“Meh." It's part of the modern lexicon and means nothing good or bad is going on. You elicit zero response. And that's not the reaction you want people to have to your branding.
If you feel you've hit a brand plateau, it may be time to look inside your brand. You might be missing a certain something that's necessary to push your branding beyond “meh" back into “marvelous" territory.
Let's have a look at three common gaps that experts often find when branding hits a plateau.
Alignment Between Brand and Branding
There's a common misconception that your brand and branding are the same. Surprise! They're not.
If you think they are, that could be an area you can shore-up in short order.
“The first question to ask yourself is, 'Is my brand or my branding stale?'" says speaker and strategist Tamsen Webster.
“Your brand is the sum of people's experiences with your company, product or service," Webster continues. "It's what your brands means to people. Branding is the language and imagery you use to capture that experience—think logo, colors, advertising tag lines, etc. The two need to evolve together."
If your brand is truly stagnant—and you're not doing anything to fix it—then no amount of fancy new branding will help.
“The market punishes misalignment," says Webster.
This might make the case for a more comprehensive rebranding, which involves a shift in the overall look and feel of your brand as well as the customer experience. But it's not an endeavor for the faint of heart.
“Decide if you have the corporate courage to change your brand," says Sam Meers, vice president of finance at integrated marketing and ad company Barkely and host of the Modern Marketers podcast. “Oftentimes, CEOs and the rest of the C-suite are too scared to challenge the status quo. Be willing to take an honest inventory and truly consider a variety of perspectives."
—Erika Napoletano, contributor, OPEN Forum
That honest inventory might conclude that your brand and your branding aren't the problem. Your “meh" brand status might be a symptom of a missing alignment elsewhere in your strategy. Read on.
Alignment Between Brand and Products
Let's say you were once a market leader, but sales have fallen off recently. It might be time to evolve your products to match your branding. When products fail to keep up with your branding (or vice versa), it's easy for a brand to go stale.
“Find where your customers' goals align with yours as a company and how your company can best meet those goals," says Webster. “That may mean backing up to something deeper than product to what that product represents to your customers."
Why? Because people don't just buy products. They buy what those products mean to them.
“This brings us back to brand," Webster says, "and to making sure you know exactly what your current customers think yours stands for."
Meers offers a first step in this process: Listen to your people.
“Let them make decisions, listen to their feedback and trust their instincts as well as yours," he says.
Both internal teams and your external customers can play important roles in bringing your products and brand back into alignment. You can probe people to see what's resonating with your branding through customer and internal team surveys, power user groups and test markets.
How do you meet your customers' needs?
Does your team feel there's a disconnect with what the company wants and what they're asked to deliver?
What do both of these audiences—internal and external—crave that you're leaving unfulfilled?
By asking these questions, you can accumulate actionable data that can help realign your brand and products under a shared sense of purpose and direction.
You also might discover that there are noticeable differences between your target markets and what the people within those markets think, feel and want—especially from you as a brand.
A Focus on Mindset Over Market
Think your branding has hit “meh" status? You could be missing an opportunity to shift your focus from your target market to your target market's mindset.
“The only true plateau comes when the people you care about actually don't still want or need what your brand stands for or your products," says Webster. “But this is where it's critical to go deeper into the people your brand cares about.
"It's tempting to stop at a category—the target market or segment: moms, aged 25-34. Young men, 18-24," she continues. "But the problem is people don't think about those categories when they make the decision to buy. In fact, they don't really think at all (at least, pre-purchase)."
Webster likes to think of mindsets as operating systems: lines of code that dictate how systems operates. And both brands and customers have their own code. According to Webster, those "basic commands" are:
- "goals (what we want),"
- "perspectives (how we look for what they want)" and
- "beliefs (what we believe to be true about the world and how it works)."
"When customers and brands align," she says, "it's because those commands align."
When a brand hits a plateau or goes stale, it may be because there's a misalignment in those commands. Either the desired customer base doesn't have the same mindset as the brand, or that base has gotten so small that it's no longer profitable for the brand.
“If you've already eliminated branding and product as agitators, then there are only two solutions to what ails you: expand who your brand is for through messaging, or change who the brand is for by 'recoding' the brand's operating system—and operations," says Webster.
Which takes us back to Meers' first point about rebranding and the call to corporate courage.
It's easy to look at a rough spot in your company revenue and think a splashy new rebranding effort will be just what you need to charge things up again. But as both Webster and Meers have explained, there are other alignments to check for first to avoid blowing up a perfectly good brand that just needs some refocusing to get off the plateau.
“Ask yourself what you should stop doing versus what you should start doing," offers Meers. “Oftentimes, what can rejuvenate a brand is not what you're doing but what you should quit doing because it's limiting your success."
And limiting success is so very “meh."
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