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April 18, 2016

Context is King

Brands have always been created in response to the ethos of the people who founded them and the ideals of the consumers that they were created to serve. They deliver upon a societal truth through the founding myths and the ideals that they represent. These myths and ideals give a brand its distinctive voice and most, arguably all, of its intangible value on a balance sheet.

What do you do then when consumers start to fall out of love with your brand because their values have moved on or the ideals behind your creation yesterday are no longer relevant today? Most brands panic and grab hold of the lifeboat of fads, trends and popular culture in order to re-position themselves as something ‘new’ rather than doing the more important work of re-articulating why the foundational truth they are based on is as relevant as ever.

The trick to swimming to the shore of certainty rather than paddling further into the rip of the unknown is to assess the context that your brand operates in; understand and accept that this and this alone is the thing that has changed. What has not changed is why you are who you are or why it is important.

Below we look at three types of context changes brands face today and what steps brands can take to avoid the siren call of repositioning that is more likely to kill their brand than revitalise it.

1/ Brand salience is more important than brand stretch

Today it is much more important to have a salient brand that is distinctive than it is to have one that can stretch endlessly. Why? Consumers care much less about your brand than you and they are already overwhelmed with choice. What to do? Don’t create barriers to choice by stretching the fabric of what your brand is, make your brand easier to pick by making it simpler and more salient. This means making the most of what they know about you already rather than trying to teach them about new things that your brand could offer. Be tight, be clear, be memorable.

2/ Demand side dominance beats supply side scale advantage

Historically brands grew as marks of quality and they controlled the supply side to profitably mass-produce products that consumers loved. Today, the starting assumption is every brand is quality, but if the brand is being ‘scaled’ often it creates more challenges than it solves. Why? Because you lose the story of the making to make more things. Consumers are very suspicious if there is not complete transparency about how a product came to be. What to do? Reverse engineer? Figure out what your story of demand is then build that.

Brand Strategy Context is King Tesla Image

Be like Tesla who want a carbon energy free future and so work backwards to build the infrastructure to deliver it.

Brand Strategy Article Context Hampton Creek Image

Think like Hampton Creek who want a world that can feed itself and work backwards to create the science that makes that possible; and if you are a legacy brand believe in where you came from, step back, embrace your founders’ ethos and focus your future on that history.

3/ Product superiority creates brand superiority

In a battle of beliefs it is not what you say but what you do that wins the fight. Beliefs are funny in that unless they are proven and made real they achieve the opposite of what you intend. Why? Beliefs are not window dressing designed to make a brand superior, they are an expectation that must be proven time and time again through the superior ‘product’ you produce. What to do? Focus on product as proof of your beliefs rather than your brand communication.

Brand Strategy Article Context Patagonia Image

Be like Patagonia and prove how outdoor gear can be made in line with a founding belief about stewardship of our planet or be like Method and prove through your product that efficacy and ethics are not mutually exclusive. If you have the choice between proving it or saying it, get busy proving it and let others tell your story.

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