- ‘A brand is something that has a clear-cut identity among consumers, which a company creates by sending out a clear, consistent message over a period of years until it achieves a critical mass of marketing’ – Phil Knight
One word that is often mentioned during conversations about brands is Consistency. The biggest brands in the world, among other things, are believed to have remained consistent in their persona, look and feel, themes, messaging, etc. Even in personal branding, you are advised to consistently speak about one particular field and carve yourself a niche audience in that field. Consistency is undoubtedly one of the main pillars of successful branding but it should however not be misconstrued to be synonymous with being static, stubborn, or averse to change.
By definition, to be consistent is to be unchanging in nature, standard, or effect over time. Managers of brands and creatives will agree that those are not words that inspire creativity. Having the same look and message over a long time has proven to be counterproductive for many brands. So how are innovation and dynamism so important to a discipline that is built on consistency?
Consistency in branding is not to be taken literally or swallowed whole. A consistent brand is not exactly unchanging but instead gives a perception of being unchanging while being fully dynamic. The true value of a brand is the perception one has of it. If a brand is experienced in the mind of its consumer, then that is exactly where its consistency should be measured.
For instance, if a person says two different things to a sad friend, but the effect of comfort or the feeling of joy it gives to the friend remains the same, the messaging has been dynamic but the goal remains consistent.
In the same way, a brand can be dynamic with its message, logo, visual identity and objective, but must ensure that the end feeling or perception in the mind of the consumer is fully or partially consistent. A clear-cut example would be Nike’s campaigns. A campaign about its latest trainers results in the feeling of motivation that is conveyed by their slogan ‘Just Do It.
In the same way when Nike picks up a social cause, as it did for the Black Lives Matter movement, the same motivational feeling of ‘Just Do It’ is still felt throughout the campaign. In this case, the brand Nike has been consistent in perpetuity with its brand name and logo, has been consistent long term with its slogan, theme, and promise but has been dynamic with its messaging, which changes according to the times we find ourselves in.
Not to sound insensitive about a global pandemic that has taken and continues to take the lives of many, but there is no denying the fact that there are lessons to be learned from this deadly virus. The Coronavirus has caused brands to think deeper and act differently these past two years, however, this same pandemic that brands are battling through is giving everyone a lesson on branding, consistency, and innovation.
The virus started spreading 2 years ago and has evolved every time scientists find a vaccine or solution for it. The virus has evolved, reinvented itself as multiple variants such as Delta, Omicron and so on, showing different symptoms and spread behavior. The virus however remains consistent in its effect. The perception and end goal we have of it hasn’t changed; it is still as deadly as its first variant and is still taking the lives of many.
Brands that are navigating this pandemic without being innovative must first take a look at the opponent, and at the very least innovate and evolve alongside it.
The new variants have new brand names and even stronger modes of transmission. In a similar manner, brands must evolve beyond their business as usual and do more to reach their audience.
One major example that we saw during the early days of the pandemic was major restaurants evolving to focus more on food delivery because directives did not allow them to operate as they were used to. They needed to evolve in order to survive, similar to the virus that caused the situation.
Brands that are looking to be dynamic creative and innovative need to make a few changes in their way of work to improve this culture and can follow a few simple pointers that I’ve outlined as ‘The ABCD of Brand Innovation’.
- Acknowledge your Attitude
A brand must always be fully aware of who it is, what are your strengths, your weaknesses, who is your audience, and so on. It is known that you cannot improve yourself if you don’t know yourself. In times like this, it goes beyond Marketing Managers running sentiment surveys and developing a SWOT analysis based on their own experience of their brand.
The best way to go is to run a full brand audit via a non-biased third party. This will uncover the truth about your brand and its positioning strength in the mind of the consumer. A brand audit is a thorough examination of a brand’s current positioning in the market compared to its competitors and a review of its effectiveness. This can reveal the parts of the brand’s communication or operation that require innovation.
- Be Bold and Brave
The corporate attitude that always precedes innovation is boldness. Boldness to choose the road less traveled and do something that has not been done before. Boldness to accept change and readiness to behave differently to ensure different results. This is an attitudinal fix that can start with something as small as changing the formats of meetings, the way reports are sent and the way days are spent in the office. Some of the common ways of incorporating a change in attitude towards innovation in any institution are:
- Spell out the values and behaviors your innovative culture should exude.
- Develop a plan to effectively communicate your innovation plan to your staff.
- Change the workspace, or its look and feel, to instigate the change
- Make sure that those influential positions embrace and act on the new culture
Consider the Crazy
As the Creative Strategy lead at Pulse Marketing, the Digital Marketing Agency of Pulse Africa, the most important comment I look out for during my brainstorm sessions is, “this idea is crazy”. As a creative person, I consider this high praise. When you want to make significant change and impact, you need to think of the craziest and most improbable solution before you distill it to the coolest, safest and possible.
Welcome the crazies, it births the true solutions and challenges you to do things that your competitors are not doing. Always create an environment where your team feels comfortable to share the craziest of ideas without fear of judgment or reproach. This becomes the result of properly implementing the second point and introducing an innovation attitude by being bold. A few ways to develop creative ideas are:
- Oxymorons: Putting two complete and improbable ideas together are a good way to come up with some new ideas.
- Reverse Thinking: Taking common concepts and thoughts flipping them over and looking at them from an opposite perspective is another helpful way.
- Fill your space with inspiration from other sources you admire and constantly apply the first two points.
Diversify your deviants
Innovation is spurred by changemakers or what I like to call, deviants. After creating the right environment to welcome crazy ideas, brands must ensure that the ideas are not coming from a skewed perspective but from people who have varying experiences and are coming from different backgrounds.
Diversity has become a key hiring objective for most, including Fortune 500 companies, where diversity and culture leads are well sought after. They recognize the need to ensure that there are different cultures and backgrounds to ensure that there is diversity in the ideas and work output of the company.
Peter F. Drucker’s quote “If you want something new, you have to stop doing something old”, is the best guide for brands when thinking about new and innovative ways to attract and engage customers.
The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in brands pivoting and innovating in the way they communicate and operate as regularly as the virus itself. In summary, if you’re still wondering if you should make that change to find new ways of business, the message I will leave you with is…even COVID innovates.
>>>The writer is Head of Creative Strategy, Pulse Ghana. Crafting and telling compelling and results-oriented brand marketing strategies to achieve the business goals of various companies from diverse industries. With a Masters’ Degree in Brands & Communication Management, Kwabena has worked on projects for brands such as GCB Bank, Nestle, mPharma, MTN, Access Bank among others