursory glance might help to shed some light on a solution. For those unsure of when to undertake a review a few primary reasons might give you a clue:
1 – Your brand isn’t having the impact or stand-out required
2 – You are struggling to differentiate
3 – You are struggling to find the flexibility within the brand identity for new use cases
4 – You can see your brand landscape becoming complex and messy
5 – Your brand is struggling to compete within your ecosystem
6 – You have new corporate objectives
While these are just some of the reasons, there any many others that might prompt you to explore your brand strategy. In doing so, you are future-proofing your brand and ensuring that when complex problems present themselves you are creating solutions that respond not only to the problem but also that work for your brand more holistically.