Does your brand still resonate?

4 Jun 2024 by Steven Giannoulis

Branding 2 HR

Change and disruption is happening at an unprecedented rate and that impacts how relevant brands remain with their customers. Businesses aspire to garner the level of loyalty that comes from being a brand that customers value. In a dynamic market where customers’ needs and wants are constantly changing, brands must evolve to remain valuable to their customers. Every few years we encourage our clients to review whether their brand still represents them, the real value they deliver, and what their customers really want from them.

In the last 10 years, customer expectations have evolved like never before, driven by a powerful combination of social, technological, environment and consumer trends. The most noticeable changes include:

  • A focus back on family, community and supporting local, accelerated by COVID;
  • The continued rise of ethical business practices, with consumers and employees increasingly choosing brands with purpose;
  • The rise and rise of globalisation and remote working, seeing many industries become more fragmented and global in their operations, resources and customer base;
  • A greater focus on individual wellbeing, mental health and inclusiveness;
  • An accelerating preference for sustainable products and climate-friendly practices;
  • Continued technology advancements with AI, chat bots, automation, internet coverage and more; and
  • A drive for faster and more transparent customer experiences, which give consumers more control.

Our own experience has seen a more diverse and fragmented design sector with one-man-bands working out of their living rooms or from anywhere in the world, providing a cheaper alternative to our services. Add to this, instant designs for free or low cost via the internet and AI, and we’ve had to work hard to reinforce the quality and value we offer.

And, of course, the economic crisis has been an additional catalyst for changing expectations. We do a lot of work with NZ Post, including their annual Market Sentiments report, a study of shopper expectations. The 2024 report’s clear message is that shoppers have adapted their behaviours in response to the conditions. Often this has meant a search for greater value, substituting their favourite brands for cheaper alternatives. In other cases, shoppers have demanded greater quality, improved customer experiences or greater recognition and reward for their loyalty. 

A change in what your customers value is the first clear sign that it is time for reconsider your brand value proposition. Not doing so opens the door for customers to question their loyalty and to seek value elsewhere.

Another reason to check that your brand proposition is still relevant is because your organisation has probably also adapted in recent years, adding new products, services, acquisitions or distribution channels. Some companies have refocused their business in new ways while others have looked to get back to their core business. A change in business direction or strategy means that it’s time to review your brand proposition.

So how do you check if your brand still resonates with your audiences?

I like to start internally, getting my head around how things are changing - the symptoms - before engaging with customers to understand the why they are changing. Start with your front-line staff, those who talk directly with your customers. What are they seeing and hearing? What’s stopping customers buying or staying with you? What are the common things they ask about or search for on your website? Support these observational insights with real data. How has the sales mix changed? In what area is customer retention and share of wallet showing the most strain? What’s happening with competitors? What products or services are rising and falling in your sector?

With clarity of what is happening we can talk to our customers and distributors about what we know so we can understand what is driving these challenges and opportunities. Use this same understanding to look internally to assess how your strengths and weaknesses stack up in this new environment.

A word of warning though, be careful to distinguish between short-term customer responses compared to long-term shifts in preferences, behaviours and values. For instance, the economic conditions will improve, and some of the current behaviours may not necessarily continue in better times.

We also need to look ahead at what else may be coming up that may influence how our brand is perceived and positioned. For our sector, I am acutely aware that AI hasn’t yet become the full disruptor it soon will be. To understand what may happen I’ve been looking at parallel ‘service’ sectors for potential lessons. For example, the way the rise of Xero, MYOB and other similar ‘do-it-yourself’ accounting packages has changed the accounting proposition and how accountants have repositioned themselves as value-added business partners.

With an understanding of your business, your customers and the world around you, you are ready to think about how to best capture that sweet spot that expresses who the company has become, where it’s going, and what customers are looking for. It’s a brand exercise that requires a delicate balance. On one hand, we encourage our clients to be bold and let go of sacred cows and long-held beliefs that are no longer relevant today. Let the brand be customer-led, not tied to history or tradition. On the other hand, we also encourage clients to build on their existing brand essence and values as much as possible, allowing the equity accrued in their brand to carry forward to the extent possible.

In the last year we’ve helped three of our clients review their brand, rewrite their brand story to reflect their new reality and to adjust the visually identity to tell their story in the strongest way possible. I expect we’ll be doing more of these brand evolution exercises in the year ahead, as more and more clients start to understand the need to change with their customers.

I also suspect we’ll doing these brand reviews much more frequently than we’ve ever done before. As a business we’ll be reviewing our brand every three years, or sooner if dramatic changes signal that brand evolution is needed to keep resonating with our clients.