A lot has been written (including on this blog) about how to build a successful brand identity — one that resonates with customers, makes a compelling promise, and then consistently delivers the goods. Creating a vibrant and recognizable brand is a high mountain to climb, and those who are successful find themselves at the summit with the enduring giants of the market. Brands such as Coca-Cola, Apple, and Disney have developed a compelling consumer image based on wildly popular and ubiquitous products as well as great customer service and carefully calibrated public relations.
Once you've developed a brand with cultural cache, what comes next? As Strategic Advisor Dan S. Kennedy writes in an article for Entrepreneur:
“Brand is absolutely no assurance of success or longevity, nor insurance against sloth or stupidity. Brand as protective armor for the business battlefield is illusion… If you create or come into possession of a valuable brand, you must then sleep with one eye open forevermore. A growing number of barbarians gather at your gates, surround your fortress walls — barbarians because they lack respect for their elders, they're rude and brash and coarse and bold, they do not fear, and they will kill you and eat you and leave only bones behind without a twinge of remorse.”
Kennedy's point, which he makes quite imaginatively, is nonetheless very real: your work isn't over once you've built a successful brand. In fact, your work is just beginning. To keep your brand fresh and engaging in the public eye requires a lot of ongoing maintenance and innovation.
Maintaining Your Brand
The last thing you want for your bright and shiny brand image is for it to show tarnish and wear. This requires proactive maintenance of the carefully crafted image you have developed. How do you go about this? Entrepreneur on Fire offers several good tips, which I've adapted below with some additional commentary.
1. Keep Giving Your Customers What They Want
Without a steady stream of new products, your brand will quickly fall by the wayside. One very important thing to remember as you develop your new offerings: each product must further explore and expand on your existing brand image and reputation. As I wrote in last week's post about Product Failures, a product that works against existing consumer knowledge of your brand (or takes it in an unexpected direction) is ill-advised. What consumers know about your brand should always work in your favor, not against you, so keep giving them what they want!
2. Reward Customers with Excellent Service
Even the best products can tarnish your brand identity if they come with a side of consumer neglect. There is no better way to alienate customers than to provide shoddy customer service, or worse none at all. If consumers don't feel that they are part of an ongoing and supportive dialog with your brand, they will jump ship for friendlier waters. Every consumer-facing aspect of your brand must be friendly, consistent, and positive.
3. Build Strong Relationships
Customer service is only one aspect of the bond you forge with consumers. A brand that is engaged on social media and present in their daily lives creates enduring loyalty and trust. Keep growing that relationship and you will create customers for life.
4. Stay True to Your Values
Nothing is more disappointing than a brand that doesn't practice what it preaches. Do you remember Lance Armstrong and his Livestrong brand? There aren't many people who still wear those yellow bracelets today. You must stay true to the values that built your brand if you want longevity and the respect of the marketplace.
Innovating Your Brand
Maintenance isn't enough — to remain healthy, a brand must continue to grow and innovate. As Dan S. Kennedy writes in Entrepreneur,
“A lack of legitimate innovation leaves the best of brands vulnerable. [Even] Kodak, one of the most iconic of American brands, became virtually worthless by ignoring the digital revolution in photography.”
In this age of shrinking attention spans, your brand needs to innovate to stay fresh in consumers' minds, but that doesn't mean constantly reinventing yourself. As an example of this, Kennedy cites Proctor & Gamble's Tide Detergent, which manages to keep the attention of consumers by constantly introducing “new and improved” products, with new scents, updated bottle design, and new features that customize a similar product for different sets of needs.
Even small iterations of successful products can be enough to keep it on the cutting edge. So while major innovation doesn't hurt, don't neglect the small stuff in favor of constantly breaking new ground. This strategy can insulate your brand from the risks of a competitive market while keeping your products fresh in the minds of consumers. Keep your eyes on the horizon and your ears on customer feedback to stay relevant and engaging.
What do you do to keep your brand healthy? Join the conversation by tweeting @EidsonPartners.