Branding for the Next Billion: What Got You Here, Won’t Get You There

The brand that got your company to its current level of success may not be the brand you need to achieve the next level of growth.

Have you ever put on a favorite sweater or jacket, looked in the mirror and thought, with a sinking feeling, It’s just not working for me anymore? The garment’s the same. It’s you that’s changed.

So it is with a brand. The brand that got your company to its current level of success may not be the brand you need to achieve the next level of growth. Perhaps you’ve outgrown it. Or the market has moved on. Perhaps your firm’s growth strategy requires connecting with entirely new audiences and the current brand just doesn’t resonate. Or your firm has expanded its offering (organically or through acquisitions) and the story just isn’t the same anymore.

The decision to modify or replace a brand can be a tough one. There may be a sentimental attachment to a legacy brand, particularly to the more visible elements, such as the logo. If a company is growing at an acceptable rate, the temptation to “leave well enough alone” can be powerful. But it’s important to keep in mind that virtually every industry today is in a constant state of flux. New entrants, innovative disruptors, breakthrough technologies, evolving customer preferences. A brand can’t stand still in a world that’s forever moving.

Why Change Now?

Recently the CEO of a publicly-traded consulting firm observed that he’d grown the company from a start-up to a billion-dollar global leader in just ten years with the same brand. Why change now? We pointed out that the company he’d started wasn’t the company he was now running. Neither was the world in which it operated. What had begun as a highly focused, specialized boutique with a handful of competitors was now a diversified global powerhouse competing with some of the world’s largest and most admired companies. Technology had transformed virtually everything the company did. The legacy brand was great. But it no longer fit.

In some cases, the need to alter or replace a brand is obvious: the strategy reflects old assumptions and market dynamics, the visual identity is dated or tired. But in many cases the need to change isn’t so clear. In these situations, a brand equity study can be a useful tool. This is because your brand isn’t what you say about your business; it’s what your most important audiences believe (and say) about you. So the first step in determining whether to evolve your brand is to find out how your clients and prospects perceive you. Gauging your own employees’ perceptions is also critical; after all, for most B2B companies, employees are the most powerful brand channel.

Closing the Brand Gap

If you discover daylight between how you want your business to be perceived and how it’s currently perceived, you’ve got a brand gap … it’s time to rebrand. And beware of complacency: you may well find that your clients’ perceptions are well-aligned with your own perceptions. But will these perceptions take your business to the next level of success? The brand may fit today … but will it continue to work for you in a year’s time? In three years?

Often, company management warns us in advance of a rebranding initiative that employees are very attached to the brand, particularly the legacy identity, and will be loath to change. In virtually every case our research revealed not only a willingness to change but a strong desire to change. Employees are often closer to the market than senior management, and are in a better position to know whether a brand continues to support the company’s mission. In fact, it’s generally the people closest to the ground – especially the sales force – that feel the pain of an ill-fitting brand the most.

In a world of constant change, putting your brand in front of an unforgiving mirror isn’t easy. But it’s something every company must do to get from where it is today to where it wants to be in the future.

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