Strong brands ‘do’ better
With uncertainty ahead, taking stock of your brand to ensure it’s prepared for turbulent times and supporting your business in the right way is more important than ever.
In the past few months, we have seen the world of business - both here at Emperor and for our clients and their customers - turned not just upside down, but inside out and back to front.
We’ve seen constantly shifting challenges – and we’ve been helping clients to understand how important it is to utilise the power of their brand, or indeed strengthen their brand, so that they can build back better.
Companies have had to make faster decisions and bigger changes than ever before. From COVID to climate change, Brexit to Black Lives Matter, they’ve all given us a major kick up the backside to adapt.
Brand reputations have either skyrocketed or been smashed apart by bad or lacking responses to COVID-19 or the anti-racist movement. A bad brand reputation – and reputation IS brand – can be catastrophic, especially when people engage and purchase based on trust. Edelman’s study shows a 12% increase in the number of people buying a ‘brand they trust’ in 2020 compared with the previous year.
In times of crisis, having a strong brand can be key to recovery and growth. Between 2006 and 2020, which straddled the global financial crisis, the top 10 brands in the BrandZ Powerful Brands Portfolio increased 285% in value, while the S&P rose only 12%.
The future is uncertain and the pace of change and flexibility in business, brand and people has never been faster. Your brand has a huge part to play, making the business attractive to customers and talent, and helping to inform your future business decisions. In short, it will need to work harder than ever before.
How do you ensure your brand is strong enough – and ‘good’ enough – to support your business in withstanding whatever challenges are coming next?
Here are some things all businesses can do to inform moving forward with their brand and building back better.
1. Look outside
At Emperor we use a ‘brand compass’ to measure performance of our own brand and those of our clients. As well as looking inwards, in order to achieve the holy trinity of difference, relevance and authenticity you have to look outwards. The key pieces of research that will help you do this are:
Peer review, to establish difference. It seems so obvious, but some businesses that come to us aren’t doing this as regularly or as broadly as they should. Not only can you see your points of difference in your specific sector but you can have moments of inspiration from businesses in a parallel space not directly competing with your own.
Stakeholder (i.e. human) research, to establish relevance and authenticity. While commissioning a large piece of research will give breadth and depth of understanding, to begin with this could simply be a conversation with a few clients, staff members, partners and customers to understand what you do that is of most value to them, or is there anything that could be changed. Ask them how their needs have shifted and what it’s really like for them to do business. Asking the right questions – and not always the obvious ones – can provide surprising insight into customer needs and your brand’s reputation.
Trend analysis, to establish and ensure future value. The rate of change is such that it often takes a sensible head and an empathetic personality, as well as a curious and analytical eye, to establish which information is real and significant. Information is one thing, gleaning genuine insight is very much another. Seeing what’s truly happening now and predicting what is going to be important in the future is a real skill and requires time, investment and heart.
2. Revisit your plans
With a fresh pair of eyes and armed with the latest sector and human insight, as a senior team, go back and review your plans. One of the biggest challenges our clients have experienced is instilling a desire to change across the different sections of the business, even though it seems so clear to those ‘responsible’ for the brand. Demonstrating a shared responsibility, and linking business ambitions with brand ambitions, is one of the best ways to achieve buy-in and ownership.
By revisiting your ambitions together and checking in on their relevance, feasibility and importance for now and what’s to come, you can establish if your brand platform is sturdy, needs strengthening or is burning and needs to change. Think of where you are now, where you thought you wanted to be next year and where you actually want to now be in three years’ time.
Reviewing and refining the shared ambitions of the organisation in light of the latest evidence can highlight very quickly whether you are on the right path. It will also help bring all your teams together behind the same shared goal and give you a new, more fit-for-purpose platform to move forward.
3. Check your foundations
Without strong foundations, your brand cannot grow. If you place anything on the surface of a weak foundation – for example, a rushed campaign, #stophateforprofit stand or black square on Instagram – it might even fall over.
Analyse whether your foundations are strong enough to withstand more turbulent times, or whether you have a weak link. Call this what you like – a brand health check, SWOT analysis or audit – but just make sure you ask yourself the right questions.
Some examples to help:
Which elements of your business and brand are strong?
Which weak points need to be removed or strengthened?
How could the next crisis expose you?
How can you protect yourself and your people against the tremors of change?
What are the fundamental, deep rooted values you hold that make your culture strong?
How sustainable, accessible, diverse and inclusive is your business, brand and culture?
Any element of culture, practice or operational weakness will be exposed later on if the foundations aren’t sound.
4. Invest and re-build
Depending on the results of the above you may need to build a new brand platform or simply invest in strengthening the one you have. Either way, you will probably need to attribute some financial value to building your brand’s value. It will be worth it. Clients who have continued to invest in and build their brand appear to be the ones reaping rewards.
We have already witnessed some fantastic initiatives, innovations and business moves fully informed by brand. However, because we’re curious (and we know you are too), we’re about to launch our most ambitious piece of brand and culture research in order for business, brand and marketing leaders to understand the latest trends and challenges.
We want to hear your views on how your brand has helped you and is going to support you in the next 6–12 months. We also intend to help business leaders have a clear vision of the future and how to effectively engage your people as brand and business advocates. The results of our brand and culture study will be shared early next year.