At the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, one exhibit is an open Twinkie with a birth certificate dated October 6, 2009. It is still edible, says the museum. That nine-year-old Twinkie has a longer shelf life than most respected brands by a factor of three. The current rate of the rebranding of companies and products is happening at a frequency I’ve never experienced in 30 years of agency work.
Why do companies need to evolve their messaging more often? And when has a brand, unlike the everlasting Twinkie, exceeded its expiration date?
Decades ago, companies evolved their brand every five to six years, though often less. Now, companies should consider a refresh every three years. The hyper-dynamism of nearly every market has cut the life expectancy of brands. Customers with shrinking attention spans stick with brands that earn their loyalty by constantly offering something new and relevant.
The internet, smartphones and social media might have shortened attentions spans, but I think of those as effects, not causes. They meet a clear demand for constant stimulation and build on a mass media diet that’s virally multiplying.
It’s only logical that restrained communications are going extinct. The news must give you 10 Unbelievable Examples of How Our Entire Culture Has Been Buzzified, and trust me, You Won’t Believe What Happens Next!
If legitimate information sources must go to those lengths, the burden on brands is that much greater. The craving for novelty and flightiness of attention means the same message can’t work for long.
The inner audience
A brand lives in the minds of consumers, beyond corporate control and vision. All companies can do is manage the offerings, communications and behaviors that, in turn, define the customer experience. The best indication you need a rebrand is that your website feels dated and no longer accurately reflects or “feels true” to what your company is, what it provides, what it thinks and does.
In my experience, there are proven best practices for evolving a brand: get C-level approval and participation, use a proven outside agency or expert, understand the process, focus on what the competition isn’t saying more than what it is, take the time to do it right and finally, remember your employees are actually your most important audience. They’re your most important brand evangelists.
Companies often feel their employees must understand the company because they work there. But, time and again, this proves not to be the case. I’ve asked CEOs if I can ask ten random employees what the company does and its unique value. So far, the CEOs have always declined.
Rebranding is also for telling a specialized workforce, here’s who we are, what we do and why it matters. It’s for supporting a culture that, under the regime of shareholder expectations and long work hours, can lose sight of its purpose.
The burden of irrelevance
In today’s hyperdynamic markets, what a company says about itself, why it’s uniquely better and how that uniqueness translates to value for customers is more important than ever. Over time, as the company meets sales goals, grows its customer base and integrates new solutions, resources and partnerships to keep ahead of new and evolving competitors, brands are too often forgotten.
“Misalignment” between corporate evolution, which all companies need to do to survive, and brand expression can be extremely damaging. Like a child wearing clothes they long outgrew, an “old” brand can inhibit connection with customers. While stretching for the desired market position, the brand might rip the whole outfit.
This is why successful companies are smart about regularly evaluating the need to rebrand which, again, is typically triggered by an increase in “we need to update the website” commentary. If you haven’t evolved your brand in three years, seriously consider it. If you haven’t in five years, you owe it to your business, customers and employees to do so immediately. If your brand is older than Chicago’s nine-year-old Twinkie, you might be too late.
As Senior Director, Brand Strategy at R2integrated, Steve Hill creates positioning and messaging strategies that overcome marketing challenges and accelerate connections between audiences and brands. Using research-driven insight and actionable recommendations, he develops communications that elevate corporate and product relevance through differentiating ideas and language.
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