Strategy & Consulting

How to keep your brand relevant with continuous transformation

Written by Pim van Helten on 2, Noth 2020

Keeping up to meet and exceed customer wants and needs in a fast and ever-changing world is one of the biggest challenges brands and branding agencies are facing today.

Customers no longer solely make purchase decisions based on product benefits or price. They want to know what a brand stands for, how it behaves and whether it is genuine or not. Then they support the ones that align with their belief, opinions and convictions. Brands are no longer the exclusive domain of a company, but are becoming community property more and more.

This requires marketers to empathize with their target audience, speak their language and listen carefully to what they have to say. So that what you offer chimes in perfectly with their needs. Because today, brand relevance equals brand survival. 

Even the strongest, most differentiated brands understand this. They continually evolve by watching their market and proactively respond to what their customers will want tomorrow.

Nike created Nike SB, a sub-brand, and won over skateboarders that hated large corporations. To establish its authenticity, Nike teamed up with respected skateboarding athletes. Then they listened and asked skaters about the perfect skate shoe and delivered exactly that. Nike not only converted a difficult audience into raving fans, but made brand ambassadors out of them.

So, brand differentiation does not equal brand relevance?

It is often understood that brand differentiation is the most important thing a brand should go after. It is not. Being different doesn’t necessarily mean people like how you are different. Your differentiation might get you noticed, but not necessarily liked.

"Differentiation is all the people you date; relevance is the one you marry because you cannot live without them." - Elliot Schreiber, Ph.D

This is how brand relevance is different from brand differentiation. Brand relevance is all about making your audience want to marry you. You might very well be the girl or boy next door, as long as you make sure you are the most relevant one.

Transformation into relevance

1. Know your customers aka your future loyal partners

To make people fall in love with you, you first have to understand what their wants, needs, frustrations, fears and desires are. Everything you create, invent, sell, show or offer should be designed to meet the needs in their lives.

2. Out-innovate the competition

Your competition is probably watching you and your customers. Go and find out what they are up to. Then combine your customers’ needs and competitive threats to innovate your brand towards being both different and desired. If you know when and why to innovate, you will connect with your target audience emotionally and earn their trust.

3. Data is important but guts as well

This is extremely difficult for most marketers but essential to make the next steps possible. Marketers swear by data. They analyze it to death, act, react and adapt accordingly. This is all valid and the usual smart route. But don’t forget, people never asked for a car, they asked for a faster horse. No one demanded an iPhone, yet Apple skyrocketed and is one of the most successful brands in history. 

A brand should be ready to make bold steps, smart experiments, quick fails and great wins. This is how you continuously innovate and keep your services and products relevant and available at the right time.

4. Inspire your audience

Every marketer will nod their head and wholeheartedly agree when confronted with statements like ‘a brand needs a purpose’ and ‘we should engage with our audience’. Unfortunately being an inspirational brand and inspiring customers is hard work. Brands that excel in getting their message across are doing so relentlessly and continuously. They have their brand identity drawn out and live up to their brand promises. They engage with their customers in new, creative and innovative manners, and look for new ways to address their, often unmet, needs.

Innovating a brand will be new every day

Innovating your brand isn’t a cookie-cutter task. A lot of trending technologies, like AR, facial recognition or AI won’t make sense right away for a lot of brands across many industries. Creating engaging content and telling inspiring stories is different for each and every brand, and often extremely time-consuming. Determining what kind of innovation will truly serve your brand and drive your business forward starts with your customer. 

Think about what will add value to your customer experience. How can you leverage new technologies and radically improve convenience? This does not have to be complicated, it could be as simple as optimizing an online ordering process. Maybe added value can be found in the edutainment you provide or in the way you address your customers? 

Innovation will be different paths to different brands. You can’t keep up with every trend. Falling behind current trends doesn’t have to be of concern. As long as you are aware of new capabilities or technologies that are valuable to your brand and your customers, you will always win over your customers’ hearts with relevance.

Pim van Helten

Pim van Helten


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