Tuesday, July 31, 2012

A time to change?

When your brand’s identity seems to pall, it’s time for an objective look at whether it needs an overhaul.

Every start-up has a familiar path of progress. An entrepreneur starts a business because he believes in an idea that consumes him. The focus of the start-up is on breaking even. Revenue generation is key and controlling costs as critical. The last thought in his mind is the brand. His priority is business, so he names it after his wife or daughter. (Without the benefit of research, I can tell you that my intuition suggests that men might have affairs but demonstrate their devotion (!) to their spouse by at least naming the company after her.)

The logo is quickly designed with the limited resources available and without much thought about the future as the entrepreneur just wants to get started. Then business grows, even a few export orders come in and then suddenly he realises branding has become an issue. Lakshmi Enterprises, the name he chose so enthusiastically, suddenly sounds like a ‘mom-and-pop’ store which works against the firm’s best interests when it wishes to attract talent.

The logo and their hastily done Web site make them look and sound like a cheap Indian company in global markets. Suddenly competitors make their appearance and the fact that the company has not positioned itself clearly seems to matter. On occasions, the competition that comes in later positions itself better and our start-up ends up getting repositioned by its competition.

The well-established start-up faces one of its key challenges in its short life: What should it do about its name which sounds undifferentiated? Is there a need to change it? If yes, what parts of its old name should it retain? How should it position itself and what about the attendant brand identity? If these concerns bother you (and you need not be a recent start-up to have these worries), don’t for a moment think you are the only one with problems like these. Many companies in varying stages of growth and success have similar concerns and challenges.
The need for objectivity
The trouble with brands and branding is that it is an extremely subjective area. Black, for example, is an elegant, classy colour globally. But try telling an Indian entrepreneur that! A large group for which we had done a branding exercise rejected a great brand name for reasons of numerology! Who am I to argue with a successful entrepreneur’s beliefs, especially when he is paying my bills? More critically, he is the owner of the brand and I always respect the owner’s passion for the brand.

While there is some truth in the statement that nothing succeeds like success and there are brands that have succeeded without a great name or identity, these are not enough justifications for a company to not objectively evaluate the efficacy of its brand name and identity for reaching the next level of success. If you can’t be objective about your brand (and I do realise most of us cannot be objective about our children or our brand) get a consultant whom you can trust. Commission research if you must. Check for any associations or strong brand properties before you decide whether change is required.

If change is to be made, it is important to debate how much. Will a mere cosmetic change do or does the situation demand a structural change which means going back to the drawing board? Another scenario that points to change is the non-availability of the URL in the precise manner that your brand name requires on the Net. We have also had instances when the company wishes to list itself on the stock exchange and suddenly discovers it cannot use its existing name as it is too similar to an existing listed company. Think long and hard about change and the need for it and while listening to everyone remember that branding is not a democratic process. One person has to take a call.
How do we go about changing?
Sadly, most identity exercises end up being high on design and low on strategy. The design represents what the brand is visually, in a manner that is striking. It is easy to underestimate the value of the thinking process. The consumer may never be privy to the thought process but great brands have a clearly articulated position and a clear enunciation of the brand’s personality. The colours, in an ideal world, must represent the brand’s personality. Is it bold and aggressive or pleasant and friendly? Can you create a shape that customers can recall later, like McDonald’s golden arches or Nike’s swoosh? Is your colour unique, like Kodak’s?

Well, if you needed proof that mere colours cannot sustain a brand over the long run, now you have it! And what about the tagline as part of your brand’s identity? People still recall “Just Do It” or “Only Vimal” as they have endured. Are you satisfied with your tagline? And finally have a brand identity manual that is “idiot-proof” so that everyone who uses the brand can follow it faithfully and religiously.

Look at your brand’s identity closely and objectively. If it does not pass muster, the time to change is now. Not five years later when you become even larger!

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