Stop killing your brand: why marketers should adopt a brand-led marketing approach
Let’s start by asking a question that’s been on my mind a lot lately: What’s happening to brands?
You might wonder, what am I talking about? Brands are trying to keep up with industry trends, customers’ demands, and their competition. That’s what’s happening.
But that’s not what I mean.
You may have noticed that more and more brands are becoming indistinguishable from one another. Open up any webpage or social app and you’ll find that most brands have settled on iterations of the same design and tone of voice: solid colors, ultra-simple logos, sans-serif typography, and uninspiring company values.
Brands are stepping away from the characteristics that make them unique and forgetting what it is they stand for. By doing so, the opportunity to differentiate and set themselves apart is lost. The result is a generic and vanilla brand that has a little bit of everything, stands for nothing, and speaks to no one in particular.
In a time where authenticity and individuality are widely celebrated, how did we end up here?
The shiny object syndrome
As I see it, there are two main reasons for brand similarity: our overdependence on technology and hyperfocus on customers.
In our quest to keep up with customer demands and competitors, we became so fixated on implementing the latest tech trends and gathering customer insights and feedback that we forgot about our brands. If we do include a branding process somewhere, it’s often rushed and tight on budget. It’s something that has to be done and gotten over with ASAP.
The fundamentals of great marketing, however, have always been the same. You communicate what you stand for, why you're in business, and how you’re different. Then people decide whether to buy your brand or not.
There is no easy way out, despite what some consultants or agencies might tell you. You can’t plug in a tool or solely rely on customers’ opinions and expect customers to magically line up.
Brand foundation, from inside out
Creating a memorable brand is complex and filled with difficult decisions. You need skills to define your brand and connect it with an audience. It’s an art and a science. And that’s where part of the problem lies - more often than not, brands don’t invest in talented people or teams who are capable of that.
Branding is the process of clarifying and refining the emotional meaning behind your business strategy and its relationship to your customers. It goes way further than your logo, tagline, or selling products. The key is to start with your brand foundation first. The rest will follow.
Assess what there is, what there isn't, and what needs work. Develop or improve your brand positioning and base everything that comes after on these fundamentals. Do this by fine-tuning your purpose, mission, and vision - basically your values and beliefs. This will give you a clear direction about where your brand is going and why.
A great example of a successful rebrand is Oatly, the Swedish oat milk brand that is taking the world by storm. Few brands have taken off the way Oatly has, thanks to its repositioning from a scientific niche brand to a ubiquitous lifestyle one.
John Schoolcraft, Global Chief Creative Officer, and Toni Petersson, CEO, were hired and put in charge of Oatly’s rebranding. Schoolcraft and Petersson went back to the basics and first looked at the roots of the brand. They recognized that Oatly doesn’t only improve customers’ health but also contributes to a reduced carbon footprint. Their vision? Oatly contributing to a plant-based revolution and encouraging environmentally responsible food choices.
Next up was translating this vision into a personality and tone of voice, which most of us are familiar with. Oatly is provocative and unconventional, but most of all they’re a brand that prioritizes creativity and let it take center stage. They sound human, compelling, honest, and don't bullshit around.
Of course, this transformation didn’t happen overnight. Oatly invested significant time and resources into their rebranding. If you don’t do that and rush, you’ll risk becoming bland and create more of the same rather than a standout brand.
Your brand is the defining differentiator
Branding is the cornerstone of success and has never been more important in gaining a sustainable competitive advantage. Taking the same path as others may be easier and a hell of a lot safer, but it isn’t the one that will lead you to success. No brand becomes a leader in its industry or category by playing it safe. You need to be daring, have a vision, and constantly evolve and innovate.
Always remember: it’s very difficult for customers to buy your brand if they don’t remember who you are. What will matter most is how you define and differentiate your brand. Stop focusing on short-term efficiency. Think long-term and adopt a brand-led approach instead.