At some point, an organization that wants to develop or expand its brand presence, is going to reach a moment where it has to dive into new territory. There are really no exceptions to this. Whether you've never tried a paid ad before, run a blog, or considered video as a medium, there's bound to be some part of brand development that's new, unfamiliar, and daunting—yet potentially valuable to your brand's growth.
"But we've never done it that way before," I've often heard, upon presenting a new idea to a client. You've never done it this way before? Maybe that's exactly why you should try. If your brand isn't growing, then it's shrinking. If it's shrinking, then it's frequently because you've stopped trying to explore new spaces or develop the current ones you play in.
Change is scary. It can also be tricky, at first, to determine which new territory will work best for you and where you should put your very precious time and energy. But brands who don't continue to evolve will die.
Brand development means branching out
It's important here to identify what 'evolution' means in a marketing sense. Often, some of the hesitancy from organizations comes from a very valid fear that delving into a new foray could potentially compromise their brand's identity. How do you be you in a new medium?
Having a presence in specific mediums, especially on social media, also does require organizations to adjust the presentation of themselves—somewhat. You may be a very valuable nonprofit who deals with a serious societal issue, and fear that going on Instagram means that you must create flippant posts with numerous emojis and your own version of the Tide Pod Challenge in order to succeed.
Yet Instagram's appeal, while we're on this example, is not all emojis and trends. It's a primarily visual medium where you can create a sense of personal connection through emotive, compelling graphics. According to research by 3M as reported by Fast Company, people process visuals 60,000 faster than text. Visuals trigger emotional response, something that can be highly valuable for a brand.
Generally speaking, what's closest to the heart of your organization is likely what will prove most compelling to your audience—across any medium. And this is what you will bring forward into the evolution of your brand. It can be a bit of a balancing act to find your voice in each medium, but brand development requires you to consistently reveal the core of your brand in a new light, like Coke Classic.
There are several ways to do this, but they come down to identifying the elements of your organization that absolutely must remain consistent in order to retain brand identity across any medium:
Tone and keywords: Not just for SEO purposes, your organization's main services, key terms and tone should act like a foundational guide for all marketing efforts. You may speak more casually on Facebook than on your website's mission statement page, but using consistent tone and word choice can help protect the voice of your brand.
Logos, fonts and colors: I know graphic designers who get extremely emotional when vector logos are resized wrong, and I get it. It's a travesty. Part of your brand's identity comes from being able to recognize and associate it with a specific look and feel. Brands can look unprofessional or simply unbranded if graphic elements like logos, fonts and colors are used incorrectly or inconsistently.
Graphics: Image choice, while a bit subjective, also matters and should be thoughtful and intentional. Consider the emotive response that you want your audience to have when they think about your brand, and when they read/watch/interact with the bit of content where this graphic is going to live. Graphics help set the tone of the environment, and can push your brand to feel more corporate, intimate, playful, techie, relaxed, etc.
So, while your brand identity will evolve, it should never stray so far as to feel unrecognizable. And yes, perhaps there's even an appropriate moment for you to throw a meme or two on your feed.
How to evolve your brand without bombing
Brand development also sometimes requires trying out a completely new message on your audience. This can be risky or rewarding.
If you were around in 2017, you likely saw and recoiled at this poorly thought-out ad featuring Kendall Jenner ending systemic police violence by sharing a few cans of Pepsi. You didn’t have to be an expert marketer to agree with the general consensus that this ad was grossly insensitive to its topic, and made Pepsi look exactly like an evil, heartless corporate brand peddling its product at the expense of its humanity.
Dramatic analysis? Yes. True? Also, yes. People HATED this ad. It received a ton of widespread backlash. Pepsi had attempted to be “relevant” by inserting its product into a contemporary topic that it felt a can of fizzy soda could resolve.
Now, sometimes addressing a current social issue works. But Pepsi didn’t really take the temperature of the environment when creating this ad. We can probably all agree that when loss of life is at the heart of a topic, it shouldn’t be treated as an opportunity to pump some energy back into your brand just because it's on Twitter's top trending hashtags.
Why do I even focus on this ad? Because it's not just that it was a bad ad, it's that Pepsi put brand privilege ahead of the social consciousness it thought it was addressing. This is the opposite of authenticity. It's possible that they were trying to be Coke's world-famous "I'd Like to Buy the World a Coke" ad, truly one of the greatest ads ever created. They did not succeed.
The heart of Pepsi's ad was that one pretty, privileged celebrity can get away with facing off against a row of armed police and still be protected. The heart of Coke's ad was that one united, diverse planet is a beautiful thing. That yearned-for unity can happen around their product—the sharing of a Coke—but it doesn't have to. By placing the concept of unity at the forefront of the ad and intentionally making the reference to Coke almost secondary, the ad spoke to millions of Americans as heartfelt, genuine and extremely relevant.
But pushing the envelope for your brand doesn’t have to mean that you create a marketing campaign dealing with the top five headlines of the evening news. The point of this comparison is in the approach and intentionality behind your marketing message: What's at the heart of what you want to say, be and do? If you keep your organization's mission front and center, experimenting with new messaging is more likely to resonate with your audience and make them feel that your brand has a place in their everyday world.
By now it may also be obvious that I'm a Coke drinker and I think the Pepsi Challenge is complete nonsense. I invite my teammates to fight me on this.
Ready to grow your brand? Here's how
Any kind of brand growth is only going to be valuable insofar as it advances your organization's goals. So, let's start there: What are your top growth priorities right now?
Are you looking to expand your digital audience? If this isn't already glaringly obvious, there are two main parts of internet where people spend a lot of time and are likely to run into you by chance: Social media and search engines. If you don't have a large social presence, do some research on which spaces might be most relevant to you. If you already have a robust social following, but want to attract new customers who don't know you, consider the addition of a paid ad experience to get on the radar of new future fans of your brand.
Do you have a product or service that's highly visual? Up your video content. "Show don't tell" is always a solid approach to marketing, and video will only become increasingly popular as the visual medium of choice. Your major players like YouTube, Vimeo, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, among many others, give you the option to either upload a completed video or do a live stream. Live streaming will the future of marketing as 5G continues to unroll around the world. You heard it here first, folks. Well, you probably heard it first on Wired, but who's counting?
Do you need more social content but don't know how? There's no simple answer to this, but social media's most valuable and obvious benefit is that it is, well, social. Your content should invite interaction and keep up with what's going on in the world. Classes, demos, team spotlights, quick tips and product walkthroughs can all be great ways to connect with your audience. And always, always, always capture these moments with as many photos and videos as you can. Visuals are your friend.
Do you want to be known in your industry for certain expertise or products? Then prioritize original, SEO-driven content. Dedicated pages, blog posts and videos are all great ways to speak to your expertise and alert audiences that you have the knowledge, products and services they need. No matter your industry, it's also useful to think of your organization as an educator. People have busy lives and generally only want to interact with your content if they can be entertained, learn something, or, ideally, both.
These are just a few ways to think about brand expansion in the digital space. If you want permission to play, I'm giving in to you here: Go and do something different. Doing the unexpected can capture attention from a glazed audience and keep you relevant in a rapidly shifting world.
We love brand development
As big fans of content strategy, web-centric brand development is our specialty. Whatever your organization's mission, if you've got a brand you'd like to see evolve but know you'll need help along the way, reach out to us to start a conversation. We're here to help.